Britain.  the Lineker case The hidden skeletons of the BBC

From London

The Lineker case has exposed numerous skeletons in the BBC closet. This Saturday, the former goalscorer for the English team and current star presenter of Match of the Day” resumed his leadership of the legendary soccer program and the sports broadcasts over the weekend, suspended in solidarity with Gary Lineker. But The affair has eroded the global reputation of the famous public broadcaster and has put its current board of directors appointed under conservative governments on the ropes.

don’t shut up

Lineker returned to the front of “Match of the Day” without giving up his right to express political opinions on his social networks that have more than 10 million followers. In his message on Twitter, he acknowledged that it had been a “painful” and “surreal” conflict, but stressed that it was “nothing” compared to the suffering “of those who flee their countries due to persecution or wars”, another way of reaffirming his criticism of the government for its immigration policy, stone of scandal.

For its part, the BBC announced an “independent” review of its policy regarding the right of its journalists to express themselves on social networks without compromising the “impartiality” of the BBC. But the “affair” exposed the cracks in the three core principles of the BBC’s charter: reporting with “independence, objectivity and impartiality.” The hand of the Conservative government, angered by criticism of its immigration policy, was on display. In a sense, nothing new under the sun.

The “independent, impartial and objective” Corporation had for 50 years members of MI5 (British internal secret service) as undercover employees in charge of ensuring that there were no journalists with leftist tendencies. The operation was called “Christmas Tree” and the BBC indignantly denied its existence until in 1985 when the Sunday newspaper “The Observer” exposed the issue with incontrovertible evidence and testimony.

In 1922, the year the BBC was founded, its mastermind, Lord John Reith, openly expressed his sympathy for Benito Mussolini’s fascism. In relation to the “Night of the Long Knives” of 1934 (internal purge of the Nazi Party through the murder of its “left” wing and other internal opponents), Lord Reith did not mince words. “I really admire the way Hitler cleaned up what seemed like a fledgling revolt against his government,” he said.

a complex case

Is the BBC then a little mirror of British colors? The story is much more complex, as he acknowledges in the Guardian, one of the BBC’s critics, Jonathan Liew. “How did I find out about the secret files of the MI5 operation “Christmas Tree” and Lord Reith’s sympathies for Nazism? Reading the BBC website”, Liew noted in the middle of the “Lineker affaire”.

A pillar of the BBC’s principle of impartiality and objectivity is the classic distinction between information and opinion. The information is a sequence of facts and objective data that the journalist reports as a mirror. The opinion columns are the space to express the personal point of view.

This distinction can exist in a pure form in the Platonic world of ideas. In the mundane realm of real notes, things are more blurry. From the choice of the topic to cover (or not to cover) to the angle and the hierarchy of the internal elements (headlines, head of the story, what is piled up in the middle, how the ending is finished), the news is overloaded by the perspective of the journalist and the editorial line of the medium.

fake news

In Nietzsche’s famous phrase: “there are no facts, there are interpretations”. An Argentine example. In Clarion it was published in 2020 that the real person responsible for the triple crime of General Rodríguez was a former SIDE agent: Julius Caesar Pose. Lost in the middle of the note it was mentioned, as an anecdotal fact, that Hannibal Fernandez it was not the walrus “nickname that was attributed to him to incriminate him in the ephedrine traffic”. This attribution had been the focus of the Clarín group’s media campaign in 2015 and had far-reaching economic and institutional consequences: the victory of Mary Eugenia Vidal in Buenos Aires a week later and from Mauricio Macri in national elections.

A journalism of “fake news” of this tenor is inconceivable in the BBC because it would violate strict internal rules, it would scandalize society and make the heads of journalists, editors and managers roll. Even so, there have been many questions about his impartiality. Some examples:

* In the last English general strike, in 1926, the Labor Party criticized the employer-bias of its coverage.

* In World War II it was criticized for its soft (unpatriotic) style.

* During the Malvinas war, Margaret Thatcher and the conservatives attacked the BBC for its “lack of patriotism” and the equivalence with which it presented the Argentine and British points of view.

* The Gulf Wars I and II provoked criticism from the Conservative government of John Major and the Labor government of Tony Blair.

In practice the BBC has upheld the principle of impartiality with that of the two bells: the balance of opposing opinions. The news is given, what the government thinks is said, it is contrasted with the opposition’s response and the perfect recipe for equanimity and balance is achieved.

The recipe makes water frequently. In the middle of the Lineker affair, the well-known presenter Fiona Bruce corrected one of the panelists who accused Boris Johnson’s father of being a domestic abuser in a television debate. “It is true that Johnson’s wife said that he had broken her nose and ended up in the hospital. Stanley Johnson did not say anything about this incident. Friends of his said it did happen, but it was an isolated event,” Bruce said.

In the midst of the scandal that caused this “clarification”, it was learned that Bruce had had to do it to maintain this balance between different versions of the same event. In a much more extreme example, If you talk about the Holocaust, do you have to interview a Nazi and a Jew to ensure impartiality and editorial balance?

The referendum on Brexit (British exit from the European Union) is another example of the limits of this recipe. “The BBC ended up becoming the midwife of Brexit with its policy of giving space in the name of editorial balance to the blatant lies propagated by pro-Brexiters,” says the former BBC journalist and author john kampfner.

With all these caveats, the BBC still has an advantage that no one can dispute. In this world of fake news and corporations so clearly inclined to create parallel realities (be it Fox News or Clarín or Globo), he continues to provide a remarkable dose of equanimity. In 1948 George Orwell supported it with a statement enhanced by coming from the author of “1984”, that archetypal denunciation of the manipulation of information: “if the BBC says it, it is true”. The problem is that the reputation that is earned with a lot of effort, is usually lost in a second.: Lineker case is a sample button.

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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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