Gary Lineker to return to Match of the Day after BBC impartiality row

ITV News reports on Gary Lineker returning to the BBC as the corporation announced a review of its guidance on social media

BBC Director-General Tim Davie has apologised after Gary Lineker was told to step back from presenting Match Of The Day (MOTD) in a row over impartiality and said he will return to hosting coverage this weekend.

A host of sports presenters and pundits pulled out of BBC shows at the weekend after the former England striker was told to step back from hosting MOTD.

The action was taken after the 62-year-old presenter compared the language used to launch a new government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany.

Lineker said on Monday that he is glad that a resolution had been found, adding that he looks forward to getting "back on air".

The former England striker's first assignment back on the BBC will be to present live coverage of the FA Cup quarter-final between Manchester City and Burnley on Saturday.

He said the outpouring of support from the public towards the plight of those fleeing persecution was "heart-warming" to see.

“A final thought: however difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away," the presenter tweeted.

“It’s heart-warming to have seen the empathy towards their plight from so many of you.”

“We remain a country of predominantly tolerant, welcoming and generous people. Thank you.”

The Prime Minister said he was “pleased” that the dispute between Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker and the BBC had been “resolved”.

Rishi Sunak also appeared to defend the public broadcaster, suggesting there was not an issue of political bias at BBC.

Asked by the BBC during a visit to San Diego, US, whether there was an issue of political bias at the corporation, the Prime Minister said: “No, it’s right that the BBC is impartial and it takes its obligations on impartiality very seriously.”

Pressed on whether he thought the broadcaster did take seriously its impartiality obligation, he continued: “These are matters for the BBC to resolve itself.

“I was pleased that the issue with Gary Lineker has been resolved and we can all look forward to watching Match of the Day again – not least as Southampton managed to get a point at the weekend."

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.

The BBC said in a statement that it will begin an independent review of its social media guidelines, focusing on how it applies to freelancers outside news, like Lineker.

Mr Davie also apologised after the disruption to its football coverage and said he looks forward to the MOTD host returning to presenting duties this weekend.

Director General Tim Davie acknowledges the BBC's current guidance contains some grey areas. Credit: PA

In his statement, Davie said: "Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this.

“The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air.

"We are announcing a review led by an independent expert – reporting to the BBC – on its existing social media guidance, with a particular focus on how it applies to freelancers outside news and current affairs," he added.

“The BBC and myself are aware that Gary is in favour of such a review. Shortly, the BBC will announce who will conduct that review. Whilst this work is undertaken, the BBC’s current social media guidance remains in place.

“Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary, and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend.”

When Mr Davie took on the role in 2020, he warned staff about their use of social media and guidelines around social media use have since been updated. Staff were told they need to follow editorial guidelines and editorial oversight on social media in the same way as when doing BBC content.

The row was 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.

In the video, Ms Braverman said "enough is enough. We must stop the boats" when referring to migrants crossing the English Channel, adding that the UK was being "overwhelmed" by asylum seekers.

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."

What is the government's controversial small boats plan?

  • There will be a duty placed on the home secretary to detain anyone who arrives in the UK illegally, except the seriously ill and children.

  • It will no longer be possible for people who enter the UK illegally to claim asylum .

  • Anyone who crosses the English Channel to enter Great Britain will be deported, either to a safe third country, Rwanda - with which the government has signed an asylum deal - or back to their home nation if it is not dangerous. Only those too ill to fly, people under 18 or migrants at serious risk of irreversible harm if they are deported will avoid relocation.

  • Those who do enter illegally will be banned from ever returning.

Labour has welcomed the announcement that Lineker will return to MOTD and called on the government to examine how it can protect a “truly independent and impartial BBC”.

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said a review of the BBC’s social media guidelines is "clearly needed", adding that the episode should prompt the government to consider how it protects and promotes a "truly independent and impartial BBC."

The BBC will begin an independent review of its social media guidelines. Credit: PA

Ms Powell said: “This is welcome and we will all be pleased to see Gary Lineker and football coverage back on the BBC this weekend. A review of the BBC’s social media guidelines is clearly needed.

“But much bigger questions remain about the impartiality and independence of the BBC from government pressures.

“The Tory government have long wanted to undermine the BBC. They appointed a BBC chair now subject to investigation over his personal links to the Conservative Party.

"The ongoing uncertainties around the future of the BBC are keeping it over a barrel and making it susceptible to political campaigns orchestrated by ministers, MPs and the right-wing press."

What has the reaction been to the news Lineker will be returning to MOTD?

Sky Sports pundit Neville was amused by the fact BBC Director-General Tim Davie had apologised to Lineker, tweeting the word “apology” with two laughing emojis. Current MOTD commentator Conor McNamara, who was one of a number of BBC Sports pundits to pull out of their regular presenting roles over the weekend in solidarity with Lineker, tweeted: “Now… can we go back to arguing about VAR?” Fellow MOTD presenter Steve Wilson also shared his response to the resolution, tweeting: “So delighted that there’s a resolution. “I can now get on with prep for games this week which include trips to Molineux and Bramall Lane for the BBC.”

Former BBC news executive Sir Craig Oliver also commented on the weekend’s sporting schedule “chaos”, saying the corporation made the “wrong choice” when it asked Lineker to step back, which led to other BBC sports staff refusing to do their shows. “I think it’s a total mess,” he added.

Elsewhere on social media, Lineker’s eldest son, George, tweeted a goat emoji – often used to signify G.O.A.T, meaning Greatest Of All Time – in response to the news that his father would be returning to his BBC presenting duties.

The comments come as BBC chairman Richard Sharp faces growing pressure to resign as the corporation’s policy on impartiality has been called into question. Mr Sharp, who was appointed chairman in February 2021, has been embroiled in a cronyism row over helping former prime minister Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility in recent months. An investigation is being undertaken into his appointment but he now faces renewed scrutiny in the wake of the Lineker debacle. He denies wrongdoing. Mr Davie was also asked about Mr Sharp, and said the BBC does not appoint the chairman.

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