Lineker's attack on UK migrant policy puts BBC in a bind
LONDON (AP) — As a soccer player, Gary Lineker was one of England’s top scorers. The British government thinks his political opinions miss the mark.
Conservative lawmakers in the U.K. are calling on the BBC to discipline Lineker, now a pundit and the network’s highest-paid star, for comparing the government’s language about migrants to that used in Nazi Germany.
In a tweet on Tuesday, the former England team captain 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.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Britain’s immigration minister, has called people arriving in small boats an “invasion,” and said “the law-abiding patriotic majority have said: ‘Enough is enough.’”
The Conservative government called Lineker’s Nazi comparison inappropriate and unacceptable, and some lawmakers said he should be fired.
“As somebody whose grandmother escaped Nazi Germany in the 1930s, I think it’s really disappointing and inappropriate to compare government policy on immigration to events in Germany in the 1930s,” Culture and Media Secretary Lucy Frazer said Thursday.
“It’s important for the BBC to maintain impartiality, if it is to retain the trust of the public,” she added.
As right-leaning newspapers — long critical of the BBC — expressed outrage, the broadcaster said Lineker would be “reminded of his responsibilities.”
Lineker, 62, is a household name in Britain, a stylish player turned fluent broadcaster. He was the leading scorer at the 1986 World Cup — where he scored England’s only goal in its 2-1 quarter final loss against Argentina — and finished his international career with 48 goals in 80 matches for England.
After retiring from a career that included stints with Leicester City, Barcelona and Tottenham, he has become one of the U.K.’s most influential media figures. He hosts the BBC’s “Match of the Day” soccer highlights show and helms the broadcaster's coverage of international tournaments — duties for which he was paid 1.35 million pounds ($1.6 million) last year.
An enthusiastic social media user with 8.7 million Twitter followers, Lineker has long irked conservatives with his liberal views, including criticism of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
The latest furor reflects the distinctive nature of U.K. media, where newspapers are highly opinionated and news broadcasters are required to be balanced — especially the publicly funded BBC, which has a duty to be impartial.
BBC news staff are barred from expressing political opinions. But Lineker, as a freelancer who doesn't work in news or current affairs, isn't bound by the same rules. Even so, he has sometimes gone too far. Last year, the BBC found Lineker had breached impartiality rules with a tweet about the Conservatives' alleged Russian donations.
The 100-year-old BBC, which is funded by a license fee paid by all households with a television, is accustomed to facing political pressure. Some members of the Conservative government see a leftist slant in the broadcaster’s news output, while some liberals accuse it of having a conservative bias.
Its neutrality has come under recent scrutiny over revelations that its chairman, Richard Sharp — a Conservative Party donor — helped arrange a loan for then Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2021, weeks before he was appointed to the BBC post on the government’s recommendation.
Former BBC television news chief Roger Mosey said that he sympathized with Lineker’s views, but thought he shouldn't have shared them.
“What if he was tweeting ‘Brexit is working, Suella Braverman is right, refugees should go back to Calais’?” Mosey told Times Radio. “Impartiality … the problem is, it can be tough sometimes, but it’s the best policy in difficult circumstances for the BBC.”
Lineker said Thursday that he had no regrets and stood by his tweet. And he responded to news that the furor over his comments — rather than the government’s migration policy — was the lead story on the BBC night-time news.
“World’s gone mad,” he tweeted. ___
AP Sports Writer Chris Lehourites contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration
Jill Lawless, The Associated Press