The BBC’s suspension of Gary Lineker over a social media comment raises a question that is wider than the shambles it created: Do people in the media have a right to voice a personal opinion?
Last Tuesday Lineker, the BBC’s highest paid star and presenter of Match of the Day, posted a tweet about the UK Conservative government’s plan to stop refugees crossing the English Channel. He described it 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.”
By Friday an extraordinary meltdown had occurred, with the corporation announcing Lineker would “step back” from Match of the Day. In plain English, the director-general Tim Davie had suspended him because ‘a red line has been crossed’ on BBC neutrality. Several colleagues walked out in support of the former professional footballer. There was no Match of the Day last weekend and football coverage on the BBC was reduced to a pallid 20-minute substitute.
The Times reported Davie taking the moral high ground on Friday: “(as) editor in chief of the BBC, I think one of our founding principles is impartiality and that’s what I’m delivering on.” However, over the weekend, support within the corporation rank-and-file seemed to move toward Lineker. Davie, who had been in Washington, flew back to London for crisis meetings to head off what was rapidly becoming an internal revolt. Continue reading “Media employees’ right to voice personal opinions”