Free speech row
BBC bosses in line of fire as Lineker returns
BBC chairman Richard Sharp is facing pressure to step down after the corporation apologised for its handling of Gary Lineker’s comments on social media.
Lineker will return to Match of The Day this weekend and the broadcaster will hold an independent review of its social media guidelines. The presenter has agreed to abide by the current rules until the review concludes.
He immediately returned to social media to thank those who had backed him.
“After a surreal few days, I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this,” he tweeted. “I want to thank you all for the incredible support, particularly my colleagues at BBC Sport, for the remarkable show of solidarity. Football is a team game but their backing was overwhelming.”
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt stopped short of supporting Mr Sharp as the corporation’s attempts to protect its impartiality descended into chaos over the weekend following Linker’s suspension from Match of the Day.
Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Greens culture spokesperson, said: “Richard Sharp must go and go now. Every second he remains trust in the BBC’s ability to carry out its functions free from UK Government influence is eroded.”
The SNP Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson John Nicolson MP added: “Change must start right at the top, with the resignation of BBC Chair Richard Sharp. He must go if the BBC is to maintain its reputation.”
The corporation’s director general, Tim Davie, jetted back from the US for talks before an internal meeting today.
Labour MP Chris Bryant called on the BBC to suspend Mr Sharp and Mr Davie for “making the wrong decisions”.
The BBC’s decision to take him off air followed his comments on Twitter over the government’s immigration policy and comparing the language used to 1930s Nazi Germany. Several of Lineker’s colleagues boycotted the broadcaster in a show of solidarity.
The corporation said at the weekend it considered his “recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines”, adding it had been “decided that he will step back from presenting Match of the Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media”.
Saturday night’s Match of the Day lasted for just 20 minutes, with no analysis, punditry or commentary. The commentators returned briefly for Sunday night’s Match of the Day 2. Football Focus and the results round-up were replaced by past episodes of Bargain Hunt. BBC Radio Five Live sports coverage was also disrupted.
Match Of The Day was watched by nearly half a million more people on Saturday. Viewing figures were up to 2.58 million from the previous week’s figure of 2.09m, according to BARB.
It is the BBC programme’s largest audience since 5 November 2022, when 2.63million people watched the highlights programme.
A number of players indicated they would not do post-match interviews with the BBC show.
On Saturday, former BBC director general accused the corporation of losing credibility over the stand-off.
Greg Dyke said the precedent in the BBC is that news and current affairs employees are expected to be impartial, and not the rest.
Gary Lineker is a “much-loved football reporter and presenter, but if you start applying those rules to everybody who works for the BBC, where does it end?” he asked.
“There is a long established precedent in the BBC that if you are an entertainment presenter or a sports presenter then you are not bound by those same rules,” he said.
“The real problem today is that the BBC has undermined its own credibility by doing this.”
It has been pointed out that wildlife presenter Chris Packham was the subject of a complaint over a tweet in 2021 and the BBC Complaints department responded by saying: “The constraints for a freelance presenter, like Chris, are not the same as they are for, say a BBC News or Current Affairs presenter.
“We believe that our audience is able to separate Chris’s presenting work for us from the persona views he shares outside of BBC programmes.”