If you were to ask whether ‘political impartiality’ is possible, what would be your answer?
Many would say that politics and impartiality do not match; they are simply opposite sides of a coin. Recent events have brought this debate to the surface with the still unfolding controversy between Gary Lineker and the BBC, whose ‘guidelines’ on impartiality have long been the subject of ire from both sides of the political spectrum.
Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker has been the face of football broadcasting in the UK since 1999. With someone almost universally popular, you would wonder why his job would ever be under threat, however his recent social media activity has brought him increasingly under scrutiny.
Lineker has never shied from stating his political opinions, and neither have any of his peers, such as Gary Neville, arguably one of the most high profile celebrity Labour supporters. However, Neville is contracted at Sky Sports, and Lineker is synonymous with the ‘politically impartial’ BBC.
The tweet in particular, which ironically overshadowed the subject of the tweet itself, was referencing the government’s new small boat policy. The policy plans to crack down on migrants crossing the channel and attempting to seek asylum in Britain. Under these new rules, the home secretary’s prerogative to remove illegal immigrants would supersede their right to claim asylum.
Lineker likened the policy and the rhetoric involved to that of Nazi Germany, ever the political buzz-phrase. Regardless of your opinions on the policy itself, the tweet was evidently not politically impartial, and was therefore perceived to break the BBC’s guidelines.
The issue lies in whether Lineker was subject to these guidelines in the first place. Lineker may be the highest earner at the BBC, but he is employed in a freelance capacity and only for sport presenting, not as a newsreader.
On Friday 10th March, he was asked to step down from his duties as host of Match of the Day until an agreement was reached on his position.
The fallout was swift; every recognisable face in the BBC’s sport department sided with Lineker, and boycotted. The Match of the Day episode after Lineker’s removal was aired with no punditry. Some may have argued this was an improvement, and found the experience very soothing without any ‘expert’ opinions. Others were presumably outraged.
The chaos of the decision quickly prompted a U-turn and a public apology from Director General Tim Davie, who has not escaped his own share of controversy after admitting to facilitating an 800,000 pound loan to Boris Johnson, and also donating a meager 400,000 pounds to the Conservative Party. This has been rightly questioned on grounds of hypocrisy. This has only been intensified by the coverage of the Qatar World Cup in 2022. Many noticed its political slant, with many pundits including Gary Lineker openly criticizing the Qatari state.
Is Gary Lineker only allowed to talk about politics as long as his own government isn’t involved? Or is it only if his opinions tow the party line? In light of all this, the answer to the question of political impartiality, and whether it is even possible, is no closer to being answered.