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Today’s headlines are screaming about the suspension of football-match commentator Gary Lineker because of his tweet four days ago about the UK government’s latest plan to stop illegal immigrants crossing the English Channel in small boats. The BBC is claiming that his comments breached their impartiality rules and have suspended him from commentating on their Saturday night flagship football match program, Match Of The Day (MOTD).  I know of Gary Lineker but have no opinion of him. I rarely watch football on television or elsewhere, and I’ve never watched MOTD, Lineker’s commentating speciality. But when I read headlines like this, I have four questions: what did he say?; what are the BBC’s rules about what he said?; did he breach these rules?; and what about his freedom of speech rights? Anything else you might consider – like or dislike of Lineker as a person or his style of commentating, agreement or disagreement with his views on immigration policy, his £1.35M/year BBC salary, his ‘spud salesman’ role, as the Daily Star refers to him, for Walkers crisps – is irrelevant to our assessment of his suspension.

First, what did he say, or rather, tweet?

Note, although almost everything I have read describes his comments as relating to ‘Nazi’ Germany, Lineker did not qualify his reference as such. The media has added the qualifying word as an adjective..

Second, what are the BBC’s guidelines about the impartiality of their employees, especially those in the public eye? Here are some relevant extracts from their editorial guidelines:

The BBC is committed to achieving due impartiality in all its output. This commitment is fundamental to our reputation, our values and the trust of audiences. The term ‘due’ means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.

Due impartiality… does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles, such as the right to vote, freedom of expression and the rule of law.

The external activities and public comments, for example on social media, of staff, presenters and others who contribute to our output can also affect perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality. Consequently, this section should be read in conjunction with Section 15: Conflicts of Interest.


The Conflicts of Interest rider states:

A potential conflict of interest arises when there is the possibility that an individual’s external activities or interests may affect, or be reasonably perceived as affecting, the BBC’s impartiality and its integrity, or risk damaging the BBC’s reputation generally or the value of the BBC brand. Conflicts of interest may occur in any area of our work.


So, what do you think? Did Lineker’s comments breach the impartiality requirement relative to his role as a renowned football commentator? Did the comments damage the BBC’s reputation? Was there a conflict of interest between his job as a football commentator and his views of the government’s immigration policy? The answers to these three questions are, in my opinion, no, no and no. I can see no tangible relationship between Lineker’s role as a top BBC commentator on football matches and his views on immigration. Unless the BBC, or someone else, can prove there is a link, it is clear to me that Lineker has not breached the BBC’s rules and that he has the right to express an opinion on immigration policy or any other topic that does not detract from his high-profile status or his ability to commentate on football matches. It’s called freedom of speech and is enshrined in article 10 of the UK’s Human Rights Act 1998.

The BBC has egg on its face.