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Gary Lineker reinstated at BBC after clash over migration tweets


LONDON — Britain’s state broadcaster and its highest paid presenter on Monday announced they reached a deal that would see sports legend Gary Lineker back on the air after he was suspended for criticizing the government’s migration policies.

A showdown between the BBC and Lineker — two national institutions — set off a fierce debate in the United Kingdom about free speech and impartiality after Lineker, a former soccer star who now hosts “Match of the Day,” tweeted about the government’s new asylum policy.

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“After a surreal few days, I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this. I want to thank you all for the incredible support, particularly my colleagues at BBC Sport, for the remarkable show of solidarity. Football is a team game but their backing was overwhelming,” Lineker tweeted on Monday.

The director general of the BBC, Tim Davie, apologized and said that the broadcaster would launch an independent review of its social media guidelines, with a focus on freelancers, like Lineker.

“Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this,” he said.

The BBC is funded by British taxpayers and it has a duty to be impartial in its news coverage and there are strict guidelines for using social media. Many questioned whether this also applied to freelancers and those who work outside of news and current affairs. Others pointed to cases where other BBC presenters had expressed their views and not been sacked, including the likes of Alan Sugar, host of the U.K. version of “The Apprentice,” who criticized a union boss over strike action.

Critics also pointed out that Richard Sharp, the chairman of the BBC board, is being investigated for his role in securing a loan of $966,000 for Boris Johnson. Sharp was appointed to his BBC role in 2021 on the recommendation of the government, which at the time was led by Johnson.

Lineker’s show, “Match of the Day,” presents highlights of Premier League soccer games. Before he was BBC’s highest paid presenter — he earned $1.6 million in 2022 — he was a celebrated sports star, having played for several top teams as well as for England, where he scored 48 goals in 80 matches for his country.

The storm clouds descended after Lineker sent a tweet from his account last Tuesday, which has over 8 million followers, about the government’s immigration policy.

“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, and I’m out of order?”

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On Friday, the BBC announced that he would be stepping back from his presenting duties. Several colleagues at the BBC also walked off in solidarity, leading to a weekend of disrupted sports coverage.

Asked by the BBC on Monday if Lineker agreed to stop tweeting about politics, Davie said that Lineker would “abide by the editorial guidelines” while the review of the BBC’s social media policy takes place.

For his part, Lineker said that Davie had “an almost impossible job keeping everybody happy, particularly in the area of impartiality. I am delighted that we’ll continue to fight the good fight, together.”

He added: “However difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away.”

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.