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How a tweet by a TV host became a new battle in the culture war engulfing the U.K.

In what began as a tweet by a popular British football commentator, he compared the language of the government’s new immigration plan to 1930s Germany, a major sporting event – once a politics-free haven of national unity – and free but exploded into a national argument. speech.

At the center of the brouhaha is Gary Lineker, a former English football captain turned TV personality who regularly appears in commercials for one of the UK’s biggest potato chip brands. Last week, he responded to Interior Minister Suella Braverman’s proposal to tackle Britain’s “overwhelmed” asylum system.

The bill has been blasted by rights groups and criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which said it was a “clear breach of the Refugee Convention” and would effectively result in an “asylum ban”.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman leaves Downing Street in London on January 31, 2023.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman.Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP File

Lineker called the offer “Beyond Terrible,” Before doubling down when challenged, he called it “an extremely cruel policy directed at the weakest in a language not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”

Suddenly, the presenter, known for his light-hearted humor and estrangement, found himself the target of complaints from several members of the government and the right-wing press. Braverman told the BBC that his comments “undermined the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust”. (Lineker did not mention the Holocaust in his public remarks.)

Lineker has faced criticism in the past for his use of social media, tweeting about Brexit, government policy and donations from Russian oligarchs to the ruling Conservative Party. But his latest intervention has shocked the government. According to a recent poll by British pollster YouGov, 73% of participants thought it was handling immigration issues badly.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Downing Street in London on March 7, 2023.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Downing Street last week.Leon Neil / AFP – Getty Images

Even Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has commented on Lineker’s response to Braverman’s video announcement on Twitter, who said the new bill “will mean if you come here illegally you won’t be able to stay. If You are safe, or you will be detained and removed to your home country in a safe third country like Rwanda.

As it came under mounting pressure, the BBC announced on Friday that Lineker would stand down from presenting his flagship football program ‘Match of the Day’ until we have an agreed and clear position on the use of social media”. Would have got.” The national broadcaster said it “considers his recent social media activity to be in breach of our guidelines.”

The move sparked outrage on social media and led to the hashtags #ImWithGary and #BoycottBBC trending on Twitter. Elsewhere, a petition to reinstate Lineker, the top scorer at the 1986 World Cup, had nearly 200,000 signatures as of early Sunday.

Migrants caught at sea while attempting to cross the English Channel are helped from a Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat in Dungeness on the southeast coast of England on December 9, 2022.
Migrants picked up at sea were helped by a Royal National Lifeboat Institution vessel off the south-east coast of England in December. Ben Stansall / AFP via Getty Images File

And after Lineker’s sideline, the commentators on “Match of the Day” — which holds the world record for longest-running soccer show — announced they were withdrawing from the program, which aired Saturday night without any coverage. Broadcasted with a studio presenter or pundit. Football players and managers also refused to conduct interviews for the show, and the usual 80-minute running time was reduced to 20 minutes.

Several other TV and radio hosts pulled out of presenting football and other sports shows throughout the day on Saturday, forcing the broadcaster to reschedule broadcasts.

On Sunday the BBC said it would broadcast a women’s football game without its own commentators, and “Match of the Day 2”, which Lineker does not present, would be broadcast in the same format as its sister show.

NBC News has reached out to Lineker for comment, but he did not respond to reporters when asked about the matter on Sunday.

Anti-immigration protesters hold a banner outside the Holiday Inn hotel housing refugees on February 18, 2023 in Rotherham, England.
Anti-immigration protesters outside the Holiday Inn hotel housing refugees in Rotherham, England, last month.Andy Barton / Sipa Images / Sipa USA via AP File

While the government stated that the decision with Lineker was up to the BBC, many pundits doubted that this was entirely true.

“The government pushed the BBC to go in a particular direction,” Gholam Khiabani, professor of politics and media at Goldsmiths, University of London, told NBC News on Saturday. This “created a crisis” for the broadcaster by pressuring the organization to denounce Lineker while later saying the matter was entirely “up to the BBC”.

The government tried a similar tactic when it pressured the Freedom From Torture charity to remove a video it posted on Twitter of a Holocaust survivor challenging Braverman over his language on immigration Was. Freedom from Torture refused to remove it, but Khiabani said the government had done the same with the BBC “and to some extent they have succeeded.”

Although it is technically independent of the state, the BBC is funded by an annual levy which the government collects from everyone who owns a TV or radio. Because the broadcaster’s income was “set by the government of the time”, it was “always a sword held over the BBC’s head,” Khiabani said.

A Manchester City fan holds up a banner reading "Gary Lineker for Prime Minister" Prior to the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Manchester City on March 11, 2023 in London.
A Manchester City fan holds a banner reading “Gary Lineker for Prime Minister” before the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Manchester City in London on Saturday.Ben Stansall / AFP – Getty Images

The debate has also raised questions about the future of other figures at the BBC, many of whom have openly expressed opinions or are active in politics. Prominent among them is BBC chairman Richard Sharp, who has donated money to the ruling Conservative Party and is currently the subject of an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into his role in facilitating hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to former prime minister Boris Johnson. Johnson. He has denied any involvement in arranging the loan.

While Lineker is the BBC’s highest paid presenter, he is not a permanent member of staff. As a freelancer, he presents programs on other stations, and the decision to remove him from “Match of the Day” drew complaints about double standards from several commentators, who pointed out that other personalities had previously uncensored right-wing Opinion was expressed.

Internally, the BBC faces more pressing problems.

Staff past and present have criticized the BBC’s handling of the issue, including its former director general Greg Dyke, who told BBC Radio 4 that the broadcaster “undermined its own credibility by doing this because it seems – the perception out there – that the BBC has bowed to government pressure.”

People attend a vigil outside Downing Street to remember the four men who drowned in the English Channel and to demand safe passage for refugees, in London on December 15, 2022.
People attend a December vigil in London to remember the four men who drowned in the English Channel.Guy Smallman / Getty Images File

Roger Mossy, the former head of BBC TV News, also tweeted on Saturday that it seemed the broadcaster had “given in to one side of the culture war”, something he said was intensified by the presence of the chairman, who said “should go.”

“He damaged the credibility of the BBC,” wrote Mosi, “ideally Lineker should have stayed within clear, agreed guidelines.”

Acknowledging that “not everyone will always agree” with his new asylum policy, Prime Minister Sunak on Saturday distanced himself from the furore, saying in a statement that it was a matter for the BBC, “not the government. ”

“Whatever happens, I think the BBC will come out of this much weaker,” Khiabani said, adding that the corporation “failed significantly on the notion of independence in journalism.”



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