Sunak is calling on the BBC to resolve dispute over Gary Lineker’s suspension

Rishi Sunak has sought to distance the government from the row that has consumed the BBC over the suspension of football presenter Gary Lineker for allegedly breaching its policy of political impartiality.

The Prime Minister urged the broadcaster to resolve the dispute quickly and put pressure on Tim Davie, its chief executive, who apologized to viewers for the upheaval and said he was trying to get Lineker back on the air.

“Gary Lineker was a great footballer and a talented presenter,” Sunak said in a statement released at 6 p.m. Saturday, suggesting he was beginning to feel political heat on the matter.

“I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly their business, not the government.”

Sunak’s statement came after a day of chaos at the BBC that severely disrupted sports programming, including the flagship game of the day TV show when Lineker’s colleagues supported the veteran presenter and former England player.

On Friday, the BBC asked Lineker to “resign”. game of the day while negotiating an agreement with him about his future social media activities. The dispute was sparked when Lineker compared the government’s language on migration to statements on Twitter heard in Germany in the 1930s.

Davie told BBC News on Saturday that “success for me is getting Gary back on the air,” adding he was willing to review impartiality rules for freelancers like Lineker. The director-general said there was “no way” he would be stepping down but admitted “this has been a tough time for the BBC”.

He said there had been no “pandering” to any political party amid Labour’s allegations that BBC executives had bowed to pressure from Downing Street and ministers over Lineker’s comments.

Davie admitted it had been a “difficult day” for the company but said “we are working very hard to resolve the situation”.

Labor claimed Sunak tried to evade responsibility for fueling the dispute.

In recent days, both Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer have criticized Lineker, while Tory MPs and right-wing newspapers, notably the Daily Mail, have called for his suspension.

Lucy Powell, secretary for shadow culture, said: “It’s just depressing that the BBC gave in to this Tory bullying but the Prime Minister’s crocodile tears, now he can see the Tories have gotten this very wrong idiot.”

The dispute erupted as Davie sought to bolster the company’s impartiality, which he said was his top priority when he took over in September 2020. But the company’s leadership is facing mounting pressure over its perceived pro-government stance.

As a sports presenter, Lineker already has more leeway than BBC journalists to express his opinions publicly. Some critics of the group have suggested loosening the rules further. Sunak is calling on the BBC to resolve dispute over Gary Lineker’s suspension

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