We need to continue to stop the government silencing dissidents, and we must reclaim freedom of speech.Wikimedia Commons and Flickr

This month, a famous figure was made to “step back” from his long-standing position as presenter of the highest-profile sports programme on the BBC, over a tweet that many were offended by. Is this the woke-left agenda of cancel culture at play? No: it’s Tory censorship.

In early March, Gary Lineker tweeted his disgust at the government’s Illegal Migration Bill. This is not the first time the sports presenter has been vocal about his opinion on Twitter, but it is the first time he has been suspended for breaking impartiality rules.

Initially, the BBC followed Lineker’s tweet by declaring that they would “remind him of his responsibilities”. However as quickly as this position was taken, it seemed to U-turn, and Lineker was suspended from his position on Match of the Day until further notice. The BBC claimed they never said “[Lineker] can’t have a view on issues that matter to him”, while in the same statement suspended him for making these views public.

Lineker’s case is a particularly interesting one for many reasons, especially because of its precedent. In 2018, Gary tweeted against Brexit, and the BBC sang a very different tune at the time. Their statement following Lineker’s tweet claimed: “Gary is not involved in any news or political output for the BBC, and as such, any expression of his personal political views, does not affect the BBC’s impartiality”.

“When the BBC, a broadcaster internationally renowned for its impartiality, caves to government pressure, we find ourselves in deep and serious trouble”

Since then, in 2020, the BBC tightened its impartiality rules with regard to individual use of social media, to include those “who are not journalists or involved in factual programming [but] who nevertheless have an additional responsibility to the BBC because of their profile on the BBC.” I can’t think of much that has changed in this short space of time to influence the drastic change of heart, regarding whether a sports pundit criticising the government should be considered a breach of impartiality. That is, with the exception of the appointment of Tim Davie (a previous Tory candidate and constituency party deputy-chair) as director general of the BBC, Richard Sharpe (£400,000+ donor to the Conservative party) as its chair, Robbie Gibb (Theresa May’s director of comms at No 10, and previous editorial advisor at GB News) as a board member, and Michael Grade (Conservative party peer for over a decade – now crossbench) as the chair of Ofcom. Other than all that, there’s not much which would influence the decision making.

Lineker’s suspension was met with solidarity from many. Following the punditless Match of the Day episode, the tweet remained public, a review into the BBC’s social media policy was agreed upon, and Gary has now been reinstated on the BBC; an absolutely resounding triumph for the ex-England star. As former BBC news executive Sir Craig Oliver put it: “Gary Lineker 1 – BBC credibility nil.”

So, is it all the BBC’s fault? Of course not. In fact, the company had one of its own journalists interview Tim Davie, the director general, live on BBC News, and still managed to offer difficult questions holding Davie to account. The impartiality at the core of the BBC is still alive and thriving, so what is the problem?

While there were outcries about the language Lineker used, it is wrong to say this is the reason for his suspension. Although disagreement and controversy sparked about whether comparisons to Nazi Germany can ever be helpful, Tory claims that this is the reason they want Lineker off the air are rubbish. If this were the case, why does Lord Sugar still have his TV show on the BBC? His tweet of Corbyn, photoshopped into Nazi uniform with Hitler, must be at least as unacceptable a comparison and as breaching of impartiality as Lineker’s, yet Sugar still has The Apprentice broadcast on the BBC every year.

Put simply: the issue is censorship. When the BBC, a broadcaster internationally renowned for its impartiality, caves to government pressure, we find ourselves in deep and serious trouble. Worse still, it is not just sports pundits who are being silenced: senior police officers ordered the unlawful arrest of four journalists for covering protests, while the Public Order Bill attempts to give police the power to prevent protests occurring in the first place, and makes arrangements to shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defendants. The Tories are doing everything they can to prevent innocent people challenging and disrupting them. No matter how many human rights restrictions are put in their way, it appears the Tories will not rest until they break through them all to arrest another protestor.


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We should take Lineker’s reinstatement as encouragement; this was a victory for the people. Freedom of speech has always been about ensuring every citizen has the right to challenge those in power, not this distorted idea of “fighting cancel culture” which the right claims it to be. “Cancel culture”, at its strongest, can remove a bigot from one organisation, only for them to be picked up by another with fewer morals. The Tory policy we are seeing now directly attacks and places restrictions on those who challenge power. We need to continue to stop the government silencing dissidents, and we must reclaim freedom of speech as what it truly is: the liberal ideology of the masses and most vulnerable. It is not just sports pundits receiving penalties for standing up for our rights, it is all of us.