Presenter Gary Lineker was allegedly instructed to apologise for his “partial” comments about Suella Braverman’s immigration policy, but has the BBC ever truly been impartial?
“There will be no loyalty, except loyalty toward the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother…”wrote George Orwell in 1949, about a fictional reality, under a fictional government, in a future – yet fictional – era. Yet, here we are in 2023: apparently, the era of sports presenters being penalised for criticising government policy.
Britain has long been aware of the BBC’s rules concerning impartiality, and no one is unfamiliar with the scandals that frequent our screens concerning everyone from journalists, to producers, to entertainers. It seems Gary Lineker is the latest in a long list of people to be pulled up by the BBC for his comments on the British government. After comparing Suella Braverman’s immigration policy proposals to those of Germany in the 1930s, the former footballer, and the BBC’s highest paid presenter has been asked to step back from presenting ‘Match of the Day’ in light of his comments which were deemed “disappointing” and “unhelpful” by the home secretary.
The implementation of impartiality laws by the BBC is widely recognised in regards to BBC journalists, but when questioning the political outlook of sports presenters, is the issue as big as the BBC are making it seem? Or are we really living in dystopian times?
He is in the limelight this time around, but this issue runs far deeper than Mr Lineker and his twitter account.
Director General Tim Davie told the BBC news, “The BBC absolutely puts the highest value on impartiality and that’s clearly important to us.” But time and time again, their so-called impartiality is questioned, and they are accused of being biased towards those in power.
It is reasonable to question whether the same reaction would have occurred had Lineker’s tweets been criticising a Labour policy. The BBC relies on government funding, and has impartiality laws because of its state ownership, but it is responsible for being Britain’s public service broadcaster, not the broadcaster for those who inhabit Number 10. Is it fair, in any instance, for people to face consequences for expressing their personal views, when these views are presented outside of the workplace? Doesn’t the impartiality bubble limit itself to the BBC offices? And if not, when does it stop?
It would seem, as Emily Matilis claimed on twitter, that criticisms of overseas governments – such as Qatar during the World Cup – is acceptable under the impartiality laws of the BBC, but criticism of our own government is considered unacceptable under those same laws. Of course, when it comes to our government, impartiality may be considered more vital: the BBC is of course presenting to the electorate who vote for the British government. Still, should impartiality really entail censoring the opinions of reporters, to the extent that they stand to suffer professionally for expressing their views?
Take a different example, from University Avenue in Glasgow’s West End. Around ten to one on a Tuesday afternoon in January, the street is packed with Glasgow University students moving from class to class. The evening before, Westminster had blocked the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill. On the search, apparently, for public opinions, BBC Scotland had sent a reporter to interview several people about the Gender Reform Bill, and amongst the interviewees was me.
Feeling rather passionate about the overturning of the bill by Westminster, I seized the opportunity to tell the journalist about my anger at the news. Yet, when I appeared on Reporting Scotland the following evening, it would have seemed to the average viewer that I, and the others they interviewed, had very few opinions on the matter in question.
Impartiality, it seemed to me, had stretched even as far as censoring the opinions of the general public, and it raised questions: why did they ask my opinion if they weren’t going to broadcast it? Surely the point of a broadcaster, in this instance, is to showcase the opinions of the British public, so why weren’t they doing that? I don’t work for the BBC and I don’t have loyalties to them nor to the government, why was my opinion being censored on national television?
There is a key element of the story that I have neglected to mention. Impartiality is important, but when it’s only being enforced in instances of potential criticism towards the government, it’s no longer impartiality, it’s pro-government bias.
lsn’t the chairman of the BBC facilitating an £800,000 loan to the then senior Conservative MP, and future Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, indicative of bias?
According to the BBC, controlling the personal social media accounts of presenters, and removing highly opinionated language used by members of the public that they interview are both reasonable measures to honour their impartiality rules. However, with their hypocrisy visible, and the strangely dystopian feel to their recent actions, the BBC have got themselves into trouble.
While Gary Lineker was briey taken off air (now reinstated) for his disagreement with the home secretary’s proposals, BBC chairman Richard Sharp is still under investigation for his connections to the Conservative party.
Loyalty from the BBC, it seems, must be towards the party. Maybe he was 40 years out, but George Orwell’s predictions were eerily correct.