(CNN) The BBC is facing a boycott of its flagship football show “Match of the Day”, as well as other football coverage, after announcing that presenter Gary Lineker will “retire” from the program after becoming embroiled in a row over impartiality when he criticized British government policy.
As Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC is bound by “due impartiality” — a much-debated term defined by the organization as “being held to account with consistency” while not “allowing ourselves to be used to campaign for public policy change”.
So when Lineker took to Twitter to criticize the government’s controversial new policy on asylum seekers and subsequently stepped down from presenting duties this week, it sparked controversy, leaving the BBC under fire from opposition politicians, BECTU, the trade union that represents BBC staff, and its former director-general. Greg Dyke.
“The BBC will only be able to carry limited sports programs this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect this,” a BBC spokesman said in a statement on Saturday.
“We regret these changes, which we know will be disappointing for BBC sports fans.
“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”
On Tuesday, Lineker tweeted “Oh my god, this is beyond awful” to a video posted on Twitter by Britain’s Home Office announcing a new proposed policy — an attempt to stop migrant boats crossing the English Channel from France, which has been criticized by the United nations and other world bodies.
He added: “There is no huge influx. We take in far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy aimed at the most vulnerable people in language not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s, and I’m not right?”
Then on Friday, the BBC announced that Lineker would “stand down from presenting Match of the Day until we have an agreed and clear view on his use of social media”, adding that it considered his recent social media activity to be in breach of its guidelines. .
In response, first the experts, then the commentators, and then the first league players announced their intention to boycott the show in support of Lineker.
BBC commentators Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Cowen and Steven Wyeth said in a joint statement late on Friday that “in the circumstances we do not feel it would be appropriate to participate in the programme”.
Jermain Defoe, the former England striker, announced on Saturday that he would not appear as a pundit on Sunday’s show.
“It’s always a great privilege to work with BBC MOTD. But tomorrow I’ve made the decision to step back from my pundit duties. @GaryLineker,” Defoe chirped.
Defoe’s announcement appears to be the first sign that it will also affect the British broadcaster’s Sunday television programme.
Meanwhile, the Association of Professional Footballers announced on Saturday that “players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in Match of the Day interviews.”
“The PFA spoke to members who wanted to take a collective stand and how they could show their support for those who chose not to be part of tonight’s programme,” the statement added.
“During those discussions we made it clear that, as their union, we will support any members who may face consequences for deciding not to meet their broadcasting obligations. This is a common sense decision which ensures that players will not now be put in that position “
A political argument
The boycott has thrown the BBC’s sports coverage into chaos, with other football programs — Football Focus and Final Score — as well as radio broadcasts that were forcibly cancelled.
Former BBC director-general Greg Dyke said the broadcaster had “undermined its own credibility” by suspending Lineker as it appeared to have “bowed to government pressure”.
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon chirped: “As a strong supporter of public broadcasting, I want to be able to defend the BBC. But the decision to remove Gary Lineker from the program is indefensible. It undermines free speech despite political pressure – and it always seems to be right-wing pressure that it gives in to.”
Opposition Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner also condemned the BBC’s decision in a tweet on Saturday.
“The BBC’s cowardly decision to remove Gary Lineker from the program is an attack on free speech despite political pressure from Tory politicians. They should reconsider,” she wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Nadine Dorries, an MP for the ruling Conservative Party and former culture minister, welcomed the BBC’s decision, chatter: “The news that Gary Lineker has been axed over the investigation is welcome and shows that the BBC is serious about impartiality.
“Gary is entitled to his views — free speech is paramount. Many non-public service media can accommodate him and his views and he would be better paid.”