NY Times Defends ‘Revered…Non-Partisan’ Left-Wing BBC from Tory Pouncing on Front Page

March 15th, 2023 7:37 PM

New York Times London bureau chief Mark Landler made Monday’s front page by using the temporary suspension of BBC soccer commentator Gary Lineker -- who makes his liberal views known in sometimes offensive ways on Twitter -- to again hail the left-wing, tax-funded U.K. institution as revered and impartial: “Turmoil Engulfs BBC After Soccer Icon Meets a Political Divide.”

The front-page text box underlined Landler’s slant: “Doubts on Impartiality After Suspension.”

Landler carefully selected his “critics” to suggest the BBC, uniquely funded by a mandatory license fee charged to television owners, has a pro-Conservative mentality, a notion that is simply bizarre. It’s a charge Landler has made before.

As an English soccer star, Gary Lineker was renowned for never having been penalized with a yellow or red card in his 16-year career. As a politically opinionated sports broadcaster for the BBC, Mr. Lineker has tangled regularly with the officials, and his suspension over a Twitter post on immigration this week escalated into a crisis that now engulfs the British Broadcasting Corporation.

(Since this article appeared, Lineker has been reinstated.)

Mr. Lineker’s standoff with the BBC has set off a noisy national debate over free expression, government influence and the role of a revered, if beleaguered, public broadcaster in an era of polarized politics and freewheeling social media….

….the fallout from the dispute is likely to be wide and long-lasting, casting doubt over the corporation’s management, which has made political impartiality a priority but has faced persistent questions about its own close ties to Britain’s Conservative government.

Landler mentioned nothing about the reliably anti-Conservative Party, pro-immigration, anti-Brexit, anti-Israel content of actual BBC programming. By his lights, Lineker is “a beloved sports figure who made a smooth transition from the playing field to the broadcasting booth.”

But Mr. Lineker, who grew up in a working-class family in Leicester, has never kept his views on social issues a secret. When the government announced strict new immigration plans, he posted on Twitter, “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?”

Landler forwarded left-wing talking points, letting unlabeled left-wing “critics” call the BBC’s social media guidelines “haphazard at best and hypocritical at worst.”

The broadcaster is compromised in other ways, according to critics. The chairman of the BBC’s board, Richard Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, is a donor to the Conservative Party who is being investigated for his role in the arrangement of a loan of £800,000 for Boris Johnson, the prime minister at the time Mr. Sharp was appointed….Tim Davie, the BBC’s director general and a former marketing executive who also had links to the Conservative Party, has come under fire for his handling of the dispute with Mr. Lineker….

Is “leaped” the British version of “pounced”?

Mr. Johnson never hesitated to put the BBC in the cross hairs. In 2021, his government leaped on the broadcaster after one of its hosts gently mocked a cabinet minister for appearing in an interview with a large Union Jack behind him….


The bigger threat to the BBC, [former CBS president Howard Stringer] said, would be if politicians or other critics seized on the dispute to reopen a debate over its taxpayer-funded business model and its role as a central, nonpartisan, presence in British public life.

Landler previously praised “the BBC’s studied impartiality.”