BBC fears it cannot sack Lineker or force him to follow social media rules

Exclusive: Presenter is on a two-year contract negotiated before current director general was appointed

Joe Middleton
Sunday 12 March 2023 11:00 GMT
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What are the BBC's impartiality rules and is Gary Lineker bound by them?

The BBC fears it cannot sack Gary Lineker or force him to follow social media rules on impartiality because of ambiguities in his contract, The Independent understands.

The corporation would be forced to pay millions if they wanted to oust Lineker and would probably lose any legal claim brought by the Match of the Day presenter, senior figures believe.

Lineker, who was forced off air after comparing the government's asylum policy to language used in 1930s Germany, is understood to be on a two-year contract negotiated before current director general Tim Davie was appointed.

Mr Davie has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the BBC’s impartiality and led a crackdown on BBC stars making political comments on social media.

But Lineker’s contract was already in place and has not been updated, handing an important advantage to the presenter as the dispute intensifies.

Lineker is following the letter of his contract but not the spirit of the rules imposed on presenters, a senior BBC figure told The Independent.

Bosses now hope to renegotiate their agreement with Lineker and put clearer rules in place to allow him to return to work.

Senior corporation figures understand this has now exploded into a free speech row, which they want to shut down.

Gary Lineker at the King Power Stadium on Saturday
Gary Lineker at the King Power Stadium on Saturday (PA Wire)

The decision by the BBC to stand down Lineker from its flagship football programme has prompted a mass pundit boycott, with Alan Shearer and Ian Wright both revealing on Friday they would not take part in MOTD on Saturday.

On Saturday, fellow sports presenters including Alex Scott, Kelly Somers and Jason Mohammad said they were pulling out of their shows, which resulted in Football Focus and Final Score being scrapped from the BBC One schedule.

Labour leader Keir Starmer told broadcasters at Welsh Labour’s conference in Llandudno that the BBC “caving in” to Tory MPs in the ongoing row is “the opposite of impartial”.

He 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.

The BBC chair Richard Sharp
The BBC chair Richard Sharp (PA)

“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.”

In a statement on Saturday afternoon the BBC apologised and said it would air only “limited sport programming” over the weekend and was “working hard to resolve the situation”.

The row over impartiality has been exacerbated by the BBC’s chair, Richard Sharp, after a committee of MPs found he made “significant errors of judgement” by failing to declare his role in facilitating an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson weeks before the then-prime minister recommended him for the role.

The damning parliamentary report said Mr Sharp – a multi-millionaire and long-time Tory donor – should “consider the impact of his omissions” on trust in the BBC. Mr Sharp’s appointment is currently being investigated by the commissioner for public appointments.

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