The BBC’s director-general Tim Davie has apologised for the disruption caused to the broadcaster’s sports programming, but confirmed he will not resign over the Gary Lineker impartiality row. Mr Davie, speaking to BBC News on Saturday, praised Lineker as “the best in the business” and said he wants to find a “reasonable solution” to get him back on the air.
Lineker was told to step back from hosting Saturday’s Match Of The Day after he compared the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany in a tweet.
The broadcaster previously said it had “decided” the former England player would take a break from presenting the football highlights show until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.
Mr Davie said: “I’m very sorry for the disruption today. It’s been a difficult day and I’m sorry that audiences have been affected and they haven’t got the programming.
“As a keen sports fan, I know like everyone that to miss programming is a real blow and I am sorry about that. We are working very hard to resolve the situation and make sure that we get output back on air.”
Gary Lineker arrives for the Leicester City v Chelsea match
The BBC logo sits above the entrance to the corporation’s London HQ
The director-general said he would not go into too much detail about the ongoing discussions, but that “everyone wants to calmly resolve the situation”.
He added: “I would say Gary Lineker is a superb broadcaster. He’s the best in the business, that’s not for debate.”
“To be clear, success for me is: Gary gets back on air and together we are giving to the audiences that world-class sports coverage which, as I say, I’m sorry we haven’t been able to deliver today.”
Mr Davie also said he did not feel this was about “left or right” politics, but about the corporation’s ability to balance free speech and impartiality, adding: “We’re fierce champions of democratic debate, free speech, but with that comes the need to create an impartial organisation.”
BBC Director General Tim Davie
Lineker with pundits including Alan Shearer at the Man City v Liverpool FA Cup Final
Asked if he would resign because “there are many people in the UK that simply do not trust you”, Mr Davie said: “Absolutely not.
“I think my job is to serve licence fee payers and deliver a BBC that is really focused on world-class, impartial landmark output – and I look forward to resolving this situation and looking forward to delivering that.”
His comments come as Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell said BBC chairman Richard Sharp is “totally unable” to handle the row.
She has written to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer to demand Mr Sharp’s position be “urgently clarified”, saying his involvement in arranging an £800,000 loan facility on behalf of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has “profoundly damaged the perception of the BBC’s impartiality and independence from Government”.
Greg Dyke, the BBC director-general between 2000 and 2004 and ex-FA chairman, said earlier the broadcaster was “mistaken” in standing Lineker down.
He told the BBC that the precedent at the corporation is that “news and current affairs employees are expected to be impartial and not the rest”.
Mr Dyke asked: “If you start applying the rules of news and current affairs to everybody who works for the BBC, where does it end?”
He added: “There is a long-established precedent in the BBC that is that if you’re an entertainment presenter or you’re a football presenter, then you are not bound by those same (impartiality) rules.
“The real problem of today is that the BBC has undermined its own credibility by doing this because it looks like – the perception out there – is that the BBC has bowed to Government pressure. And once the BBC does that, then you’re in real problems.”
Ian Wright and Alan Shearer at the 2017 TRIC Awards
Current BBC guidelines say staff must follow editorial guidelines and editorial oversight on social media in the same way as when making content.
Lineker is a freelance broadcaster for the BBC, not a permanent member of staff, and is not responsible for news or political content so does not need to adhere to the same rules on impartiality.
Last year he was named as the BBC’s top-earning on-air talent for the fifth consecutive year. He was paid between £1,350,000 and £1,354,999 in 2021/2022 for MOTD and Sports Personality Of The Year.
Mr Davie warned staff about their use of social media when he took on his BBC role at the end of 2020 before the guidelines were updated.
Former England footballers and MOTD regulars, including Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, announced on Friday they would boycott the show in solidarity with Lineker.
Several of the programme’s commentators also said they would step down from Saturday’s broadcast.
The BBC said the show would “focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry”, saying it understood the position of its presenters.
The broadcaster said it had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights programme until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.
*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.