OPINION: MOTD viewers in for a Lineker-free weekend – it should be permanent

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OPINION: MOTD viewers in for a Lineker-free weekend – it should be permanent

Is Gary Lineker's absence from the BBC1 show this weekend related to his call for Israel to be banned from football?, wonders Charlotte Henry.

Gary Lineker
Gary Lineker

Gary Lineker will not present Match of the Day this weekend. The presenter is on a conveniently timed, supposedly pre-planned, break and former Lioness Alex Scott will step in.

Such moves are apparently planned weeks in advance, and it is certainly true that the BBC’s iPlayer names Scott as the presenter, although, in theory it could have updated this at any time. A preview by Radio Times from Monday also named Scott as the stand in, although at the time of writing Lineker is listed on the TV schedule it provides.

Either way, Jewish News understands Lineker will return as usual next week, when the Premier League once again has a full slate of matches after its (sort of) winter break. That is also reflected in TV guides.

This is a risible decision given the former England star retweeted (then deleted) a call from a BDS campaign group that Israel be banned from international football competition until its war with Hamas has ended.

The BBC has decided that sharing this online does not constitute a breach of its updated social media guidelines and will let Lineker return to our screens as if nothing has happened. These guidelines, lest we forget, were updated in September largely for Lineker and as a result of the issues he caused by sharing his political opinions online. Reports elsewhere suggest that other BBC colleagues are rather fed up with his digital antics.

Laughably, Lineker apparently thought his latest online outburst was about football and not political. I cannot quite fathom how he thought something originally posted by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott wasn’t political, but anyway. Ultimately, this decision is not going to VAR and it seems he will face no obvious sanction. Instead, Lineker will have a quiet weekend off and then slip seamlessly back into his exceptionally highly-paid presenter’s chair.

The BBC policy, however, seems to suggest that a different outcome could have been reached. It states: “Everyone who works for the BBC should ensure their activity on social media platforms does not compromise the perception of or undermine the impartiality and reputation of the BBC, nor their own professional impartiality or reputation and/or otherwise undermine trust in the BBC.”

It continues by explaining that “those presenting flagship programmes on the BBC carry a particular responsibility to help to balance commitments to both freedom of expression and impartiality, because of their profile on the BBC.”

The rules make clear both that this extends to personal and professional use of social media and that Match of the Day is one of those flagship programmes. It calls for adherence to the rules while a season of a flagship programme is running, as MOTD currently is. Retweeting a BDS group is very far from impartial.

The guidance does state that presenters such as Lineker “are free to express opinions about the issues that matter to you. This includes issues that may be the subject of public and political debate.” The idea here was that Chris Packham, for instance, could continue to raise environmental issues. Yet Carol Vorderman was let go from her BBC Wales presenting role as she refused to stop sharing political opinions.

Furthermore, if Lineker was so confident he hadn’t contravened the guidance why did he undo the retweet? There can be no doubt his behaviour threatened perceptions of BBC impartiality during a fraught time in the Middle East and for Jews in the UK.

The BBC may have got lucky in getting Gary Lineker out of the firing line this weekend, but they have been cowardly in not showing him a red card once and for all.

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