THE entire leadership of the BBC and the way in which its board is appointed needs to be reviewed in the wake of the Gary Lineker saga if journalists and the public are to maintain any trust in the corporation, an expert on the media’s coverage of migration has insisted.

When Lineker was temporarily removed as Match of the Day host last weekend after he criticised the UK Government’s new asylum policy on Twitter, the BBC’s sports coverage went into meltdown as pundits, commentators and journalists stepped back from their duties in solidarity with the former England striker.

He had compared language used to announce the Illegal Migration Bill – which would essentially stop anyone arriving in the UK by illegal means from ever claiming asylum – to that used in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

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Lineker has now been reinstated in his post and there is due to be an independent review of the BBC’s social media guidelines for those outside of news and current affairs while director-general Tim Davie apologised for the “difficult period”.

But Dr Emma Briant – who wrote the book Bad News For Refugees on how refugees have been stigmatised by media coverage – believes the whole affair has done lasting damage to the BBC which will only be resolved in the long-term by a major overhaul of its set-up.

Briant, who used to be part of Glasgow Media Group at the University of Glasgow, said: “The BBC lacked judgement here [during the Lineker spat] and I do think it calls for a clarification around their rules in relation to impartiality. When it comes to something like this where he [Lineker] felt ethically obliged to say something, I think it’s incredibly important people are able to do that in their own personal capacity.

“I think we need the entire constitution of the leadership of the BBC to be reviewed and the way in which the board is selected needs to change. All of this requires parliamentary intervention, it’s not just the BBC and its decisions, it’s making sure the BBC is independent.”

The National: Richard Sharp

The BBC board is led by a non-executive chairman – currently Richard Sharp (above) – and consists of 10 non-executive members, including the chairman, and four executive members. There has been controversy around the appointment of Sharp in recent months after it emerged he helped former prime minister Boris Johnson access an £800,000 loan.

Several members of the board are appointed by the King on the recommendation of ministers.

Briant insists the level of uproar which followed Lineker’s removal from Match of the Day was something which had been coming to the BBC for a while given the way in which it had gone about covering migration in recent years.

At the end of last week, Briant filed a complaint with the BBC after it reported Afghan female footballers evacuated to the UK were “false” and not top-tier players as it had been claimed.

Women footballers were seen to be at risk from the Taliban and were granted visas by the Home Office, but the BBC found from a list of evacuees that was submitted to the British authorities that their claims to be national players or members of a regional team – in some cases – were “false”.

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Briant said on social media the BBC had presented women who were fleeing persecution as “somehow undeserving or less deserving than if they somehow had better football skills”. She branded it “appalling reporting”.

Briant said there have been problems with the BBC’s approach to migration reporting since she published her book back in 2013 and stressed how the corporation often “shoots itself in the foot” by being so cautious about being politically impartial.

She said: “I think it’s been building for a while [the fallout around impartiality] and I think that relates also to their coverage of Brexit and their coverage of migration going back years.

“My book was published in 2013 and at that time we were concerned about the immigration coverage of the BBC, especially in England – which differed dramatically from coverage in Scotland.

“The coverage for BBC Scotland was so much more sympathetic and the coverage in England was influenced by Westminster and a nervousness around talking about migrant perspectives and including human rights organisations’ perspectives.

“The BBC has not done their job in terms of communicating the humanitarian crisis that has been building. They have parroted again and again immigration control rhetoric and they have not met their responsibility when it comes to communicating this important issue.

“They are always trying to sit on the fence and sometimes things are actually humanitarian issues that transcend politics.

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“We need to have a conversation about what the BBC’s impartiality is for exactly and I think people want to see a BBC that actually cares about human beings. That’s essential.

“It often shoots itself in the foot. By being so cautious about being politically impartial it fails to responsibly address a deeper social issue.”

Elsewhere last week, it emerged BBC editors had asked their journalists not to use the word “lockdown” in the early days of the pandemic following pressure from Downing Street.

Emails and messages from between 2020 and 2022 were shown to The Guardian amid concern among some BBC insiders that the corporation has been too cowed by the UK Government in recent years.

Briant added: “I expect politicians to be putting pressure on journalists to try and get their side across but that doesn’t mean journalists have to listen to them and the fact they did that is shocking and it really shows how cowed they have become and one has to ask why.

“It is not surprising the public is starting to question every single decision they make.”

The BBC said it makes its “own independent editorial decisions” and none of the messages showed otherwise.

It added: “Selective out-of-context messages from a colleagues’ WhatsApp group and one email do not give an accurate reflection of the BBC’s editorial decision-making.”

On its article on the Afghan female footballers, the BBC said: “We were initially contacted by the former women footballers still in Afghanistan who were unhappy they had been left behind and who had seen others claiming to be top-tier sportspeople granted refugee status. We investigated their claims.

“The BBC has taken care not to identify anyone who hasn’t been previously been identified in other media but we will always carefully consider representations from those involved in stories.”