Gary Lineker, Andrew Neil and the BBC’s Real Impartiality Crisis
Prominent right-wingers at the corporation have long been given the sort of leeway for their views that those on the left never will, writes Adam Bienkov
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This week’s newspapers and news bulletins have been dominated by a row over a tweet by the BBC football commentator and presenter Gary Lineker.
The tweet, in which Lineker compared the rhetoric used by Rishi Sunak’s Government on refugees to that previously used in 1930s Germany, has been the subject of multiple front pages and led the BBC’s six o’clock and 10 o’clock news bulletins last night.
At the same time as the Government’s de facto asylum ban has been condemned by, among others, international human rights groups, the England’s Children’s Commissioner and the UN, Britain’s media has instead largely focused on a single tweet made by one BBC host.
On Radio 4’s Today programme this morning one former BBC executive told the station that Lineker would inevitably have to be sacked for bringing the corporation’s impartiality into doubt.
Yet the treatment of Lineker, like the treatment of other former BBC hosts who felt forced to leave in recent years after coming under pressure for their supposedly ‘left-wing’ views, stands in stark contrast to the much more lenient treatment meted out to other prominent figures at the corporation.
In particular, Andrew Neil, who helped front multiple political programmes at the BBC over many years, before leaving to help launch GB News, was never subject to even a fraction of the scrutiny now being placed on Lineker. Neil, like Lineker, was a prolific user of Twitter and regularly shared his own views on everything from Brexit to climate change and the SNP.
At the same time, he was chairman of one of Britain’s leading right-wing magazines, the Spectator. Neil was allowed to keep his role at the magazine, which regularly caused significant controversy over its content on issues including race and religion, despite being in such a prominent position at the BBC.
And while he did once come under some internal pressure over a tweet he posted about the Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr, his use of the social media site was never the subject of a single tabloid splash or BBC bulletin.
In short, he was given a pass – in a way neither Lineker nor former BBC journalists like Lewis Goodall and Emily Maitlis ever were.
As Goodall himself said this week, as somebody who was accused of being on the left, his life was regularly “made really hard” at the corporation by BBC Board member (and former Theresa May communications chief) Sir Robbie Gibb.
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None of this is a surprise to those who know the BBC well.
Prominent left-wingers in the UK often complain about the apparent dominance of right-wing voices on BBC News programmes and panels, while insiders at the corporation have often grumbled over the years about what they see as a right-wing bias inside the management of BBC’s Westminster operation.
Yet the BBC’s self-flagellation over Gary Lineker this week has taken matters to another level.
At a time when the Government is bringing in a new law, which even the Home Secretary has admitted is more likely than not in breach of the UK’s international obligations, our national broadcaster has instead devoted itself to seemingly endless discussion about one sports presenter’s public criticism of the policy.
Ultimately it is this imbalance in its coverage, rather than the views of any one particular individual, which represents the real crisis of impartiality at the BBC.