BBC crisis as Lineker row spirals out of control after staff mutiny

'Bring back Gary Lineker' BBC News heckled during live report

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The BBC has been plunged into crisis with top football shows forced off air as its row over Gary Lineker’s tweets intensified. High-profile presenters and pundits have walked out in solidarity with Lineker, leaving BBC bosses battling to fill the schedule.

Rishi Sunak has intervened to call for calm as the broadcaster pulled Football Focus and Final Score and reduced Match of the Day to a 20-minute highlight show.

The PM said: “I hope the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly a matter for them, not the government.”

He also insisted his plan to tackle illegal migration was “compassionate, fair and moral”, adding: “We need to break this cycle of misery once and for all.”

The broadcaster had attempted to discipline the former England striker for likening language used in the Government’s migration proposals to that of Nazi Germany.

After crunch talks between Lineker and BBC Director General Tim Davie it was announced on Friday that the presenter would be withdrawn from last night’s show.

It now leaves the BBC facing a series of difficult questions over impartiality.

But former Director General Greg Dyke said: “I suspect this is the end of Lineker as a BBC presenter as we’ve known him.”

BBC Director General Tim Davie insisted the Gary Lineker row was “not about left or right”.

And the under-fire boss declared: “We are absolutely driven by a passion for impartiality.”

With the broadcaster reeling as it was forced to scrap its football coverage yesterday, Mr Davie said there was no political agenda in the decision to withdraw Lineker from presenting Match of the Day.

He said: “We made decisions, and I made decisions, based on a real passion about what the BBC is and it’s difficult.

“It’s this balance between free speech and impartiality.

“I honestly do not believe, despite a lot of the commentary, that this is about left or right – it’s about our ability.

“We’re fierce champions of democratic debate, free speech, but with that comes the need to create an impartial organisation.”

Asked if he had buckled under pressure from the Government and right-wing press, Mr Davie said: “Absolutely not.”

He denied the former England captain was targeted because his tweets criticised the Government.

Towards the end of last year the presenter had attacked Qatar over its human right record when the Arab state was about to stage the World Cup and he was not held to account by the corporation.

Mr Davie said: “This is nothing to do with the specifics of where a tweet is sent.

“It’s about getting involved in party political matters.”

Mr Davie admitted it had been “difficult day” but said he would not be resigning.

He said: “I’m sorry audiences have been affected and they haven’t got the programming.

“As a keen sports fan I know to miss programming is a real blow and I’m sorry about that.

“We are working very hard to resolve this situation and make sure we get output on air.

“Everyone wants to calmly resolve the situation. Gary Lineker’s the best in the business – that’s not for debate.”

He added: “Success for me is Gary gets back on air.”

The BBC was forced to apologise to fans as its football coverage was pulled after a staff mutiny, leaving them to watch Bargain Hunt and The Repair Shop.

Football Focus and Final Score, were pulled at the last moment as Jason Mohammad joined the boycott, while Radio 5’s coverage was replaced by recorded content.

The BBC said it was “working hard to resolve the situation”.

It had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights show until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.

While shows were being ditched, the presenter left his home in south-west London to watch Leicester lose at home to Chelsea and was mobbed by fans.

The row was sparked after Lineker had attacked the Government’s migration policy – and its plans for those crossing the Channel in small boats.

The 62-year-old star tweeted: “There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries.

“This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ‘30s.”

When summoned to explain himself, Lineker dug his heels in, an insider said. This left Tim Davie “with no option but to take him off air”.

A source said: “It’s vital the BBC doesn’t back down on this as the issue of bias is of huge importance. It’s in Lineker’s hands now.”

Another insider said: “Gary is a hugely popular presenter but he still has an obligation to adhere to guidelines on impartiality.

“There cannot be one rule for him and another for everyone else who works for the BBC.

“He had been warned before about his highly charged political statements but ignored orders to stop. There can’t be a position where some people are too big to be sanctioned.”

Match Of The Day went ahead but it was reduced to 20 minutes and without the commentary and post-match analysis as regular pundits Ian Wright and Alan Shearer boycotted the programme. Other stars, including Football Focus presenter Alex Scott, pundit Dion Dublin, Mark Chapman, and Kelly Somers also refused to work.

Players and managers of the 12 clubs which had fixtures yesterday did not put themselves up for post-match interviews.

The mutiny is expected to affect today’s coverage as pundit Jermain Defoe announced he was standing down Match Of The Day 2.

A source said the walk-outs were a “proper BBC crisis”.

Lineker has insisted that, since his remit on the BBC is sport, he should be allowed to share his views, something the corporation, which is bound by strict impartiality clauses, has taken issue with.

Less than three years ago, the star was awarded a five-year contract on Match of the Day.

It was reported at the time this came with an agreement to be more careful in his use of Twitter to push political causes.

Mr Davie said in 2020: “Gary knows he has responsibilities in terms of his use of social media.”

Former BBC Director General Greg Dyke told Radio 4’s Today programme that he thought the BBC was “mistaken” to remove Lineker.

Asked what Mr Davie should do, Mr Dyke, 75, said: “It’s quite clear Gary Lineker is not going to give him the assurances that he says he wants, therefore I suspect this is the end of Gary Lineker as a BBC presenter as we’ve known him, and I suspect it will have a long-term effect on Match of the Day.”

Former Phones 4U founder and Tory donor John Caudwell said while he thought the “circus” around Lineker “distracts from the real issues with refugees, the BBC is right to suspend him”.

He added: “It’s fine to have an opinion and express it in a fair way. But as British taxpayers pay his salary, he should be promoting Britain, not comparing the country to Nazi Germany.”

The row has also led to renewed calls for BBC chairman Richard Sharp to resign as he is investigated over his appointment by Boris Johnson after helping arrange a £800,000 loan for the then-prime minister.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said Mr Sharp’s position was untenable and: “This saga has shown failure at the very top of the BBC and the dire need to urgently protect their independence.”

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