March 13 – The BBC staged a u-turn and reinstated its highest-paid tv presenter Gary Lineker today following a near-mutiny over its decision to take the former England captain off the air because of his criticism of the rhetoric around government migration policy.
Lineker will return to the airwaves after the BBC reversed his suspension for a tweet last week that slammed Britain’s new asylum policy.
“Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary, and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend,” said BBC director-general Tim Davie.
Lineker was removed after using Twitter to compare the language used to launch the new policy to the rhetoric of Germany in the 1930s.
He described the government’s plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat as “an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
The government called his Nazi comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some lawmakers said the BBC should terminate his contract for expressing a political opinion.
But the about-face by the BBC, who clearly failed to grasp the scale of the backlash, followed a weekend of chaos for the publicly funded broadcaster who face accusations of being politically influenced by government mandarins and of censorship of the right to free speech.
Fellow presenters, pundits and commentators walked out en masse in solidarity with Lineker, throwing weekend football coverage into disarray and making headline news across all sections of the media.
In the absence of all those due to have been involved, Saturday’s flagship programme “Match of the Day” was reduced from the usual 90 minutes of highlights and analysis to a 20-minute compilation of clips from the day’s games.
Davie insisted that the BBC “did the right thing” by suspending Lineker, but that there would now be an independent review of the BBC’s social media rules to address the ‘gray areas’ in the guidelines.
“Between now and when the review reports, Gary will abide by the editorial guidelines,” he said.
“Impartiality is important to the BBC. That is a difficult balancing act to get right where people are subject to different contracts and on air positions, and with different audience and social media profiles.”
Lineker tweeted today that “I cannot wait to get back in the MOTD chair on Saturday.”
But he added: “However difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away.”
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