Lineker v The BBC

Well, the Lineker crisis is over (for the time being at least) and Match of the Day returns. Not everyone will agree with what Gary Lineker tweeted, not everyone will agree with what various 'outraged' Tory MPs had to say about what he tweeted, not everyone will agree with the BBC's subsequent actions. But that's sort of the point.

What the whole sorry affair shows is just how important the principle of free speech is. It's laudable that the BBC aims to be impartial in its presentation of the news and politics, but its conduct in this affair has been anything but. It has also revealed the extent that its impartiality has been undermined by political interference over recent years.

Every time our increasingly authoritarian government publishes contentious new rules or proposes new laws that are likely to be unpopular, right wing politicians lead out with briefings about changing BBC funding and with attacks on the License Fee as a bit of a reminder to the BBC to play nice, and not be too critical about government policy.

The net result is a BBC management team of government placemen, and a set of ludicrous social media rules, inconsistently applied, clearly intended to stifle legitimate critical comment by presenters, and attack the very principles of free speech that the BBC is expected to uphold.

Impartiality, BBC, is not about stifling debate, but is allowing sensible rational discussion, and offering fair and balanced critique of policies. Gary Lineker's tweet presented his genuinely held view about the moral conduct of the government's proposed new legislation. It was a personal view, published on his personal Twitter account, and not related in any way to his professional role at the BBC.

The subsequent chain of events of the howls of outrage from right wing supporters of the policies he criticised, to his eventual suspension show all the hallmarks of an organisation being leant on to be rid of this turbulent pundit. Rather like the attempt by a certain king to be rid of a turbulent archbishop, it rather backfired when it transpired that St Gary of Leicester refused to be put to the sword and was found to have the support of the lay people of the sporting church.

Following his reinstatement, it is hardly surprising that those right wing MPs are yet again pronouncing the end of the license fee, yet again attempting to bully the BBC with threats to bend it to their will. Threats that will continue to affect it until such time as the government cannot appoint its Chairman, or hold its purse strings. Time for reform of the BBC to restore it to being a proud independent and informed broadcaster, not swayed by the government of the day.

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