Copy of 2023-03-11T141210Z_1594284162_UP1EJ3B13G8EA_RTRMADP_3_BRITAIN-BBC-LINEKER-1678619100526
Former England striker and BBC presenter Gary Lineker. Image Credit: REUTERS

Dubai: Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker’s remarks on social media have sparked a debate about free speech and whether the host was right to air his views while working for the BBC.

But the corporation’s decision to suspend the former England international from presenting duties has been widely criticized and I believe it is a self-harming move.

The 100-year-old BBC is funded by a license fee paid by all households with a television and it has a duty to be impartial in its news coverage. BBC news staff are also barred from expressing political opinions. Lineker’s tweet about the Illegal Migration Bill was seen as a breach of social media guidance and impartiality standards but the decision to take him off the air has been called into question.

Social media

The former Everton, Barcelona and Tottenham striker is well known for using social media to share his thoughts on the world. But, he is not a BBC News presenter and his work for the corporation does not touch on current affairs. His responsibilities are not the same as other, full-time employees as he is not part of the outlet’s political content. His social media activity is not a represenatation of the BBC’s view on the government’s immigration policies so, basically, he should be allowed to say whatever he likes on social media.

If political statements render him unfit to host a sports show, it would set a precedent that could be applied to other BBC contractors such as actors, DJs, and hosts of light entertainment programmes and then soon enough there wouldn’t be any shows on the BBC.

The 62-year-old commented on the Home Office’s new policy to stop migrants crossing the English Channel from France on small boats, which was unveiled by Home Secretary Suella Braverman earlier this week. He told his 8.7 million Twitter followers that there was “no huge influx” of refugees, saying the UK “takes far fewer... than other major European countries”. He added: “This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in a language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ’30s.”

No one who really believes in free speech will be criticising his right to say what he has or calling for the BBC to discipline him. Free speech is a vital British value and must be protected.

Extreme views

Going forwards, I think the BBC should only restrict the most extreme views such as espousing genocide or political violence and it must bring back Lineker who has hosted Match of the Day since 1999. The show has been a national institution in Britain since the 1960s but last night the saga saw it cut from 80 minutes to just 20 withouts presenters, pundits or commentators.

A day of scheduling chaos also saw Football Focus and Final Score replaced, Radio 5 Live’s traditional Saturday football coverage ripped to shreds, and the 606 phone-in show with Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton pulled.

The BBC apologised and said it was working to resolve the situation. Football fans just want their show back with a full panel and Lineker - who scored 48 goals in 80 matches for England - as its host. As the old saying goes, sports and politics just don’t mix, and this is the perfect example of that.