BBC director-general apologises, but does not resign over Gary Lineker row

The BBC director-general has apologised for the disruption caused to the broadcaster’s sports programming, but confirmed he will not resign over the Gary Lineker impartiality row.

Speaking to BBC News on Saturday, Tim Davie praised Lineker as “the best in the business” and said he wants to find a “reasonable solution” to get him back on air.

The corporation’s football coverage was sharply disrupted on Saturday as several presenters and reporters withdrew in solidarity with Lineker, with neither Football Focus nor Final Score airing – while 5 Live’s radio coverage was radically altered throughout the day.

Leicester City v Chelsea – Premier League – King Power Stadium
Gary Lineker in the stands during the Premier League match at the King Power Stadium, Leicester (Mike Egerton/PA)

Speaking to BBC News in Washington, DC, 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.”

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.

On Friday, former England internationals Alan Shearer and Ian Wright announced their boycott of this weekend’s Match Of The Day, and they were joined on Saturday by pundits and presenters across the corporation’s radio and TV output including Alex Scott, Jason Mohammad, Mark Chapman, Jermain Defoe and more.

The director-general said that he would not go into too much detail about the discussions being had, but 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,” he 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.”

Mr Davie also said that he does not feel this is 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.”

Asked if he would resign as “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.”

Leicester City v Chelsea – Premier League – King Power Stadium
Gary Lineker arriving ahead of the Premier League match at the King Power Stadium, Leicester (Mike Egerton/PA)

Mr Davie was also asked by BBC’s Nomia Iqbal about BBC chairman Richard Sharp, who has faced growing calls to resign his position over the cronyism row caused by him helping Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility.

Reflecting on why Mr Sharp still had a job, he said: “In terms of the chairman, I have a lot of responsibilities in this job for thousands of people, one thing I don’t do is the appointment as the chair.

“The way in which the board is hired and that role is a different thing to editorially me running the BBC, making those decisions, trying to be fair, and getting a BBC that is truly impartial.”

The BBC boss agreed that the debate had brought up the topic of how they should handle freelancers of the corporation.

Questioned if The Apprentice stars Lord Alan Sugar and Dame Karren Brady and Springwatch presenter Chris Packham – who have been outspoken previously on social media – should also be curtailed, Mr Davie said: “Well the current guidelines, as they exist today, and I do want to reflect on those guidelines, do draw a distinction between those people who are seen as pan-BBC figures who work on big BBC events that are different to those that are appearing on programmes.

“We can debate that. I am in listening mode. I want to make sure that going forward we have a workable solution.”

On Saturday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement that the row surrounding Lineker and the BBC is “a matter for them, not the Government” as he acknowledged “not everyone will always agree” with his new asylum policy.

Amid the disruption, Lineker was pictured watching the Premier League match between Leicester City and Chelsea on Saturday afternoon.