Maybe the BBC was right to suspend Lineker


The Gary Lineker saga raises a number of questions that risk getting lost in the hysterical media frenzy that has surrounded the episode.

I will not, here, enter the discussion about the rights and wrongs of the fiendishly challenging small boat policies proposed by the government. Maybe we can leave that to another time.

Except to say that anyone who retreats into the corner of comparing government policy to Nazism and fascism, has, for me, lost the argument before they started. Besides being insulting and demeaning to the real victims of that regime of horror.

I have to confess to not having taken the time to examine in detail the no doubt byzantine BBC regulations and guidelines. If the tweet below from our Radix colleague and Fellow Professor Tim Bale is correct, then there seem to be different guidelines for news/current affairs presenters and others employed or contracted by the BBC.

Irrespective of the guidelines, I would suggest it’s not that simple.

The BBC provides a platform for those who appear on air under its banner. In other words it gives them a degree of power not available to others. This is a privilege and privileges come with responsibilities – though we can reasonably discuss what those responsibilities might be. It is also undeniable that actions by employees in any company or industry tend to reflect back on that employer.

Yet Tim describes Lineker’s rights as those of a ‘private individual’. Of course, nothing can be further from the truth. Lineker is a public figure not a private individual. Though his success in football is part of that, in significant part his public profile comes through his work for the BBC.

After all the world is full of highly successful footballers who have disappeared from the limelight and have indeed chosen to be ‘private individuals.’

Lineker made a different choice – to remain a public figure – and has been enabled to do so by the BBC.

So the question which arises is – what personal responsibilities should public figures have to their employers, especially employers who are under constant, if maybe excessive, pressure to maintain political impartiality?

The second issue that arises from this unfortunate episode is the rapid reaction by other sports presenters expressing ‘solidarity’ with Lineker. In the stuff I have come across so far, none of these figures expressed a view as to whether they agree or disagree with Lineker’s specific comments.

Their solidarity seems to come from supporting the idea that he should be free to say what he likes and that the BBC was wrong to suspend him.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of that position, we are tribal creatures and tend to jump to the defence of those who are part of our tribe. We often condemn such behaviour. For instance, when doctors jumps to the defence of a colleague being investigated for medical errors. Or when a prime minister goes through hoops to defend members of his party that have behaved inappropriately.

Yet such tribalism is probably unavoidable. We may just have to live with it though we could maybe do with supporting or objecting to it with some degree of consistency.

As always,  there is little hope that this episode will result in any kind of useful debate that helps move us forward. Rather it will continue to get consumed in sensationalist headlines and everyone shooting from the hip.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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