EXCLUSIVE: Senior BBC journalists are furious at Gary Lineker’s ‘egregious’ breach of the rules of impartiality after he compared the UK government’s asylum policy to Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Deadline has spoken to a number of sources on the BBC’s editorial board, who said their mission to report news objectively was damaged by Lineker’s tweets on Tuesday. They urged Tim Davie, the BBC’s director general, to take action game of the day Host.
Lineker, the BBC’s highest-paid presenter, fumed at “beyond horrible” government plans to block small boats carrying asylum seekers from arriving on Britain’s shores. He later added: “We take in far fewer refugees than other large European countries. This is simply an immeasurably cruel policy aimed at the weakest, in language not unlike that of Germany in the 1930s.”
A BBC presenter said it was “such a egregious breach” of the channel’s standards of impartiality, which Davie made a top priority when he took office in 2020. A second insider added: “It’s a massive problem for us. Tim must act decisively now. That is not sustainable.”
Lineker’s colleagues conceded that he was unlikely to be fired but said it was possible he could be taken off the air for a period of time. “Suspend until the end of [football] Season? He might leave at that point, which wouldn’t be a bad thing from Tim’s point of view,” one person said.
Two sources said matters were complicated by the presence of BBC chairman Richard Sharp. Sharp remains in office despite explicit links to the Conservative Party, including recent revelations that he helped facilitate a loan guarantee for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he was bidding for his role at the BBC. “They don’t really have a leg to stand on with the Sharp stuff,” said a source.
BBC insiders have said Lineker will be approached via the tweet, although the meeting was still scheduled to take place this afternoon UK time. Asked how many “strikes” Lineker has had over his social media posts, Davie told BBC News today: “I think impartiality is absolutely paramount for the BBC and that is clearly important to us.”
BBC journalists are subject to higher levels of impartiality than non-news presenters like Lineker, although all have been told their social media activity “can affect perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality”.
Lineker is said to have broken the BBC’s impartiality rules last October after he tweeted his views on the Conservative Party’s acceptance of donations from Russia. The BBC said Lineker had “additional responsibilities” because of his high profile and reminded him that staff “should avoid taking sides on partisan issues or political controversies”.
Lineker was defiant on Twitter today, arguing that he is “sticking to politics” and shared a thread from Tanja Bueltman, a professor at the University of Strathclyde, who supported his Nazi comparison. “I’ve never had love and support like this morning in my life (aside from England’s World Cup goals maybe). I want to thank each and every one of you. That means a lot. I will keep trying to stand up for these poor souls who have no voice. Cheers everyone,” he said.
Roger Mosey, former BBC editor-in-chief, said the company has been “weak and shaky” on Lineker, who gets £1.35million ($1.6million) to host sport. He told Radio 4 media show that Lineker’s tweets “do not actually conform to the letter of the Policies Act.”
The BBC said: “The BBC has guidelines on social media that are published. People who work for us are aware of their social media responsibilities. If necessary, we have set up corresponding internal processes. We would expect Gary to be approached and reminded of his responsibilities.”
Deadline has reached out to Lineker’s representative for comment.