Met Your Match of the Day

Nicola Biggerstaff

Are we witnessing the downfall of the BBC? Well, probably not.

Last week former England footballer turned pundit Gary Lineker’s social media caused outrage among the right wing after comparing the language of the UK government’s latest immigration bill to that of 1930s Germany. No accusations, no catastrophising, just plain simple fact. Yet this was enough to send the upper echelons of the BBC into chaos. But why was this? How did one Tweet lead to the historic climbdown of one of the world’s most iconic public broadcasters? And what does this say about its future?

After tweeting his honest opinion, the backlash against Lineker was instantaneous. He was forced to step aside from his regular presenting slots on the BBC’s weekend sports programmes, causing one of the corporation’s biggest impromptu strikes in its history as other presenters joined him in solidarity. We caught a glimpse into what the broadcaster would look like without its ability to truly scrutinize government. I’m clearly not a fan of sports, but I hear it was bleak.

Government officials immediately spun the tweet in an effort to distract from its true meaning. MP Johnathon Gullis even accused him of calling Red Wall voters Nazis. This, put simply, did not happen.

So what did he say exactly?

                There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s

Lineker was not calling our government Nazis either, as he was alsopreviously accused of by social media trolls. To reduce the conversation down to such a flashpoint was guaranteed to generate outrage, almost as if such an extreme response was the only defence our government had. The migration bill is poorly constructed and could never be passed or enacted under current domestic and international law. It is a deliberate attempt to steer debate, and to distract from failing governance. In our free democracy, we have a duty to hold our government accountable for what they say, and this should be without fear of punitive measures.

Combine this with their double standards regarding the political views of other BBC presenters, such as Andrew Neil, or their political connections such as those of Fiona Bruce, and you have a controversy waiting to happen. For years they stood by and allowed their presenters to have opinions outside the scope of their jobs, as they are rightfully entitled to, without facing disciplinary action. Why is it, all of a sudden, a problem for an employee to take a contradictory view for the sake of accountability?

This could be due to the increasing political interference, which has been coming under increasing scrutiny as more details come to light. Earlier this year it emerged that, during his tenure as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson received a loan of £800,000 after Richard Sharp, a former banker, put Johnson in touch with a distant cousin who acted as guarantor. Sharp was awarded the position of BBC chairman shortly after this.

These and other recent revelations have cast increasing doubt on the indelible, almost invincible perceptions of the BBC. And yet it is the opinion of a single employee which almost brought the organisation to their knees this weekend.

With all the media frenzy surrounding this, it makes me wonder: what could they all possibly have to hide? Could they once again be attempting to distract us from the real problems that exist in government? The fact that the language being used by the government in their bills are in fact increasingly embracing the rhetoric of the far-right? The fact that living standards are still at an all time low and this week’s budget is doing next to nothing to improve this? Now, we have elected representatives getting away with promoting policies which not only would never make it through parliamentary process, thus its only purpose being to generate further polarisation and outrage, but are in fact reminiscent of 1930s Germany.

That’s what our government can’t stand: the truth. Public acceptance of populism as a legitimate political standpoint didn’t start and end with Trump, Johnson, or Bolsonaro. The damage they have done to political civility will take decades to diffuse. We can no longer have reasoned debate without resorting to accusations of extremism. I am frustrated at myself that, in an attempt to defend reasoned debate, I’ve had to even mention the Nazis, because that now makes me no better than the others who introduced it, and down the doom-loop of civility we go.

This is obviously not the first time the BBC has found itself in hot water over its impartiality guidance, and it certainly won’t be the last. The organisation will live to see another day, but not with a structure anyone should be comfortable with in these times where government scrutiny should be at an all time high. The BBC have since stated their intention to review their social media policy for employees following Lineker’s reinstatement to regular presenting duties, but this simply will not be enough. Their blinding commitment to impartiality in recent years has opened the door to allow extreme arguments with no basis into legitimate spheres. The whole point of impartiality is that there should be a lack of political interference, not a balance of it. Appointments at the top should never be decided by those who do not work there, who do not know what is truly best for the company, and only wish to use it as a cloak for their own agenda.

I will always be a staunch defender of the BBC’s educational and entertainment output. However, there is much work to be done. Any future Scottish public broadcaster should ensure that true impartiality benefits all, and not just those at the top.

3 thoughts on “Met Your Match of the Day”

  1. Alasdair Macdonald

    Is the educational and entertainment output of the BBC free of politics? Does it not contain and has always contained a fair measure of British/English exceptionalism?

    The BBC has, since it’s inception presented the Reithian slogan of ‘inform, entertain and educate’ as its guiding value and, to a fair extent, it has done that until the recent past – probably around the time of Mrs Thatcher’s election when the right wing began to deploy cultural ideology to change the hegemony. It is not accidental that a number of Mrs Thatcher’s advisers were ex-communists and Marxists who knew their Gramsci and deployed the media as platforms for their ‘organic intellectuals’.

    On the one hand, they attacked the BBC as leftist and anti British, while gradually stuffing it with people, who, in Mrs Thatcher’s term, was ‘one of us’. Fiona Bruce, for example, said what she said because Stanley Johnson is ‘one of us’ and a different code is applied to him.

    The BBC and the media comprise individuals assembled under an organisational banner, but, the BBC is a human creation and the ‘actions of the BBC’ are the actions of individuals who agree on a particular vision of how the world should be.

    A big organisation like the BBC and other media organisations need a lot of people to run them and the management know that not all of them will be ‘one of us’, but, if they restrict the powers of these individuals, keep an eye on them and make sure they know where their next meal is coming from, these employees can to an extent be controlled to do what they are employed for.

    However, humans are not as easily controlled and, as Good Soldier Schwejk showed they can disrupt the system. Gary Lineker did this.

    However, I think what we will get, in the short term at least, is that the Tories will ensure that the BBC sheds any pretence of balance and become an explicit Tory propaganda machine. We have seen that sine c2013 with BBC Scotland.

  2. Campbell Anderson

    Well said Nicola and Alasdair.

    Tonight the BBC1 channel will have 3 hrs of “Comic Relief2023”. We have been encouraged to buy our red noses and participate for some time now. Millions will be raised for good causes.

    I have nothing but admiration for everyone who contributes to fund raising, with their time , expertise and money, after all helping others less fortunate is ( hopefully) a basic human response.

    However, the process of Charity is a political choice. The causes which will receive this much needed charity could have been supported through state taxation. As Alasdair explains above, Thatcher in particular cut state support and supercharged the mushrooming Charities we see today to support the needy and vulnerable. All to reduce taxation which predominantly benefits the rich. We have shelters for the homeless, warm rooms for the cold and food banks for the hungry. This divergence between rich and poor is the result of government ( Tory) and is a clear political choice.

    Where you may ask is the Reithian aims to Educate and Inform? Tonight’s fund raising will pass without one word about these issues. This demonstrates clearly where the BBC stand on impartiality. They act to support the establishment of the U.K. , currently directed by an extreme right wing government and present it on their programmes unquestionably as the norm. They do this across their broadcasting, particularly with political programmes.

  3. florian albert

    Gary Lineker stated that the UK government used ‘language that is not that dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s’
    Nicola Biggerstaff contends that ‘Lineker was not calling our government Nazis’.

    He was undoubtedly suggesting that they are alike. To pretend that a reference to ‘Germany in the 30s’, is not a reference to the Nazis is absurd. Who or what does Nicola Bickerstaff think that Gary Lineker was referring to ?

    Ordinary people in the UK – including Scotland – do not equate the government or the Tory Party with the Nazis. There is a section of the ultra left which does – and has been doing so for as long as I can remember, which is close to 60 years.
    During that time, it has been marginal. When the mainstream left in the UK, mainly the Labour Party, has drifted in the direction of the ultras, it has suffered electoral disaster. Think 1983 and 2019.

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