Viewers rail against BBC’s ‘excessive’ coverage of Gary Lineker impartiality row

·3-min read
The BBC has defended its coverage of the Gary Lineker impartiality row, but many viewers thought it was 'excessive' - NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images
The BBC has defended its coverage of the Gary Lineker impartiality row, but many viewers thought it was 'excessive' - NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images

The BBC has defended its news coverage of the Gary Lineker impartiality row, after viewers complained it was “excessive”.

In a complaint report published on Friday, the corporation said some viewers also felt the story should have “focused more on the Illegal Migration Bill and criticism it has received”.

Lineker, 62, was briefly suspended as host of Match of the Day this month over his criticism of the Government’s asylum policy on Twitter. He returned following a boycott by top on-air talent at the broadcaster.

The BBC has said it believes its coverage of the story was “proportionate, fair and duly impartial”.

In a statement, it added: “The row over Gary Lineker's social media use, with regards to the BBC Editorial Guidelines, generated high media interest, as well as reaction from politicians from across the political spectrum and sporting personalities; this also caused disruption to the BBC Sport scheduling over the weekend of Mr Lineker's suspension.

“This was a story of significance and we legitimately reported on the impact for the BBC and Mr Lineker.

“However, we continued to report on many other stories of national and international importance, including the cost of living crisis and the collapse of US Silicon Valley Bank.”

'Fair and impartial analysis'

The broadcaster also said its coverage included explanation of Lineker’s criticism of the new asylum policy. It also said it has reported separately on the Bill with “a wide range of views from those both critical and supportive of the proposals”.

However, they argued that it was “primarily a media story”, which is why their focus was on the discussions it raised around freedom of speech and impartiality at the BBC.

An episode of Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, which aired over the weekend of disruption, also received particular complaints from people who felt the programme “displayed bias against Gary Lineker”.

A statement from the corporation said: “Throughout the programme we looked at the issues highlighted by the row over Gary Lineker’s social media use and the BBC Editorial Guidelines in detail, hearing a range of nuanced views, some of which were supportive of Gary Lineker.”

Two messages from viewers read out at the end of the programme were particularly referenced in the complaints. However, the broadcaster argued that this was “one aspect” of its overall coverage, which it felt “offered fair and duly impartial analysis of what this signified for Gary Lineker and the BBC, and the wider political implications”.

BBC sorry for disruption

The BBC also apologised for the disruption to its football schedule during the weekend of turbulence.

“We know how much our audiences value our football programming and we worked hard to keep it on air on March 11-12,” it said. “We're glad that our normal coverage is now back.

“We'd like to reassure all audiences that this disappointment has been heard and discussed at a senior level.”

Lineker was taken off air after comparing the language used to launch the new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany in a tweet.

Tim Davie, the BBC director-general, later said he recognised “grey areas” in the broadcaster’s social media guidance could cause “confusion” and announced an independent review of the guidelines, particularly for freelancers.

MPs will also question Lord Birt, a former BBC director-general, and Lord Patten of Barnes, a former BBC chairman, on the broadcaster's impartiality at a House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee meeting next week.