The BBC has undermined its credibility by deciding to drop Gary Lineker from hosting Match of the Day as it will be seen as bowing to government pressure, former chief executive Greg Dyke has told the BBC.
Dyke’s comments came after the corporation suspended Lineker on Friday for violating impartiality guidelines by criticizing the government’s asylum policy.
Dyke told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is a long-established precedent at the BBC which is that if you are an entertainment presenter or a football presenter then you are not bound by the same rules.
“The real problem today is that the BBC has undermined its own credibility by doing this because it appears – there is a perception – that the BBC has bowed to government pressure.
“And when the BBC does that, you have real problems. There will be an opinion that Gary Lineker, a much-loved TV presenter, was taken off the air after government pressure on a particular issue.”
When asked if Lineker’s tweet was acceptable, he said: “We live in a free speech world, so yes. He didn’t broadcast it on the BBC, it was a tweet he made privately.
“I think what the BBC did yesterday was a mistake. And in the years since I left the BBC, I have never publicly criticized the BBC’s management and decisions because I know what a tough job it is and you have to make tough decisions.”
But the corporate precedent was that “news and current affairs employees are expected to be impartial, not the rest,” he said.
“If you start applying news and current affairs rules to everyone who works for the BBC, where will it stop?
“If you thought tonight in the match of the day he would be talking about immigration policy, I understand the BBC’s position, but he’s talking about football.”
He added that “it is quite clear” that Lineker did not intend to give the BBC any assurances about his future conduct and that “therefore, I suspect this is the end of Gary Lineker as the BBC presenter we know”.
Lineker’s suspension came after a tweet on Monday in which he said the government’s plan to effectively bar anyone seeking asylum from entering the UK illegally was expressed in “language not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s”.
On Friday, it was announced that Lineker would “withdraw” from hosting Match of the Day until an agreement was reached regarding his use of social media.
The decision led to a show of solidarity from Lineker co-hosts Ian Wright and Alan Shearer, who announced they would not be taking part in Saturday’s show. The BBC said in response that the show would be broadcast without a presenter or pundits.
Bristol Rovers, who play Forest Green Rovers in League One on Saturday afternoon, have said their players will not be giving post-match interviews to the BBC.
“We will not speak to the BBC before or after tonight’s game. #Bristol Rovers #We’re standing with Garythe club wrote on Twitter.
Shadow Foreign Minister David Lammy also condemned Lineker’s suspension on Friday night.
“I’m glad a major public broadcaster is cowering from right-wing fanatics,” he said. “Our democracy is made of tougher stuff than that.”
Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “The BBC’s cowardly decision to remove Gary Lineker from the air is an attack on free speech in the face of political pressure from Tory politicians. They should rethink.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s outgoing First Minister, said as a “strong supporter of public service broadcasting” she wished she could defend the BBC but the decision was indefensible.
“It challenges free speech in the face of political pressure – and it always seems to give in to pressure from the right,” she said.
Also speaking to the BBC, Patience Wheatcroft, a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, said the corporation had not followed its impartiality guidelines fairly.
Citing the case of Alan Sugar, who hosts the BBC’s The Apprentice but who backed the Conservatives in the 2019 election, she said: “Guidelines only work if they are applied across all areas within the guidelines. And apparently the BBC failed on that.
She said the BBC should “work very closely with both sides [of politics] come up with a policy that will then be applied in all areas.”
Speaking on her talk show on TalkTV, former culture secretary Nadine Dorries defended the move.
“People who pay Gary Lineker’s salary pay royalties, and not everyone agrees with Gary Lineker,” she said.
“I think the BBC has a duty to use Gary Lineker as a line in the sand to say, ‘You can’t do this. If you work for the BBC, you have a duty when speaking in public… to keep that element of impartiality.”