To be truthful, the political views of football commentators leave me cold. In the same way, I imagine ex-neuroscientist’s opinions probably carry no more weight and yet this realisation does not stop me from commentating when I see fit.
Social media is now so widespread that anyone who is anybody and many who aren’t are happy to offer their opinions on matters why doesn’t their brief. In the same way that Richard Wagner, that most repulsive of anti-Semites, was able to produce music of incandescent beauty, the question becomes one of context.
Gary Lineker’s comments were not expressed as I understand it in the context of his day job as football presenter/commentator but in a series of tweets criticising the government’s approach to immigration in general and boat people in particular. Had he turned a conversation on Manchester United’s comically leaky defence last week from football to immigration, the case would have been simple. A clear breach of impartiality and the Beeb’s response would have been understandable. But by taking him to task over opinions expressed as a private individual is a different matter. Let’s not forget that anyone who reads his tweets has essentially ‘opted in’. If they don’t like what they read they can always unsubscribe. It’s that simple.
I do not get Gary’s tweets in my inbox because I have not subscribed. Nor do I subscribe to any anti-Semitic scribbles on Wagner. I simply listen to the music.
It’s essentially a question of demarcation. Is it possible to express an opinion as a private individual when you also hold a very public job? That is, in simple terms, the question asked. The BBC evidently feels that their contract with him, as a TV presenter, extends beyond that and encompasses his opinions expressed semi-publicly but outside the context of his day job.
I think this may ultimately set a dangerous precedent. Clamping down on Gary the football presenter, because of the opinions of Mr Lineker and his criticism of government policy, is dangerously stifling.
Let’s be clear here. The government’s proposed ways of dealing with the boat people and so on are, at the very least, insensitive and worse, bordering on overt cruelty I would think. To call them out for this seems reasonable. Remember here that Gary is not mobilising an army, calling for acts of terrorism or otherwise, preparing public rallies or otherwise inciting unrest. No, he sent a few tweets.
If we reach the point where we cannot criticise or offer an opinion, especially one counter to government policy, that would be a sad day for democracy.