The former director-general of the BBC has said that taking Gary Lineker off the air was ‘mistaken’.
Gary Lineker was asked down from his regular spot hosting of Match Of The Day after a tweet comparing the language used to launch the government’s asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany on Twitter.
Asked whether Mr Lineker’s tweet was acceptable, Greg Dyke told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We live in a world of freedom of speech and therefore, yes. He didn’t broadcast it on the BBC, it was a tweet he did privately.”
Mr Dyke went on to say: “I think what the BBC did yesterday was mistaken. And I’ve over the years since I left the BBC never gone public criticising the leadership of the BBC and the decisions they take, because I know what a difficult job it is, and difficult decisions have to be taken.”
But, he said, 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 added.
The row over impartiality has plunged Match of the Day into chaos, with fellow presenters Ian Wright and Alan Shearer refusing to appear on tonight’s broadcast, in solidarity with Mr Lineker.
Late on Friday evening several of the show’s commentators shared a joint statement online, announcing they would also be stepping down from Saturday’s broadcast.
“As commentators on MOTD, we have decided to step down from tomorrow night’s broadcast,” the statement read.
“We are comforted that football fans who want to watch their teams should still be able to do so, as management can use World Feed commentary if they wish.
“However, in the circumstances, we do not feel it would be appropriate to take part in the programme.”
The statement was shared by MOTD commentators including Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Rowen and Steven Wyeth.
Mr Dyke added that the corporation has “undermined its own credibility” as it will be viewed as having bowed to government pressure.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “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.”
Former Manchester City defender Micah Richards and former Spurs star Jermaine Jenas - who were both not due to appear this weekend on MOTD - have also backed their fellow pundits.
The broadcaster said it had “decided” Mr Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights programme after a row exploded following his tweet about language used by the government.
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.”
Additional reporting by PA
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