There is trouble brewing at the BBC, as the British televisual institution ties itself up in knots. The home of Doctor Who, Top Gear, and David Attenborough wildlife documentaries was forced to take unprecedented steps for its weekly football highlights broadcast last night due to a revolt by talent, and the rumors are that the revolt is spreading.
This all started during the week when the lead presenter on their flagship football show, Match Of The Day, Gary Lineker took to Twitter. The former England captain and World Cup Golden Boot-winning striker has always been politically active on social media. In a week where the Conservative UK government announced new legislation to tackle illegal immigration and asylum seekers entering the country across the English Channel in small boats, Lineker likened the language the government has used around the legislation to that of 1930s Germany.
Cue outrage all around. On one side were several government ministers and backbenchers, furious at being compared to the Nazis, various Jewish groups, and campaigners claiming he was belittling the Holocaust, and commentators reminding him that due to BBC impartiality guidelines he was supposed to refrain from political activism.
On the other side were those who pointed out he’s a football presenter, it was his private Twitter, not on the BBC, and he’s a freelancer.
In the kind of classic way that only big public bodies can make a drama out of a crisis, then somehow make it even worse, Linekar was made to step back from presenting the show until an agreement was reached around his further social media use.
All other talent, ex-players, and pundits pulled out in response. Alternative presenters refused to cover the show, commentators pulled out of covering the entire English Premier League slate yesterday, and other football shows were forced to be canceled as the revolt spread. In the end, the BBC was forced to present Match Of The Day as a highlights package without any commentary, presenters, or expert analysis.
Not helping matters is a current scandal surrounding senior BBC leadership and the Director General, a government appointment, being seen as too close to the governing Conservative Party including accusations of sleaze through a loan he helped arrange for outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Then came internet rumors that a sixth episode of a David Attenborough show was pulled, as it was heavily focussed on Climate change and the BBC was fearful of another “right-wing” backlash. This was false, and the show was never destined for the screen. It was a web-only special. Too late – this had already been reported online as gospel.
The media and the establishment have tied themselves up in knots in a cancel culture and PR disaster and made this a focal point in a brewing culture war. Inside the BBC, a largely left-of-center talent pool is making rumblings of further revolt against what is seen as government interference in an organization that claims to fiercely defend its independence and impartiality – a view many of the British public would disagree with.
What should have been a minor internet spat has somehow engulfed the whole broadcasting institution and been front-page news in the UK for 48 hours.
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