Lineker’s tweet was ‘technical’ breach of the rules, says former BBC boss
Gary Lineker did breach BBC guidelines when he tweeted about migration policy, a former director-general of the corporation has said.
Lineker was told to step back from presenting Match of the Day (MOTD) after comparing the government’s plans for Channel migrants to measures taken by Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
The move sparked huge backlash on Friday and Saturday with pundits, players and managers boycotting the BBC.
Match of the Day was pared back from 80 minutes to 20, while Football Focus and Final Score were removed from the schedule.
Mark Thompson told Laura Kuenssberg that the issue comes down to whether presenters can insert themselves into topical and political matters.
He quoted new BBC guidance which covers non-news presenters.
“I would say, on the face of it, it looks like a technical breach of the guideline,” Mr Thompson said.
But he added that Lineker’s status as a sports presenter meant the row was a “grey area” and said the corporation must “strike the balance” when enforcing the rules.
“I think what the BBC has walked into is the 21st Century,” Mr Thompson said.
“New behaviours, new public attitudes, new understandable attitudes from individuals - for example a freelancer like Gary Lineker - therefore there is a need to think carefully about where to strike the balance.”
Lineker was suspended from presenting duties after he 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."
Fellow pundits and presenters, including Ian Wright and Alan Shearer refused to work for the BBC on Saturday in a show of solidarity with Lineker.
A day of scheduling chaos saw Football Focus replaced with an old episode of Bargain Hunt while The Repair Shop was shown instead of Final Score.
In an interview with the Sunday Mirror, Gary Lineker’s son George said that his father would not “back down on his word”.
He said: “Dad is a good man, a good human, and I’m proud of him for standing by his word. That’s why he was pulled off the show – because he wouldn’t apologise. But he will always speak up for people who don’t have a voice.
“He is passionate about helping refugee charities – he took in two refugees who he is still in touch with and trying to help.
“It means a lot to him to stand up for people whose only hope is to escape a country with only the clothes on their back. That’s why he’s been so firm.
“Will he go back to Match of the Day? I think so – he loves Match of the Day. But he won’t ever back down on his word.”
On Satuday BBC director-general Tim Davie apologised for the disruption caused to the broadcaster’s sports programming.
Speaking to BBC News in Washington, DC he 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.”
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.”