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Gary Lineker and the BBC

Gary Lineker and the BBC


Gary Lineker was asked to step back from presenting Match of the Day after he tweeted about politics. What does the incident tell us about the BBC’s difficulties in achieving impartial broadcasting?

“There are hopes for a solution for the controversy surrounding Gary Lineker.”

BBC News

For over a week now the country’s national broadcaster has been in crisis mode and it all started with a single tweet. 

Last week, the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman posted a video of her explaining the government’s new plans to stop migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats…

 “Our asylum system has been overwhelmed… Enough is enough, we must stop the boats.”

Suella Braverman

Gary Lineker, the BBC’s highest paid presenter, tweeted a reply to that video, he wrote:

“This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ’30s.”

Gary Lineker’s tweet

With almost 9 million followers on Twitter, Gary Lineker’s reference to Nazi Germany always risked generating a heated debate. The problem for the BBC was that his tweet gained so much attention – particularly from angry Conservative politicians including the Home Secretary herself and rightwing commentators…

 “I think it’s really disappointing.” “It diminishes the unspeakable tragedy.” “I wouldn’t have said what he said.”

Lucy Frazer / Suella Braverman

It put the spotlight on the BBC…

And ultimately, the corporation decided that Gary Lineker’s tweet was in breach of its impartiality guidelines for social media because he had attacked a political party.


On Friday afternoon the BBC announced Gary Lineker would not be hosting that Saturday’s Match of the Day – something he has done since 1999…

[FTX Match of the Day theme tune.]

Fellow Match of the Day pundits Alex Scott, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright said they wouldn’t be taking part in the show.

“I’ll tell you something, if they do get rid of Gary Lineker, I’m out, I’m gone, I’m not staying.”

Ian Wright

That was then followed by a near blanket boycott from all sports reporters and presenters from national BBC TV and radio stations. 

The BBC tried and failed to fill the vacant spots.

As a result, the BBC’s Saturday sports schedules were ripped up last minute: 

“This is BBC One and in a change in schedule, it’s time for Bargain Hunt.”


And so, on Saturday night, the BBC’s flagship sports offering, Match of the Day was broadcast …without pundits, interviews or commentator… without its famous theme tune or opening credits… And it only lasted for 20 minutes.

[FTX of football crowd noise.]

On Sunday the two sides held hours of crisis talks. The following day it was agreed that Gary Lineker would return to present Match of the Day. He hasn’t issued an apology, or faced any sanctions. And the BBC has announced a review into its social media guidelines.

It’s been seen as a huge win for the presenter, and a major embarrassment for the BBC. 

And it has now forced the BBC to confront a serious question: what does it mean for the national broadcaster to be impartial?


The BBC is the most powerful newsroom in the country and paid for by the public. One of its main pillars is impartiality: broadly speaking this means if you are a journalist then you have to leave your opinions at home.

But what that means in practice for big name broadcasters like Gary Lineker is unclear. He’s a freelancer in sport. That means he has more freedom to express his own opinion, but under the BBC’s guidelines must still “avoid bringing the BBC into disrepute”.

But he’s not the only big star with a BBC show to have publicly expressed their political views. Dame Mary Berry has publicly criticised the government’s sugar tax, Nadiya Hussain called then prime minister Theresa May “a monster” for ordering an airstrike in Syria and Richard Osman said he thought the Tories wanted to sell off the NHS.

Alan Sugar from The Apprentice even gave a newspaper interview telling people to vote Conservative. He tweeted an image of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sitting next to Adolf Hitler.

So why has Gary Lineker been singled out now?


Politicians from both the left and the right waded in on this debate, and there were questions as to whether the BBC bowed to political pressure from the Conservative government.   What does this incident reveal about the BBC’s difficult relationship with the government?

This is Tim Davie, director general of the BBC…

 “If you ask anyone at the BBC, they’re all passionate about being impartial broadcaster.”

Tim Davie

The key word there is ‘impartial’. This whole incident with Gary Lineker has come at an awkward time for the BBC as it was already facing huge criticisms regarding the impartiality of its chairman, Richard Sharp.

“Mr Sharp facilitated an enormous £800,000 loan to Boris Johnson the then prime minister and it was Boris Johnson who appointed Richard Sharp As BBC chair so clearly that’s a conflict of interest.”

BBC Politics Live

Richard Sharp was a Conservative donor and a former boss of the prime minister Rishi Sunak while at Goldman Sachs. 

The BBC Director-General Tim Davie said impartiality was his number one priority when he took the job, but in the 1990s he was an active member of the Conservative Party. 

Tim Davie was questioned by BBC News on this issue: 

“There are many people, and all they see here is a Conservative director-general and Conservative chairman bowing to pressure from Conservative MPs and the Conservative press.” “I can tell you, anyone who knows me knows that, yes, 30 years ago some political involvement, but absolutely not affected by pressure from one party or the other. That is not how we work.”

Tim Davie, BBC News

Gary Lineker might be back on TV, but this row shows just  how difficult impartiality is for the BBC in a social media age…  

Today’s story was written and mixed by Patricia Clarke, with additional research by Rhys James.