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Lesson plan; public broadcasters impartiality

More on Gary Lineker´s controversial tweet.

Gary Lineker, a former footballer and a popular sports presenter for the BBC, has been at the center of a controversy over his comments on Twitter about the UK government’s asylum policy. He compared the language used by Home Secretary Priti Patel to announce a new plan to deter illegal immigration to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.  This sparked a backlash from some politicians and media outlets who accused him of breaching the BBC’s impartiality rules. Source the Guardian.  The BBC initially took him off air and launched an independent review of its social media guidelines, but later reinstated him and apologized for the “difficult period” he had faced. The BBC’s director general Tim Davie said that Lineker had not intended to cause offence and that he respected his right to express his views as long as they did not undermine his credibility as a presenter.

This incident has highlighted the challenges faced by public broadcasters like the BBC in balancing their duty to be impartial and their responsibility to protect their staff from harassment and abuse. It has also exposed the political faultlines between those who support or oppose the government’s stance on immigration and asylum. Some critics have argued that Lineker’s comments were inappropriate for someone who works for a publicly funded organization that is supposed to serve all audiences without bias3. Others have defended Lineker’s freedom of speech and praised him for speaking out against what they see as an inhumane and divisive policy. Source: CNN

This is not the first time that a BBC presenter has faced criticism for expressing their personal opinions on social media. In 2019, Naga Munchetty was reprimanded by the BBC for saying that US President Donald Trump’s tweets telling four female politicians of color to “go back” to where they came from were “embedded in racism”. The decision was later reversed after a public outcry. In 2020, Emily Maitlis was censured by the BBC for saying that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings had “broken the rules” by driving across England during lockdown. She later apologized for her remarks.

Public broadcasters are funded by taxpayers or license fee payers and are expected to serve the public interest by providing accurate, diverse and high-quality content that reflects the views and needs of different audiences without favouring any political or ideological agenda. Source BBC. However, this is not an easy task in a time of highly polarised politics, increased scrutiny and criticism from various sources, and rapid changes in media consumption habits. Public broadcasters have to deal with competing pressures from governments, regulators, competitors, interest groups and their own staff who may have different opinions on what constitutes impartiality and how it should be achieved. They also have to cope with the risks of online harassment and abuse that their staff may face for expressing their views or reporting on controversial topics.

Some of the challenges that public broadcasters face include:

Discuss these dilemmas:

Essay questions

Here is a list of BBC’s 10-point plan for enhancing its impartiality based on web search results12:


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