- The BBC was forced to cut much of its Saturday sports coverage
- Many providers refuse to work to support Lineker
- The series sparks neutral debate on migration concepts
LONDON, March 11 (Reuters) – Britain’s BBC was forced to cut much of its sports section on Saturday after presenters refused to show solidarity with Gary Lineker as a dispute over free speech threatened to turn into a crisis. National Broadcaster.
Former England soccer captain Linegar, the BBC’s highest-paid host and host of soccer highlights program “Match of the Day,” was suspended by the broadcaster on Friday after criticizing Britain’s immigration policy earlier in the week.
Several sports programs were not broadcast as planned on Saturday after several presenters walked out, prompting the BBC to apologize to viewers.
“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon,” the broadcaster said in a statement.
The Lineker row sparked debate over the BBC’s neutrality, and pitted the government against one of the country’s most high-profile and popular sports broadcasters.
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Lineker declined to comment to the media when he left his London home on Saturday and did not answer reporters’ questions when he visited his former club at the King Power Stadium in Leicester.
The BBC is committed to being politically neutral, but it is now facing criticism from the opposition Labor Party and media commentators, who accuse it of silencing Lineker in response to pressure from the Conservative government.
“The BBC is not acting impartially by pandering to Tory MPs complaining about Gary Lineker,” Labor leader Keir Starmer told reporters at a conference in Wales on Saturday.
‘Germany in the 30’s’
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new law earlier in the week to prevent asylum seekers from coming through the canal in small boats.
Lineker, 62, described the policy on Twitter as “a brutal policy aimed at the most vulnerable people in a language unlike that used by Germany in the 30s”.
A spokesman for Sunak called the comments “unacceptable”, while Home Affairs Minister Suella Braverman called Lineker’s reaction to the policy “offensive”.
The BBC, which is seeking to resolve the dispute, has said Lineker must give an agreed position on his social media use before he can offer it again.
But critics of Lineker’s suspension say he deserved his personal comments because he was not giving a news show.
Greg Dyke, director-general of the BBC between 2000-2004, told BBC Radio earlier on Saturday that the BBC had made a mistake by not airing Lineker because it gave the impression that the government could tell the broadcaster what to do.
“The perception out there is that Gary Lineker, a much-loved TV presenter, is off the air after pressure from the government on a particular issue,” he said.
Viewers could be turned away from the 100-year-old BBC, which levies a 159-pound ($192) annual “license fee” on all TV-watching households.
Although the broadcaster is a central presence in British cultural life, it struggles to stay relevant with younger audiences and faces future threats to its finances as some Conservative lawmakers want to scrap the license fee.
Saturday’s edition of “Match of the Day”, which Lineker has hosted for more than 20 years, was scheduled to air at the regular time despite his absence. The BBC said it would “focus on match action without studio presentation or pundits”.
Additional reporting by Sarah Young in London Hritika Sharma and Adi Nair in Bengaluru and Henry Nicholls in London and Toby Melville in Leicester Editing by Hugh Lawson and Helen Popper
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