BBC tries to find a compromise to keep Gary Lineker

BBC executives are increasingly confident they will find a way to hang on to Gary Lineker, the company’s star sports presenter, who was sacked for breaching impartiality rules as pressure mounted on chairman Richard Sharp to step down.

Lineker, a former England men’s forward and presenter of game of the day, was suspended on Friday after tweeting criticism of the government’s proposed legislation aimed at preventing migrants from coming to the UK in small boats.

The BBC was thrown into crisis when its weekend sports coverage stalled on TV and radio game of the daythe flagship football program presented by Lineker, was either cut drastically or canceled as pundits and commentators opted out in solidarity with Lineker.

Opposition parties have accused the BBC of giving in to pressure from ministers and Tory MPs to crack down on Lineker.

Labor questioned whether Sharp, a Conservative donor, could continue as BBC chairman amid doubts about his ability to be an independent arbiter due to political bias.

The BBC is keen to keep Lineker, although it concludes that his comments on the government’s policy on dealing with asylum seekers violated their social media usage guidelines.

Speaking to the BBC in Washington on Saturday, BBC director general Tim Davie said: “We want to make sure he can get back on the air. I’m really focused on finding a solution.”

Former BBC Director General Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson, former BBC director-general, told the BBC on Sunday that Lineker, who also works as a freelancer, committed a “technical breach” © James Manning/PA

Davie, who was appointed BBC chief executive in 2020, has made ensuring the company’s journalists adhere to “due impartiality” guidelines a central tenet of his role and introduced requirements for social media use.

A widely touted solution to the Lineker crisis would be to relax guidelines for people working outside of news and current affairs.

Davie said on Saturday: “I want to think about these guidelines. I’m in listening mode.”

There are already lower impartiality requirements for BBC staff working outside the news.

But some contributors, including Lineker, “have additional responsibilities to the BBC because of their profile with the BBC”, according to the company’s guidelines.

Mark Thompson, who was director general from 2004 to 2012, told the BBC on Sunday that Lineker, who also works as a freelancer, committed a “technical breach”. . . Nobody thinks this is the same as . . . Huw Edwards [the BBC news presenter] do it. . . Tim Davie will want to look at this policy [on high-profile presenters]“.

However, BBC insiders said the other handful of presenters with the same profile as Lineker, such as Graham Norton, had made no similar interventions.

“We cannot rewrite the rule book around one person,” said a senior BBC executive. Another added: “If we let loose[to people outside news]. . . we will just have more rows.”

The company is pressed for time to solve the Lineker saga as next weekend is the FA Cup quarter-finals when the BBC will have a relative rarity: the rights to broadcast two live games featuring a Premier League team. Lineker is expected to present one of the games.

The BBC has been contacted for comment.

Davie has dismissed claims that Lineker was taken off the air due to government pressure.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt declined to back Lineker’s suspension, telling Sky News: “I think it’s important that we let the BBC solve these problems.”

Meanwhile, Sharp, Rishi Sunak’s former boss at Goldman Sachs, was facing increasing pressure to step down.

Labor culture spokeswoman Lucy Powell said Sharp “cannot be considered a fair arbiter” at this time. The Liberal Democrats said he should resign.

The Sunday Times reported in January that Sharp helped Johnson secure a guarantee for a loan just before the then Prime Minister recommended his appointment as BBC chairman.

Whitehall’s appointments supervisor opened an investigation. Sharp has denied any wrongdoing, saying he “simply linked Johnson to guarantor on a personal loan facility worth up to £800,000”.

Additional reporting by Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe BBC tries to find a compromise to keep Gary Lineker

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