BBC apologises over show disruption as stars join mass boycott over Gary Lineker saga

Tonight's Match of the Day was cut short as pundits boycotted the BBC show in support of Gary Lineker as ITV News' Sejal KariaI reports.

The sports schedules across the BBC have been thrown into chaos, forcing the broadcaster to drop hours of shows, amid mass boycotts by some of its top stars.The BBC faces crisis on Saturday as footballers boycott Match of the Day and a growing list of stars refuse to go on air in support of Gary Lineker.

Tonight’s Match Of The Day has been slashed by over an hour to just 20 minutes. The show is set to go ahead without a presenter, pundits and several regular commentators, including the BBC’s sport editor Dan Roan.

Director-general of the BBC Tim Davie has said this evening, he wants to get Gary Lineker back on the Match Of The Day .

Speaking to BBC News in Washington DC, Mr Davie said it has been a “difficult day” and that they are working hard to get programming back on air.

He went on: “I don’t want to go into too much detail about exact discussion.

“I think 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.”

Mr Davie 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.”

Stars have also pulled out of today's Football Focus and Final Score, appearing to provoke a last minute scheduling scramble at the broadcaster throughout its Saturday programming.

Former England footballers and MOTD regulars, including Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, had kicked off the boycotts, announcing on Friday they would not be appearing on the show, in solidarity with Lineker.

This afternoon, the chaos has trickled down to regional level with BBC Radio Wales having to limit its sports programming.

Call Rob Phillips, where the presenter fields listeners’ views on the latest sporting action, has been replaced by a recorded gala concert celebrating 100 years of the BBC in Wales.

BBC Scotland said it would only be able to bring "limited sport programming this weekend".

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the BBC’s decision to take Gary Lineker off air is “a matter for them, not the Government”, as he acknowledged that “not everyone will always agree” with his asylum policy.

The row between the broadcaster and its highest paid presenter was sparked after Lineker criticised the Government's plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats.Rishi Sunak said: “As Prime Minister, I have to do what I believe is right, respecting that not everyone will always agree.

"That is why I have been unequivocal in my approach to stopping the boats

“Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a talented presenter....

"Forty-five thousand people crossed the channel illegally last year, many of whom have been exploited or trafficked by criminal gangs, putting their lives in danger.

“We need to break this cycle of misery once and for all and the policy we set out this week I believe aims to do just that.

"It is not only the fair and moral thing to do, it is also the compassionate thing to do."

Broadcasting union Bectu has said the BBC’s handling of the impartiality row with Gary Lineker is “hugely disappointing” and feels it will “likely prove disastrous for its reputation”.

Philippa Childs, head of Bectu, said: “The strength of feeling from both staff and members of the public should indicate to the corporation that its handling of the issue has been a massive misstep.”

Gary Lineker spent his Saturday afternoon supporting Leicester City as they played Chelsea Credit: Mike Egerton/PA

While the BBC schedule was being overhauled Gary Lineker attended a Leicester City match.

He was seen taking selfies with fans in the stands as his boy-hood club took on Chelsea at the King Power Stadium.

Lineker did not answer questions from reporters when he left his home in Barnes, south-west London, on Saturday morning, before being quickly escorted into a chauffeured BMW to travel to the match.

He was asked “how do you think this has been handled?”, “is this the end of your BBC career?”, “have you had any discussions with the BBC overnight?” and “do you expect to resign?”, but did not respond.

Gary Lineker did not answer questions from reporters as he left his home on Saturday morning

This morning, the Professional Footballers' Association confirmed that players scheduled for matches today were planning to pull out of interviews today in support of Lineker.

The Bristol Rovers became the first team to publicly declare they would not be speaking to the BBC, declaring in a tweet the side would refuse any pre, or post-match interviews.

Saturday evening’s episode of Fantasy 606 will not air on BBC Radio 5, presenter Chris Sutton has announced.

Sutton tweeted that he hoped that Gary Lineker and the BBC resolve “this messy situation”.

Football Focus presenter Alex Scott earlier announced she was planning to pull out of hosting duties writing that it 'didn't feel right' to go ahead with her BBC show today. Kelly Somers also said she will not be hosting Football Focus, following Scott's announcement.

A scheduling change on BBC's iPlayer showed Bargain Hunt replacing Football Focus in the show's 12pm slot, shortly after Scott's and Somers' announcements.

Jason Mohammad then joined the boycott, confirming he would not be presenting the BBC’s Final Score programme on Saturday afternoon.

Sports reporter Marc Webber followed, tweeting that Final Score reporters had also decided to stand down from our duties today in solidarity with Lineker, meaning the show would not be broadcast today.

The show appeared to have been replaced by The Repair Show in its 4pm slot, according to the BBC iPlayer schedule for Saturday.

Pundit Glenn Murray had also pulled out of appearing on Football Focus and Final Score on Saturday.

Football pundit Dion Dublin said “No 5live for me today” as a mark of solidarity with BBC Sport colleagues, as BBC Radio 5 listeners noticed it began airing old episodes of the Podcast Fighting Talk, fuelling speculation the programme was also facing a sports scheduling shake-up.

BBC presenter Colin Murray tweeted that there would be no Fighting Talk today for "obvious reasons," adding: "In the interest of transparency, this was a decision taken by the entire FT team and myself.”

In a statement, a BBC spokesperson said of the disruption to the broadcaster's TV and radio timetables: “The BBC will only be able to bring limited sport programming this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect that.

“We are sorry for these changes which we recognise will be disappointing for BBC sport fans.

“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”

On Friday, a joint statement from Match Of The Day commentators, including Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Rowen and Steven Wyeth, said they did “not feel it would be appropriate to take part in the programme” given the current circumstances.

Before the BBC announcement, former Manchester City defender Micah Richards and ex-footballer Jermaine Jenas – who were both not due to appear this weekend on MOTD – also backed their fellow pundits.

Then, on Saturday morning, the Professional Footballers’ Association confirmed it was supporting players who planned to refuse post-match interviews with MOTD.

In a previous statement, the BBC confirmed the show would go on air with no presenters, saying MOTD would instead “focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry” saying it understood the position of its presenters.

Lineker, 62, became embroiled in a row over impartiality after comparing the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany on Twitter.

As a furore erupted, Lineker said he stood by his tweets, and added that he was looking forward to presenting MOTD on Saturday night.

But the BBC then announced it had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights programme until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.

BBC director-general Tim Davie – who warned staff about their use of social media when he took on the role at the end of 2020 before guidelines on their use were updated – was asked by BBC News why Lineker had not been sacked.

Mr Davie replied: “Well I think we always look to take proportionate action and that’s what we’ve done.”

He said he would not “add to” the corporation’s current statement on the matter, but that there had been “very constructive discussions”.

Reacting to Shearer and Wright’s boycott, the BBC boss added: “I absolutely respect people’s right to make that decision, and BBC Sport have to look at the programme they will produce for the weekend as normal.”

On his podcast, Wright warned that he is “out” and “gone” if the BBC “get rid” of Lineker, saying the ensuing “culture war” was a “distraction” from the human rights issues his co-star was trying to higlight.

In the Friday episode of Wrighty’s House, the podcast’s host said: “I’ll tell you something. If they do – the BBC get rid of Gary Lineker – I’m out, I’m gone. I’m not staying there. On his own platform he should be able to say what he wants to say.”The BBC has “undermined its own credibility” by taking Lineker off air, a former director-general of the corporation said on Saturday morning.

Micah Richards, Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker. Credit: PA

Then, on Saturday morning, Greg Dyke, the BBC director-general between 2000 and 2004 and a former FA chairman, said the broadcaster was “mistaken” in standing Lineker down.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the precedent at the corporation is that “news and current affairs employees are expected to be impartial and not the rest”.

“If you start applying the rules of news and current affairs to everybody who works for the BBC, where does it end?”, he said.

He added: “There is a long-established precedent in the BBC that is, that if you’re an entertainment presenter or you’re a football presenter, then you are not bound by those same (impartiality) rules.

“The real problem of today is that the BBC has undermined its own credibility by doing this because it looks like – the perception out there – is that the BBC has bowed to Government pressure.

“And once the BBC does that, then you’re in real problems.

“The perception out there is going to be that Gary Lineker, a much-loved television presenter, was taken off air after Government pressure on a particular issue.”

On Saturday, the Daily Express reported a group of 36 Conservative MPs and peers had signed a letter to Mr Davie, demanding a full and independent investigation into Lineker’s remarks as well as a full apology “without reservation” from the presenter.

An online petition calling for Lineker to be reinstated in his post, organised by The Daily Mirror on Friday, reached 100,000 signatures in under 10 hours.

Announcing the decision regarding Lineker on Friday, a spokesperson for the BBC said the broadcaster had been “in extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days. We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines”.

They continued: “The BBC has decided that he will step back from presenting Match Of The Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.

“When it comes to leading our football and sports coverage, Gary is second to none.

“We have never said that Gary should be an opinion-free zone, or that he can’t have a view on issues that matter to him, but we have said that he should keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that “individual cases” were a matter for the BBC.

Former Newsnight host Emily Maitlis, who was herself reprimanded by the BBC for sharing a tweet the corporation viewed as “controversial”, said the backlash was getting “unmanageably big” for the corporation.

Maitlis’ co host on the podcast The News Agents, Jon Sopel, also a former BBC employee, described the fallout as “incredible”.

“So the BBC launched a war without a battle plan,” he tweeted.

ITV News political editor Robert Peston branded the saga a "reputational crisis" for the BBC, and compared the fallout to the Richard Sharp scandal.

Sharp, the BBC's chairman, faced scrutiny over allegations he acted as a go-between for former prime minister Boris Johnson to secure an £800,000 loan facility.

A spokesman for Boris Johnson said he never sought financial advice from Richard Sharp. Credit: PA

Mr Sharp was criticised for failing to declare his role in facilitating the loan to MPs when he was applying for the top BBC job, and said he should “consider the impact his omissions will have” on trust in the broadcaster.

Mr Sharp has insisted that he did not arrange the loan but admitted introducing his friend Sam Blyth, a cousin of Mr Johnson who wanted to help the then-prime minister with his financial troubles, to the Cabinet Office.

A spokesman for Mr Sharp has said he “regrets” not telling MPs about his involvement with Mr Blyth “and apologises.”

Peston compared the sagas, writing: "First, its slowness to react creates the impression it has suspended Lineker largely because of criticism and pressure from Tory ministers and the Daily Mail - so the BBC looks muddled and weak.

"Second, Lineker’s suspension is in contrast to the continuation in office of Richard Sharp as chairman, weeks after his impartiality was widely seen as undermined by disclosures of how he helped Boris Johnson as Tory PM obtain a large secret personal loan.

"If the BBC wants to be seen as rigorously impartial, it cannot apply the principles of impartiality selectively."

Richard Sharp resigned as BBC chairman after failing to declare his connection to a loan made to Boris Johnson Credit: DCMS/PA

The BBC had “failed” to apply its guidelines fairly, former journalist Baroness Wheatcroft said on Saturday morning.

“The problem is that the BBC has guidelines, but it doesn’t apply them fairly,” the crossbench peer, who sits on the Lords Communications and Digital Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

She added: “I mean, guidelines only work if they are applied right across the board within the scope of the guidelines, and clearly the BBC has failed on that.”

She said the corporation “should work very closely with both sides, as far as politics go, to come up with a policy that it will then apply across the board”.

In the meantime, she said, it should “call for the suspension” of “clearly party political” chairman Sharp.

Labour also condemned the corporation’s “cowardly decision” to stand Lineker down as “an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure”.

A party source said: “Tory politicians lobbying to get people sacked for disagreeing with Government policies should be laughed at, not pandered to. The BBC should rethink their decision.”

Sir Keir Starmer weighed in on the saga at at Welsh Labour’s conference in Llandudno on Saturday. He told broadcasters the BBC “caving in” to Conservative MPs in the Gary Lineker row is “the opposite of impartial”.

The Labour leader said: “The BBC is not acting impartially by caving in to Tory MPs who are complaining about Gary Lineker.

“They got this one badly wrong and now they’re very, very exposed.

“As is the government, because at the heart of this is the government’s failure on the asylum system. And rather than take responsibility for the mess they’ve made, the Government is casting around to blame anybody else – Gary Lineker, the BBC, civil servants, the ‘blob’.

“What they should be doing is standing up, accepting they’ve broken the asylum system, and telling us what they’re going to do to actually fix it, not whingeing on about Gary Lineker."

Philippa Childs, Head of Bectu – which represents thousands of BBC workers, said the Lineker decision was “deeply concerning” and “will give the appearance that they have bowed to political pressure from ministers”.

What did Gary Lineker say?

The row was first sparked by Lineker’s response on Twitter to a Home Office video in which Home Secretary Suella Braverman unveiled the Government’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats.

The ex-England striker wrote: “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.”

Current BBC guidelines state staff need to follow editorial guidelines and editorial oversight on social media in the same way as when doing content.

Lineker is a freelance broadcaster for the BBC, not a permanent member of staff, and is not responsible for news or political content so does not need to adhere to the same rules on impartiality.

He was recently named as the BBC’s top earning on-air talent for the fifth consecutive year.

Lineker was paid between £1,350,000 and £1,354,999 in 2021/2022 for MOTD and Sports Personality Of The Year.

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