Gary Lineker, host of popular BBC soccer highlights show “Match of the Day,” said Tuesday he didn’t feel constrained at the broadcaster when it came to expressing his point of view, despite the BBC’s social media guidelines.
Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch, Lineker – who has attracted criticism for some of his Tweets on politics – said: “I don’t think I’m constrained. I think I’ve Tweeted now like I’ve always done: i.e. sensibly. I know the guidelines inside out, and the new guidelines actually allow you more freedom to Tweet. We’re allowed opinions on stuff.”
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He added: “We know what it’s like with the BBC… that people will say we are biased this way or biased that way. But the truth is there are thousands of people who work there. It is an institution that has to try to be neutral on most things and I think it does remarkable well in that sense. The bias will always be seen by someone, but the actual bias is theirs. It’s theirs. That is something you just get used to when working at the BBC.”
He claimed that when it came to politics the accusations of bias happened because people “will read into something that you perhaps said – it certainly never happens on television but maybe on social media – and they’ll see bias. But the bias is theirs. I’ve always tried to Tweet sensibly, and I’m not a tribal person anyway. I never have been. I just look at what I think is right and what is wrong, and I’ll go there.”
With the British general election coming up this year, Lineker underscored that he will remain neutral during the campaign. “I’ve never ever Tweeted about who I am going to vote for and I will continue that. So that doesn’t change it one iota for me.”
In terms of discussing issues such as immigration during an election period, he commented: “I wouldn’t do that before the election anyway. I’ve always been sensible on those things.”
Asked if he would be in “purdah” during the election period, Lineker said: “I am anyway – I don’t know whether you are reading my Twitter at all at the moment – not because of anything to do with the BBC at all. [Twitter] has obviously always been a bit of a cesspit, but it has become increasingly toxic and you can’t have nuanced conversations on there anymore and debates. So I have stepped away from that side of things. I Tweet my stuff and I don’t look at Twitter anymore.”
Asked if he would give up X – formerly known as Twitter – altogether, he said, “It is a very useful platform for me, so not necessarily, and it is great … and the BBC love me on there because obviously I promote their shows.”
Asked about why he took down a retweet about the Israeli soccer team, he denied he had been forced to do so by the BBC. “I took it down because people misunderstood the fact that it wasn’t my opinion. It was a news story that I retweeted.” When challenged whether it was a news story, he said: “I thought it was a news story. That is how I read it. I took it down because I thought people were taking it the wrong way.” However, he conceded that he may have been mistaken about whether it was a news story.
Lineker was also quizzed about the BBC’s reaction to another one of his Tweets – where he compared the U.K. government’s immigration policy to Nazi Germany. In response to the Tweet in March 2023, the BBC suspended Lineker, accusing him of breaching its impartiality guidelines. He said: “It was a shame because I love the BBC. Let’s call it a lovers’ tiff. We’ve been together a long time. Those things happen. I think it was a little bit unfortunate but we’re all fine again now. So all is good.”
Lineker was appearing at the BPG event alongside Tony Pastor and Jack Davenport, with whom he runs Goalhanger, a company that specializes in the production of podcasts. Among its top shows is “The Rest Is Politics,” hosted by Alastair Campbell, the Labour Party’s former head of communications, and Rory Stewart, a former Conservative lawmaker. One of the hallmarks of that and other Goalhanger podcasts is to have a forum where hosts and guest can “disagree agreeably,” according to Pastor.
Davenport said that for this reason there were some hosts they wouldn’t employ if they were deemed too divisive. “Ultimately all our shows are entertainment shows and our philosophy is that the audience want to spend time with people that they enjoy spending time with. Our production is focused around creating the tone and the warmth that mean people will want to come back once or twice a week and spend time with these hosts, which they probably won’t if we do a podcast with two people shouting at each other all the time.”
Lineker added: “I think particularly at this time where everything is divisive and there are culture wars and stuff, it is just nice that people can have an experience where there is kindness, and kindness is something that is missing a lot at the moment. So I think that is important and why they enjoy it as well.”
Asked about the company’s ambitions, Pastor said that they had their eyes on expanding across the Atlantic. “We would love – and this is me being rather more commercial – a podcast that was directed at an American audience. That is the holy grail because it just such as big and mature market. It is probably something like 25 times the size of the U.K. podcast market.”
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