Football as we all know is about to change. Gary Lineker has been booted Match of the day Submit assignments and nothing else seems certain anymore.
The former Tottenham, Barcelona and England striker has long been an outspoken critic of the current Conservative government, often posting his views on Twitter. This conflicted with the BBC’s position of impartiality, led by Director General Tim Davie, who had previously served as a member of the Board of Governors.
Tweets about the government’s new bill targeting migrants trying to cross the Channel are now the main story. There’s a lot going on out there, so let’s break it all down.
The following selected excerpts are from the BBC’s Neutrality Guidelines, which can be found here here.
“Neutrality does not necessarily require that a range of viewpoints or opinions be covered in equal proportions either across our output as a whole or within a single programme, web page or component. Instead, we should strive to achieve ‘appropriate weight.’ For example, it should not necessarily be given Minority opinions are as important or important as those with more support or the prevailing consensus.
There may be instances in which omission of opinions or other material may jeopardize impartiality. There is no view on any subject matter to be excluded as a matter of principle, but we must make reasonable decisions, and apply consistent editorial judgment, as to whether to include or omit Point of views.
News, current affairs and nonfiction output
“The presenters, reporters and correspondents are the face and public voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether or not due impartiality has been achieved. Our audience should not be able to tell the BBC’s personal views of our journalists or presenters.” News and current affairs on matters of public policy, political or industry controversy, or on “controversial topics” in any other field They may make professional judgments, grounded in evidence, but may not publicly express personal views on such matters, Including in any BBC branded product or on personal blogs and social media.
Controversial views and potential crime
“Contributors who express controversial views should be challenged, either through interview or other means, and given a fair opportunity to determine their answers to the questions. Minority views should be given appropriate space in our output.
Thus, we will sometimes include in our outputs people whose opinions might cause serious offense to many in our audience. On such occasions, attribution should be made to a senior editorial figure, who should consult on editorial policy.
“The possibility of an offense must be weighed against the public interest and any risk to the BBC’s impartiality. Coverage must acknowledge the possibility of an offense, be suitably robust, but also be fair and impartial.
“Public expression by staff and presenters of personal offense or discontent, or the tone or attitude of an item or program as a whole, could endanger the integrity of the BBC.”
The BBC first announced new changes to its standards in late 2021, after it received criticism over how Martin Bashir obtained an interview with Princess Diana in 1995. An investigation found that Bashir acted in a “disingenuous” manner, including In doing so falsify documents, the BBC said it did not live up to its “high standards of fairness and transparency”.
Davey said his first objective when appointed director-general of the BBC was to restore confidence in the national broadcaster. Staff and on-air talent are bound by the BBC’s impartiality clauses.
Neutrality itself is controversial. Ofcom describes it as “meaning appropriate or appropriate to the subject matter and nature of the programme”.
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The government outlined its plans to stop people arriving in the UK illegally from seeking asylum earlier this week.
Open the invoice, which can be found at Gov.ukIt reads: “Earlier this year, the Prime Minister made Stop the Boats one of his five promises to the British people. The Stop the Boats – or Illegal Immigration – Bill will deliver on that promise by ending illegal entry as a route of asylum in the UK.
“This will remove the incentive for people to risk their lives on these unnecessary and dangerous journeys and pull the rug out from under the criminal gangs profiting from this misery once and for all.
“People who arrive in the UK illegally will instead be detained and swiftly taken back to their home country if it is safe, or to another safe third country, such as Rwanda, where they will be supported to rebuild their lives.
“By ending illegal immigration as a route to asylum, stopping the boats and taking back control of our borders, the Bill will ensure the UK can better support people arriving via fair, safe and legal routes.”
At least 52 migrants died in the English Channel while trying to reach the UK between 2018 and 2022. Plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda have also been stalled by legal challenges, including by the European Court of Human Rights.
The government alleged that safe entry points had been abused by migrants when in reality those attempting the crossing by boat often suffered unimaginable hardships and risked life or death to start their new lives.
Interior Minister Soella Braverman immediately warned that the proposals would violate international law. Lawyers asserted that these plans violated the United Nations Refugee Convention.
“We are confident that we comply with both domestic and international law,” Braverman told the BBC. “But we are pushing boundaries and testing innovative and new legal arguments.”
Lineker, a well-known critic of the Conservative Party, said the language used in the plan was “no different from that used by Germany in the 1930s”. Conservatives and right-wing voters criticized him but added, “I will continue to try to speak up for those poor souls who have no voice.”
Labor leader Keir Starmer accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of promoting the election, adding: “It would have broken the bands – it didn’t. Now we have the next piece of legislation with almost the same bills. I don’t think making unwieldy proposals will take us very far.”
The UN refugee agency responded: “UNHCR is deeply concerned about new legislation that the UK government presented to the House of Commons on Tuesday 7 March 2023.
“The legislation, if passed, would amount to a ban on asylum – eliminating the right to seek refugee protection in the UK for those arriving irregularly, regardless of the strength of their claim. The effect of the bill (in this form) could be a refusal to hold a hearing fair and denied protection to the many real refugees who need safety and asylum.
“This would be a clear breach of the Refugee Convention and undermine the UK’s longstanding humane traditions.”
It came to a head when the BBC announced that Lineker would step down from home Match of the day his role until an agreement is reached regarding his use of social media. Lineker told the sources that he did not back down and that he was removed from the air.
Lineker remains adamant he will not apologize for his comments and has been joined by pundits Ian Wright and Alan Shearer in boycotting the Saturday programme.
It is worth remembering that this kind of distraction has been a staple of conservative tactics in recent years. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson often threw “dead cats” into the public eye – or distracted the public by pointing out something ridiculous – to generate a sideshow of a media storm.
The government is urged to consider alternative, effective and humane measures instead of sending people to Rwanda.