What is the Anglo Jewish community to make of the BBC’s rush to get Gary Lineker back on-air? Jonny Gould explains the unresolved issues here and in his podcast.
Gary Lineker, the BBC’s lead football presenter has been restored to our TV screens after a couple of his tweets brought down the Corporation’s entire coverage of TV and radio sport the previous weekend.
In a tweet to his 8 million followers, the former England captain and Barcelona striker compared the UK government’s language on immigration as “not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s”.
He then point-blank refused to apologise or backdown, so the BBC’s Director General Tim Davie suspended him on breaching their guidelines on impartiality.
But when Lineker’s Match of the Day pundits, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright stood down in solidarity, Alex Scott followed suit and withdrew from preview show, Football Focus – and then a mass walkout by reporters on Final Score meant coverage was cancelled altogether.
Either that blunt show of support confirms what many fear about the BBC, that its staff lack a diversity of opinion – or maybe they thought best not to take on the chumocracy of ex-pros who sit aloft in the studio.
Surely not everyone who withdrew their labour took Lineker’s stance? But that’s what it looked like from outside.
Now there are layers of unresolved issues which have fallen by the wayside in the rush to appease Gary and chums and get the BBC Sport bandwagon up and running again.
As a public service broadcaster, the BBC demands its presenters don’t declare bias or take sides publicly. That’s difficult to uphold in this age of social media.
Yet after frantic talks, the BBC agreed Lineker could return to air immediately, but lay off the controversial tweets while they restructured their guidelines. Lineker’s not exactly kept to that if his timeline is anything to go by.
So this is far from over.
As a long time TV and radio sports presenter, I was invited onto numerous TV shows to comment.
I worried about management silence in the hours before the DG took action, but once Lineker had been stood down, I ruminated over the sudden opportunity to reset a tiring programme format – and to balance the discipline of being in the public eye with the hazards of straying too far from what the public actually want from you.
My head of sport at ITV, Brian Barwick once told me to, “rein it in, lad”, referring to an exuberance which sometimes would get in the way of why people switched on to the football. He was right. I became a better broadcaster for that chiding.
But let’s not forget the odiousness of Lineker’s jibe.
The content of Lineker’s tweet matters. “Language not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s?”
There is no greater defender of BBC impartiality than Panorama documentary-maker, John Ware. He won three defamation cases over three long years asking if Labour was antisemitic during the years of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
And his emphatic personal message for Lineker is the centrepiece of this episode of my podcast. Here’s John’s entire quote:
“My beef, Gary, is with your accusation that the Home Secretary’s language over the small boats issue was quotes “not dissimilar to that used by 1930s Germany”. It’s the historical analogy that I find disagreeable. I just don’t recognise this. And I don’t think any mainstream historian would either.
I don’t think you’ll find many – if any – people making stirring speeches about how the fatherland needs to extirpate the Bolsheviks, I’m not aware of any beer halls in Manchester or London or anywhere else, calling for a new British empire to arise devoid of “Jewish vermin”, by exterminating it root and branch.
I’m not aware yet of any racial hygiene departments developing in universities, developing studios’ scientific curriculum, on how to deal with the problem of unworthy lives.
Lives devoid of value, in order to purify the Aryan race.
I’m not aware of any compulsory sterilisation programmes being discussed, unless I have missed something.
I’m not aware of any law to protect hereditary health, listing those who qualify for compulsory sterilisation – schizophrenics, depressives, the hereditary blind and the deaf.
I’m not aware of any brownshirts, the doc Martin boot boys, whose job was to “protect” Nazi rallies – they didn’t mind if they kicked the odd Jew down the street on the way, no race laws prohibiting Germans to marry Jews – otherwise I’d be in a concentration camp because my wife is Jewish – and so would the Home Secretary because her husband is Jewish.
No Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda headed by a sort of Joseph Goebbels sticking posters on the streets, of migrants officially photographed with distorted features to turn them into hate figures.
No torturing of migrants in police cells and homes raided and ransacked before being packed off to a labour camp. And all of this heading off towards the mass genocide of the Final Solution.
So that is a snapshot of what was going on and what was being said in the 1930s, Gary.
And I think you actually got off quite lightly when the Home Secretary said rather mildly, more in sorrow, I suspect, than in anger, when she said your comparison was irresponsible. I think it was. But it’s just an easy hit, isn’t it. Someone you find politically objectionable – imply that they are heading down the same road as the Nazis. Too often drawing a Nazi-like comparison has become the currency of political argument and it devalues both the argument and the people who draw it.
And I noticed you tweeted – and you sounded indignant: “And I am out of order?”. You know, you are on this one. Right out of order”.
David Bolchover also contributed to the episode. He is the author of The Greatest Comeback, the story of Bela Guttmann, Benfica’s twice European champion winning coach, who survived the Holocaust in which his family were murdered.
David told me that Lineker can spout whatever he wants – so long as he’s willing to confront the actual facts from 30s Germany
There’s much more to this than Lineker’s suspension by the BBC over its guidelines.
In the social media age, you may well think those rules are passed their sell-by date, that they don’t apply to sports presenters – or they’re a Samson’s Pillar for a licence fee which should be abolished.
Ask Jewish and Israeli people about BBC impartiality and you’ll get short shrift. The Anglo-Jewish community’s had its run-ins with the BBC in recent years.
Nicole Lampert, a freelance entertainment journalist has also written about antisemitism and says Jewish concerns over Lineker’s tweet have been tossed aside by the BBC. Relations with the national broadcaster are not good. There was a significant run-in with the BBC over their coverage of an incident involving Chanukah celebrants on a private bus travelling through Oxford Street during the festive period.
Indeed the BBC has its challenges on impartiality. It often demands an unedifying moral equivalence between two opposing arguments.
But in the age of multinational media corporations, what a noble starting point to try to aim for.
Impartiality can also be the bedrock of a nation’s value system, a unit of soft power, an ideal which puts the nation on the map.
Nick Timothy anticipated the BBC’s climbdown in his Daily Telegraph column and Theresa May’s former joint chief of staff says both Lineker and BBC chairman Richard Sharp should go – then the national broadcaster can be repurposed in a time which he believes it’s needed more than ever.
Aside from respecting impartiality while working for the national broadcaster, this raises the personal conduct of Twitter people with large amounts of followers.
And whatever Lineker’s intent, his flow of tweets prompt online bullying from his millions of followers.
Two years ago, BBC Sport and Sky Sports joined forces with a Hate Won’t Win campaign, which Lineker prominently fronted.
If such initiatives are to mean anything – more than handy logos to play in between action replays, tangible rules on personal conduct need adhering to whether by BBC guidelines or another directive.
Amid this pop-up melee, we may lose the lesson about online bullying.
Jonathan Sacerdoti, prominent British Jewish broadcaster and journalist says Lineker‘s a repeat offender in breaching guidelines which meant sooner or later, he’d be on a collision course with the BBC.
And Jewish viewers and listeners would be right to worry about Lineker’s views on Israel and Jewish people.
Jonathan Turner, the CEO of UK Lawyers for Israel discussed Lineker’s lament for a Hamas fighter killed in a clash with the IDF – later emerging that in fact it had happened during an attack on Jews visiting Joseph’s tomb in Judea and Samaria in a coordinated security arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Lineker tweeted that the Israelis had killed a promising young footballer without correcting the terrorist’s wider description as a Hamas fighter who was attacking a group of Jewish pilgrims visiting the ancient burial site.
And what of this being a moment of collective learning rather than the usual divisive debate that seems to follow discussions on the Palestinians around?
Alex Hearn. director of Labour Against Antisemitism regrets the opportunity to have been a learning moment had Lineker and the BBC not made it about themselves.
So Lineker is back on-air emboldened by staff mutiny and has immediately returned to Twitter in his extra-curricular role as self-appointed progressive warrior.
But the BBC management climbdown can’t give Lineker a free pass.
If so, what’ll be distinct about the BBC if their own management won’t uphold their structures and points of difference when they come to rewrite their own rules?
And what of the Jewish community and its relationship with the BBC? Why is trust being thrown away? If talent rules the roost, the national broadcaster and our society who consume the output will be all the poorer for it.
Jonny Gould’s Jewish State is an Apple Podcast number one hit in the UK and around the world. Subscribe and listen now wherever you get your podcasts.