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gary lineker bbc saga

The Gary Lineker BBC saga: our team has their say

The Gary Lineker BBC saga is continuing to hit headlines almost two weeks on.

It all started with a tweet.

In it, the former England striker condemned the UK Government’s new Illegal Migration bill.

He described the policy as “immeasurably cruel” and compared the language to 1930s Germany.

The issue at the heart of this was simple.

Was the Match of the Day presenter allowed to freely post that opinion?

Or should he have kept his thoughts to himself?

Here’s the view of our media trainers: Bill, Rachael, and Colin.

Bill’s take

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I was a BBC reporter-presenter for 10 years from 1985 to 1995.

At first, I covered news.

I quickly changed to sport, often presenting a round-up within news programmes like Reporting Scotland and BBC Breakfast.

But in 1995, I had to speak out.

An actor friend who’d been sexually abused many times was being dragged through the courts.

They were treating him as a perpetrator rather than the victim he clearly was.

His name was Eric Cullen, the 4-foot 4-inch man who played the child hoodlum Wee Burney in Rab C Nesbitt.

I was in newspapers, radio and television, criticising the actions of the police and the courts.

My comments were front-page news and led bulletins through the summer of 1995.

Eventually, his jail term was quashed by the Appeal Court.

Eric died before his first abuser was finally jailed.

And what did my BBC bosses have to say to me?


Other to congratulate me on my actions when we finally found justice.

Only through freedom of speech – as a BBC sports presenter, sometimes on news programmes – did we find that justice.

In today’s BBC, I wonder if that would have been possible.

I cherish the BBC’s desire for impartiality.

Every news and current affairs reporter and presenter must sign up to that.

But it was a BBC documentary that bravely told the whole story behind Eric’s tragic life, for which I’ll be forever grateful.

The simplest solution for me, now as it was then, is to allow non-news presenters to say what they want outside BBC channels.

That’s what I did.

That’s what I want future generations to be able to do.

Rachael’s take

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It’s been a busy news cycle involving BBC presenters.

First, bosses pulled Gary Lineker from his Match of the Day slot for an anti-Tory tweet.

Days later, Question Time’s Fiona Bruce was accused of defending Boris Johnson’s dad’s domestic violence on air.

She chose to step down from her role as ambassador for women’s charity Refuge in response. 

This is a question of representation rather than solely freedom of speech.

Gary is entirely free to discuss his personal, non-football-related beliefs outside his role as a BBC presenter.

However, he may fall foul of their editorial guidelines should he start spouting them from the sports desk.

Similarly, Fiona is able to discuss the infrequency of Johnson’s violence when off-duty.

When televised it’s seen to do disservice to the thousands of women seeking refuge from violent partners.

Arguably both presenters had failed to take stock of the wider-reaching impact their words could have.

Or who might instantly take them to task.

This is why establishing clear guidelines for employees’ social media use is crucial.

Employees need to know from the beginning what’s expected of them in the public sphere as a representative of your company.

As well as whether the biography caveat “all views my own” is a sturdy enough get-out-of-jail-free card. 

And should they begin tweeting inflammatory language, conspiracy theories, or complaints about their working conditions, what are the consequences?

Will controversial retweets damage your company’s reputation?

By laying these rules out in the beginning, you can protect yourself from future problems.

As well as inform and discipline staff when it comes to their social media use.

Colin’s take

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This sorry saga has, oddly enough, brought back fond memories of my time at Scottish Television (STV).

I was a reporter, presenter and newsreader from 2014-2017.

The year before I left, Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States.

It was a huge story both globally and for STV News.

Trump’s golf courses here, and his Scottish mother, gave us loads of content.

I was reading these stories on air for months running up to and after the 2016 election.

But there was a problem.

I had written, recorded, and published a silly anti-Donald Trump song with my cousin.

As you’d expect from any musician, I’d shared my creation online.

My editor Linda caught wind of this and asked me to delete or hide the video immediately.

I was told it would be a serious reputational blow if people found out how an STV journalist felt about Mr Trump.

Reluctantly, I made the video private.

With the benefit of hindsight, Linda was right.

Should an allegedly impartial news reader be promoting an anti-Trump song, even as a joke? No. 

Imagine the blowback if a CNN journalist was found to have posted something similar.

But this is the crux of the Gary Lineker saga.

Rather than staff, he’s a freelancer. Rather than news, he talks about football. And rather than a journalist, he’s a presenter.

For those reasons, I believe he should be free to post his view without it becoming front-page news.

Sir Alan Sugar, the star of the BBC show The Apprentice, has been at the heart of many a Twitter storm.

But his tweets are yet to make the top story on the News at Ten.

And that, then, is when the question of BBC impartiality comes in.

Did Government ministers lean on TV bosses to act swiftly with Gary?

And if he had tweeted in support of the Illegal Migration bill, would he have been dropped?

I seriously doubt it.

Have your say

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There’s more to come in the Gary Lineker BBC saga.

It seems everyone has an opinion.

Do you agree or disagree with our team?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.


Photos in Gary Lineker BBC saga blog by Pink Elephant Communications.

Gary Lineker BBC saga blog

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