The Lineker series sparks a presenters’ mutiny as the BBC crisis deepens

Britain’s BBC faced a mounting crisis when a row over football presenter Gary Lineker’s criticism of the government’s migration policy forced a mutiny from the presenter, prompted a statement from the Prime Minister and the station boss defended his position.

The BBC was forced to scrap much of its sports coverage on Saturday as presenters refused to show solidarity with Lineker after the BBC attempted to defend its impartiality by off-airing Lineker over his comments on social media took.

Lineker, a former England football captain, highest-paid BBC presenter and presenter of football highlights program Match of the Day, has been suspended from his post after criticizing Britain’s migration policy.

Critics of Lineker’s suspension say the BBC bowed to government pressure, sparking a furious debate over the national broadcaster’s impartiality.

BBC director general Tim Davie told the BBC on Saturday he had no intention of resigning over the matter. “We at the BBC and myself are absolutely driven by a passion for impartiality, not left, right or pandering to any particular party,” he said.

Davie said he wanted Lineker back on the air and hoped to find a balance that would allow some presenters to voice opinions while still maintaining the BBC’s neutrality.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issued a statement on Saturday defending migration policies that ban entry for asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the English Channel, and said he hoped Lineker and the BBC could settle their differences in time.

“It is rightly their business, not the government,” Sunak said.

The Lineker row caused significant disruption to BBC sports programming on Saturday when several presenters left home, prompting them to issue an apology.

The Saturday edition of “Match of the Day”, presented by Lineker for more than 20 years, aired at the usual time despite his absence, but was cut to just 20 minutes and aired as a highlights show without commentary.

The BBC is committed to political impartiality but has been criticized by the Conservatives and Labor parties for how neutral it actually is, especially in the age of social media where high-profile presenters can easily make their personal positions known.

The opposition Labor Party and media commentators have accused the BBC of silencing Lineker after Sunak’s spokeswoman called Lineker’s comments “unacceptable” and Home Secretary Suella Braverman “insulting”.

“The BBC is not acting impartially in giving in to Tory MPs who complain about Gary Lineker,” Labor leader Keir Starmer told reporters at a conference in Wales on Saturday.

Lineker declined to comment to the media as he left his home in London on Saturday and did not respond to reporters’ questions upon his arrival at Leicester’s King Power Stadium, where he was watching one of his former clubs play.

The excitement comes after Sunak announced the new law earlier in the week. Lineker, 62, described the legislation on Twitter as “cruel policies aimed at the most vulnerable, in language not dissimilar to that used in Germany in the 1930s”.

To settle the dispute, the BBC said there needed to be an agreed position on Lineker’s use of social media before he could return to presenting. However, critics of Lineker’s suspension say he is entitled to his personal opinion because he is not a news anchor.

Greg Dyke, who was the BBC’s director-general between 2000 and 2004, told BBC radio earlier on Saturday that the BBC had made a mistake.

“The perception out there is going to be that Gary Lineker, a very popular TV presenter, got fired because of government pressure on a certain issue,” Dyke said.

That could turn viewers away from the 100-year-old BBC, which is funded by a £159 ($192) annual ‘license fee’ for all television households.

While the channel remains a central presence in British cultural life, it is struggling to stay relevant with younger viewers and faces threats to its funding as some Conservative lawmakers want to scrap the license fee.

Questions about BBC chairman Richard Sharp pose another challenge for the broadcaster.

Sharp is under pressure for failing to explain his involvement in arranging a loan for former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson shortly before his appointment. Sharp’s appointment, which came on government recommendation, is under review by the UK’s Public Appointments Regulator. The Lineker series sparks a presenters’ mutiny as the BBC crisis deepens

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