Gary Lineker versus the BBC. A case study in creative leadership

March 17, 2023

March 13 2023

The news headlines for the past week have been dominated by a dispute between the BBC superstar football broadcaster Gary Lineker and his employers. To be more precise, Gary is a contracted freelance broadcaster not a permanent member of staff. This is a detail which may have added a complication to what is already a complex case.

Other figures who became involved were the Director General of the BBC, Tim Davie, the chairman of the BBC board, Richard Sharp, the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, and the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.

A critical event which makes a convenient starting point is a tweet by Gary Lineker strongly condemning the language and content of the immigration bill being introduced into Parliament by the Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
He described the bill as immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people, and in language ‘that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s’ As was inevitable, his tweet produced a storm of discussion both for and against his tweet. His supporters broadly took the free speech argument . Opponents claimed he had himself deployed hate speech, by describing the government as operating with the methods of the Nazis.

Tim Davie announced he was speaking to Lineker formally. When he refused to apologise, the BBC suspended Gary from presenting Match Of The Day, the flagship football program of the BBC. Davie stated that this was a measured response while the issue was being further investigated.

By then the story was attracting interest in the MSM, Social Media, and particularly in the BBC itself with stories about the suspension.

Before the next episode of MOTD was broadcast, the other presenters of MOTD announced they were withdrawing from the programme. Other journalists also withheld their contributions to football broadcasts.

Eventually, a very truncated program was broadcast without commentators. The political implications sharpened when the Prime Minister gave only the coolest support to the actions of the BBC. This was interpreted as distancing himself from Tim Davie leading to speculation that Davie’s job was far from secure.

Over the weekend, the BBC filled its radio and television news programs with discussion about the developing drama, but with a few suggestions of how it might resolve itself.
The Chairman of the BBC was unavailable for comment.

During this period, the Daily Telegraph, generally a flagship Conservative newspaper was running a series of revelations leaked by Conservative journalist of highly confidential exchanges which revealed Ministers struggling to cope with the COVID crisis.

The BBC position was not helped with the reemergence of an unresolved story of the Chairman Richard Sharp involved in securing a loan for Boris Johnson at the time his application as Chairman was being considered, a process over which Johnson was the ultimate arbiter.

Recommended for the post by Boris Johnson, Richard Sharp was appointed one month after being a Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, which during his time published several reports critical of the BBC recommending root & branch change.

The appointment of Tim Davie as Director General had also been and remained controversial. He has made no secret of his concern that the impartiality of the BBC was endangered by what he say as a left wing bias in much of the programming. Critics have been quick to point to his own background as a conservative one.

Commentators of the complex situation had little to offer. Either the BBC (increasingly personified as Tim Davie) would have to concede and return Lineker to his position, or Lineker would have accept he has no right to tweet about the Govt’s immigration policy.

We have a classic dilemma of leadership. The view of overwhelming number of commentators in the news and social media is that it is a clear case of right versus wrong. An either or dilemma.

Braverman continued to insist that her Illegal Immigrants Bill was a necessity to ‘stop the boats’.
Lineker supporters continued assert he was in the right, and that her actions were morally wrong, illegal and unworkable.

What happened? The BBC went back on its position to suspend Lineker while a formal investigation took place. Normal service was resumed (Sorry, couldn’t resist that old joke).

But the most revealing comment was made again on Twitter by Gary Lineker. He tweeted his pleasure at returning to work, particularly thanking Tim Davie for dealing with a hideously complicated situation.

In that, he revealed for me an essential aspect of creative leadership. A skill at escaping either or dilemmas, and encouraging others around him to do the same.


World War One and Jeremy Paxton’s existential dread

March 31, 2014

In the projection of his professional persona, Jeremy Paxton conceals and reveals his personal anxieties

Jeremy Paxton is one of England’s best-known media celebrities. He has became the inquisitorial voice of the BBC’s Newsnight programme [1989- present] and with little shift of style, the inquisitional voice of University Challenge. Building on these achievements, he has produced literary works often with grand themes of British achievements. He is currently fronting one of the BBC’s series to mark the events of The Great War of 1914-1918.

The other Jeremy

His style is combative and ironic. Some years ago, in 2009, listening to a radio interview,I mistook him for another celebrity Jeremy. Only at the end of the interview did I discover I had been listening to the equally combative and ironic Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear. Clarkson is arguably the greater financial asset to the BBC, and equally assiduous in cultivating a controversial and discomforting personal style. In the earlier post, I made tentative analyses of the behavioural styles of each.

I return to this topic as Newsnight Jeremy is making an acclaimed contribution to the Nation’s commemorations of WW1.

The mask of control and the mask of command

Leadership studies sometimes refer to the mask of command. Both Paxton and Clarkson show the mask of control, beneath which lurks the existential fear of losing control. The leader inspires confidence by concealing the natural human feelings of despair and weakness. For Paxton, the TV interview, and the quiz with answers to all the questions provided to the interrogative quiz master provide ideal situations to act out his concealed anxieties.

On the dark side

I make no claims for the validity of these observations. They may be rooted in my mistaken reading of Jungian psychology. They just make sense to me. They confirm my belief in the nature of the concealed dark side of the persona of some of the leaders and celebrities who gain cultural acceptance.

How important was the BBC in the success of the London Olympics?

August 14, 2012

Many factors have been proposed as contributing to the success of the London Olympics. The efforts of the BBC should not be overlooked

The success of the London Olympics has been attributed to various factors which came together partly by design, partly by accident.

The BBC as a medium for state control

The British Broadcasting Corporation played its part in shaping the cultural mood in a way that was consistent with a state apparatus for controlling communications on behalf of a ruling elite.

Marxist training camps

Did I write that that stuff about BBC as a vehicle of state control? Have I become a spokesman for the neo-Marxist group known to have its training camps deep in the rolling pastures of the East Cheshire countryside? Has a fortnight of coverage of the London Olympics finally loosened my grasp of reality?

I hope not. It’s just that I have always encouraged my students to look behind the headlines. To read stories and then to look for concealed messages suggesting a different perspective.

Behind the headlines

Applying that principle, I wanted to look at the hidden story behind the widely reported one. The official story was that of the friendly games (sometimes coupled with the crying games) which had helped bring a nation together in harmony to celebrate the highest ideals of human performance and mutual respect. In the official story, criticism was brushed aside as untimely unpatriotic.

LOCOG’s fire-fighting

The London Olympic Committee (LOCOG) effectively snuffed out problems that broke out. A pre-Games failure to recruit security staff morphed into an appreciation by the public of the role played by the armed forces brought in to meet the challenge.

Complaints about empty seats petered out when members of the armed forces were re-assigned to seat-filling duties.

Cynics had a change of heart

Even the contrarian views expected from The Independent and the Guardian newspapers were overwhelmed by confessional pieces along the lines of “I was prepared to be cynical about all this, but won over by … [select from: the volunteers, the tears of joy and sorrow, the police, the cheering of the crowds, the sexiness of the athletes]. Other papers just celebrated the victories. Winning gold medals was great, but silver and bronze medal winners could make for stories of pluck and heartbreak.

The Prime Minister was a one-man political cheer leader, frequently shown shouting on Team GB to greater success. He also found time to fulfil other political duties, although reporting of these was minimal.

The BBC’s role

Then there was the role played by the BBC. Its coverage began hours before each day’s events, and was continuous until hours after the competitions had ended. There were temporarily 24 BBC channels of televised reporting. Most of its journalists seemed to be thriving on punishing schedules throughout the games, with a format of discussion, anticipation of events, interviews, background stories. Oh yes, and reporting of every competition on offer. The efforts showed the highest qualities of professionalism, motivation, and discipline. The absence of advertising breaks was mostly a blessing, but did make the challenge of continuity all the harder.

How might the East Cheshire neo-Marxist irregulars analyse the Games?

The political parties all take the same line. Mr Cameron supports the entire venture uncritically. The Queen played a now famous role in the opening ceremony to consolidate her position. Other members of the royal family were expected to be present at all the main events. [It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Ed]

The BBC is simply following orders imposed by a dictatorial regime to manipulate the emotions of the oppressed masses. The armed forces are presented as friends of the people. This will come in useful after rule of law is enforced in the attempted right-wing coup planned to coincide with a succession crisis.

Did I write that?

Yes. But only as an example of an alternative view of the Olympics. I don’t think the BBC is state-controlled. Rather, it is an institution in symbiotic relationship with the State, including the licence fee arrangements. I have no doubt that discussions are continuing about which BBC employees will receive which awards in the New Year’s honours list, to go with those for Bradley, Jessica, Mo, and maybe even Andy.

Was it worth nine billion pounds?

The calculated cost of the Olympics works out at about the same per head of population as the annual BBC licence fee. How can anyone say that’s not value for money?