BBC has ‘undermined its own credibility’ in Lineker’s row: former CEO

The BBC has “undermined its own credibility” by taking Gary Lineker off the air, a former CEO of the corporation has said as fallout from an impartiality row continues.

Saturday’s Match Of The Day will go ahead without a presenter, pundits and several regular commentators after Lineker was told to stop presenting the BBC show.

Greg Dyke, the BBC’s director general between 2000 and 2004 and a former FA president, said the broadcaster was “wrong” to reject Lineker.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that the precedent at the corporation is that “news and current affairs employees are expected to be impartial and not the rest.”

“If you start applying news and current affairs rules to everyone who works for the BBC, where does it end?” he said.

He added: “There’s a long-standing precedent at the BBC, which is that if you’re an entertainment presenter or a football presenter, then you’re not subject to those same rules (of impartiality).

“The real problem today is that the BBC has undermined its own credibility by doing this because it seems, the perception exists, that the BBC has caved to pressure from the government.

“And once the BBC does that, you’re in real trouble.

“The perception will be that Gary Lineker, a much-loved television presenter, was taken off the air after government pressure on a particular issue.”

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 show’s commentators also said they would be leaving Saturday’s broadcast.

The BBC said the show would “focus on match action with no studio introductions or pundits”, saying it understood the position of its presenters.

Lineker, 62, was embroiled in a dispute over impartiality after comparing on Twitter the language used to launch a new government asylum-seeker policy to Germany in the 1930s.

The broadcaster said it had “decided” that Lineker would take a break from hosting the featured show until a “clear and agreed position” was reached on his use of social media.

BBC News asked BBC director-general Tim Davie, who warned staff about using social media when he took over at the end of 2020 before guidelines on its use were updated, why Lineker had not been fired.

Mr Davie responded: “Well, I think we always look to take proportionate action and that’s what we’ve done.”

He said he would not “add” to the corporation’s current statement on the matter, but that there had been “very constructive discussions.”

Reacting to Shearer and Wright’s boycott, the BBC chief added: “I absolutely respect people’s right to make that decision, and BBC Sport has to consider what program they will produce for the weekend as normal.”

The Daily Express reported that a group of 36 Tory MPs and colleagues had signed a letter to Mr Davie, demanding a full and independent investigation into Lineker’s comments, as well as a full “unreserved” apology from the presenter.

Ahead of the BBC announcement, former Manchester City defender Micah Richards and former footballer Jermaine Jenas, who were not due to appear on MOTD this weekend, also backed their fellow pundits.

The PA news agency understands that the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) will fully support any player who does not want to fulfill his press duties with the BBC after Premier League matches in solidarity with Lineker and the other experts, who are former England internationals.

Several players contacted the PFA for advice and the union has subsequently spoken to all Premier League clubs to establish a collective position.

An online petition for Lineker to be reinstated, organized by The Daily Mirror on Friday, reached 100,000 signatures in less than 10 hours.

Philippa Childs, director of Bectu, which represents thousands of BBC staff, said Lineker’s decision was “deeply worrying” and “will give the appearance that they have bowed to political pressure from ministers.”

The dispute was first sparked by Lineker’s Twitter response to an Interior Ministry video in which Interior Minister Suella Braverman revealed the government’s plans to prevent migrants from crossing the Canal in small boats.

The former England striker wrote: “Not a huge turnout. We accept far fewer refugees than other major European countries.

“This is just an immeasurably cruel policy targeting the most vulnerable people in language not unlike that used by Germany in the 1930s.”

Current BBC guidelines state that staff should follow editorial guidelines and editorial supervision on social media in the same way as when creating content.

Lineker is a freelance BBC broadcaster, not a permanent staff member, and is not responsible for news or political content, so he doesn’t need to adhere to the same impartiality rules.

Despite this, last year he was named the BBC’s top-earning on-air talent for the fifth year running. He was paid between £1,350,000 and £1,354,999 in 2021/2022 for MOTD and Sports Personality of the Year.


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