This should be a learning moment for the BBC and the Tories who have put pressure on them (Picture: REUTERS)
The inscription reads: ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’ A message every bit as relevant today as when he wrote it.
Indeed, many of them didn’t believe he should be able to express them.
Braverman expressed her disappointment at the former footballer’s disapproval of her ‘immeasurably cruel’ policy, a view that was echoed by Number 10.
Her cabinet colleague Penny Mordaunt piled in from the despatch box, while Tory backbenchers embraced with glee yet another culture war.
It could, and indeed, should have been one of those rows that quickly blew over.
How, after all, could tweets by a Match of the Day presenter be more important than the EU and the UNHCR condemning the new policy as illegal? But as the government, the MPs and some newspapers kept it going, the BBC panicked, and temporarily took Lineker off the air.
How can Sugar urge his followers to vote this way or that, let alone mock up a photo of Jeremy Corbyn in a car with Adolf Hitler?
Will science presenter Brian Cox be hauled off air because he so consistently calls out the failings of Brexit? Will David Attenborough’s climate activism be curbed?
And if you took it to the logical conclusion, will Line of Duty star Martin Compston be declared BBC persona non grata because of his support for Scottish independence?
The BBC has now done the right thing, and admitted they got it wrong.
But this was a mess of their own making, because principles have gone walkabout thanks to the impact of Boris Johnson’s corruption of the apparatus of the State.
It is the Tories at the top of the Beeb who need to leave the building, not Lineker and those colleagues who, splendidly, walked out in solidarity.
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Principles have gone walkabout thanks to the impact of Boris Johnson’s corruption of the apparatus of the State. ” preload=”none” playsinline>
Tim Davie, the director-general, has now reversed that decision – and he was right to do so.
But this should be a learning moment for the BBC and the Tories who have put pressure on them – they should never pander to extremism or assume they will win the culture wars.
Their argument was that he had contravened guidelines on social media. Impartiality was seemingly threatened by Lineker making the factual statement that the UK took fewer refugees than other European countries, and expressing a view, shared by many of us, that the language surrounding the debate was redolent of 1930s Germany.
But inconsistencies in their position quickly became clear.
People who had complained about figures as varied as Alan Sugar, Chris Packham and Andrew Neil posted the responses they had received from the BBC Complaints department, essentially saying that viewers would be able to differentiate between what they said presenting their BBC programmes, and what they said on Twitter.
Indeed, this approach had previously been applied to Lineker.
The BBC initially argued that this time he was engaging in a highly controversial and ‘party political’ issue.
Yet I couldn’t help recall the time he turned out for the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, an event covered live on Sky News.
Issues don’t come much more politically controversial than Brexit. Yet there was not a peep from his BBC masters.
So why was this case initially treated differently? Here are a few possibilities.
First, because it comes several years into what has been a concerted campaign by the Tory right to undermine the BBC.
Second, because the BBC chairman Richard Sharp is a committed Tory, a donor, a former boss of Rishi Sunak, and aided in Boris Johnson’s attempts to get a large loan to fund his lifestyle.
Third, because Robbie Gibb is on the board and he is, to quote former presenter Emily Maitlis, a ‘Tory agent inside the BBC.’ Fourth, because some papers kept the frenzy going.
Director general Tim Davie is trying to navigate the BBC through a sustained political attack at a time the media landscape is changing so quickly. But it can only be done by adhering to clear principles. The lack of them has been exposed.
If Lineker was punished for what he said, then how can Karen Brady be a presenter alongside Alan Sugar on The Apprentice, while simultaneously turning up in the Lords as a Tory peer to vote for the very same legislation to which Lineker objected?
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