BBC director-general apologises for Lineker row disruption but refuses to resign
BBC director-general Tim Davie has apologised for the disruption caused to the corporation’s sports schedule by its handling of the Gary Lineker row but said he will not resign.
Mr Davie said it has been a “difficult day” and that the BBC is working hard to get programming back on air.
He went on: “I don’t want to go into too much detail about exact discussion.
“I think that everyone wants to calmly resolve the situation. I would say Gary Lineker is a superb broadcaster. He’s the best in the business, that’s not for debate.”
Mr Davie added: “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.”
Asked if he would resign, he said “absolutely not”, adding: “I think that 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 us resolving this situation and looking forward to delivering that.”
Mr Davie said decisions were made in an attempt to find “balance between free speech and impartiality”.
Asked if he had buckled under pressure from the Government and right-wing press, Mr Davie said: “Absolutely not. We are absolutely driven by a passion for impartiality.”
He was speaking after Prime Minister weighed into the controversy surrounding the BBC’s decision to take Lineker off air, saying it is “a matter for them, not the Government”.
In a statement, Rishi Sunak said: “As Prime Minister, I have to do what I believe is right, respecting that not everyone will always agree. That is why I have been unequivocal in my approach to stopping the boats.
“Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a talented presenter. I hope that 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.
“While that process is ongoing, it is important that we maintain perspective, particularly given the seriousness of the issue at hand. Forty-five thousand people crossed the channel illegally last year, many of whom have been exploited or trafficked by criminal gangs, putting their lives in danger.
“We need to break this cycle of misery once and for all and the policy we set out this week I believe aims to do just that. It is not only the fair and moral thing to do, it is also the compassionate thing to do.
“There are no easy answers to solving this problem, but I believe leadership is about taking the tough decisions to fix problems. I know not everyone will always agree, but I do believe this is fair and right.”
The Prime Minister’s conciliatory tone was was in contrast to some of his cabinet ministers who have criticised Lineker.
Earlier, the BBC admitted it will “only be able to bring limited sport programming” this weekend as the row rumbles on.
That includes limiting Saturday’s Match of the Day to just 20 minutes.
The football highlights programme, which usually runs for around one hour and 30 minutes, was broadcast from 22.20 to 22.40 and ran without commentary or the usual credits and theme tune.
Radio and TV timetables have been disrupted as a host of pundits pulled out of shows after Lineker was told to step back from hosting the show in a row over impartiality.
A BBC Spokesperson said: “The BBC will only be able to bring limited sport programming this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect that.
“We are sorry for these changes which we recognise will be disappointing for BBC sport fans.
“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”
Sunday’s Match Of The Day 2 slot has also been thrown into question after football pundit Jermaine Defoe announced he would not appear.
Defoe tweeted: “It’s always such a privilege to work with BBC MOTD. But tomorrow I have taken the decision to stand down from my punditry duties. @GaryLineker.”
It’s always such a privilege to work with BBC MOTD. But tomorrow I have taken the decision to stand down from my punditry duties. @GaryLineker
— Jermain Defoe OBE (@IAmJermainDefoe) March 11, 2023
The BBC has apologised to staff over dropping the shows, according to a leaked letter shared on Twitter by The Times’ chief football writer Henry Winter.
To BBC staff from Barbara Slater … pic.twitter.com/qOUsr1OKSp
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) March 11, 2023
The letter, signed by Barbara Slater, the corporation’s director of sport, said: “We are sorry about the impact that the news relating to Gary Lineker and Match Of The Day is having across the department this weekend.
“We understand how unsettling this is for all of you – the staff in BBC Sport and our freelance community – and we understand the strength of feeling which has been generated by this issue.
“We have just released a statement to confirm that we will only be able to bring limited sports programming this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect that. We know that the changes we are making to programming will be disappointing for BBC Sport fans and for the Sport team.
“Individual heads of department and lead editors will be updating teams as and when they can, so if you have any specific questions about your role, please contact your line manager.We are working hard to resolve the situation and we will update you as soon as possible.”
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 is “urgently clarified”, saying his alleged involvement in arranging an £800,000 loan facility for Boris Johnson has “profoundly damaged the perception of the BBC’s impartiality and independence from government”.
Ms Powell called on Ms Frazer to detail any conversations she had with Mr Sharp, director-general Tim Davie and other BBC executives about Lineker’s suspension.
She also asked the minister to clarify when the investigation into Mr Sharp’s appointment would be completed.
It comes as the BBC’s sporting timetable on Saturday was greatly disrupted as both Football Focus and Final Score were pulled at the last moment.
Bargain Hunt aired in place of Football Focus on BBC One at noon on Saturday, while The Repair Shop was due to run instead of Final Score at 4.30pm.
BBC Radio 5 Live has also been affected, with host Mark Chapman not at the helm for 5 Live Sport and Fighting Talk.
His stance throws further doubt into whether Match Of The Day 2 will air as normal on Sunday as he is due to host.
BBC presenter Colin Murray said in a tweet, of 5 Live’s Fighting Talk not airing: “No @FightingTalk316 today, for obvious reasons.
“In the interest of transparency, this was a decision taken by the entire FT team and myself.”
No @FightingTalk316 today, for obvious reasons.
In the interest of transparency, this was a decision taken by the entire FT team and myself.
Bob Mills was still up for it, to be fair ;)
— colin murray (@ColinMurray) March 11, 2023
Pre-recorded content replaced the live broadcasts with Kammy & Ben’s Proper Football Podcast aired during Fighting Talk’s slot followed by The Footballer’s Football Podcast which played on Radio 5 Live when 5 Live Sport would have aired.