I agree with Gary Lineker about refugees. But he should delete his tweet, in the interest of the BBC

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Gary Lineker is a brilliant presenter and in all likelihood a good man who cares deeply about the underdog. He is not part of the BBC staff and is not a news journalist, so is not bound by that part of the BBC’s impartiality guidelines which says:

BBC staff and regular presenters or reporters involved in news or public policy related output can provide professional judgments grounded in evidence. However, it is not normally appropriate for them to present or write personal opinion content on public policy, issues of political or industrial controversy, or “controversial topics” in any field.

I doubt Lineker’s contract prohibits him from tweeting, and I happen to share his views on the language members of government use about refugees and asylum seekers (although references to Germany in the 1930s are over the top in my opinion.)

So why do I think he should call the Director General of the BBC and say he should delete the tweet and agree not to tweet about such controversial issues in the future? Bluntly, because the future of the BBC is at stake, and that is more important in the long run than its undisputed right to tweet.

Technical details aside, Lineker is the highest paid and most recognized on-air presenter at the BBC. He is one of the crown jewels and most public faces. As such, he has a personal responsibility not to do anything that could bring the BBC into disrepute, and one of the BBC’s most valuable attributes is its impartiality. The company can and should be trusted to report the facts as unbiased as possible. If it loses the public’s trust, it’s over.

Three things are clear about the latest quarrel over asylum seekers and refugees. First, that the country is deeply divided, second, that the current government is determined to make this a major electoral issue, and third, that the number will not fall significantly, at least in the short term. The issue will continue to rumble and I assume that’s why Lineker will keep tweeting.

What the public needs to know is that the BBC will continue to resist external pressure, report the facts and ask the hard questions, in an impartial manner. For example, if the journalists point out that there were almost 75,000 asylum applications in the UK last year, and that France had 180,000, and that the total number of asylum applications from the EU, Norway and Switzerland last year totaled 960,000, they are to be believed . as they should be when they report that no refugee return agreements exist between the UK and other countries. There are plenty of politicians and newspapers ignoring the facts or claiming the company is guilty of biased reporting, and they will almost certainly point to Lineker’s tweets as proof of this.

The best way forward would be for Lineker to voluntarily relinquish his undisputed right to tweet about politically controversial issues. We could then turn our attention back to why Conservative Party donor Richard Sharp has not yet resigned as BBC chairman in light of the clear conflicts of interest that the revelations about Boris Johnson’s finances have exposed . At the very least, Sharp should announce that he is not seeking a second term. Then we could all go back to watching the country’s best sports presenter doing what he does best, with increasing admiration for the way he has put the future of public service broadcasting above his own undisputed right to say what he thinks about things he cares passionately about.

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