Tyson Fury will not be removed from the BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist but viewers should use their vote to pass judgement on the boxing champion’s offensive views on homosexuality and women, Tony Hall, the Director-General said.
The BBC is refusing to bow to a petition calling for the world heavyweight champion to be removed from Sunday night’s live show from Belfast, despite police launching a hate-crime investigation over Fury’s comments about homosexuality.
Appearing before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee, Lord Hall was presented with comments by Fury in which he reportedly said homosexuals should be shot and joked about breaking a woman’s jaw.
Asked by SNP MP John Nicholson if it was appropriate for the BBC to reward Fury with a Sports Personality nomination, Lord Hall said the boxer had been added to the shortlist by an expert panel purely because of his “extraordinary achievement” of winning the heavyweight title.
“It’s for people to judge when they vote whether he is the right person to become Sports Personality of the Year,” he said. “I believe in the process. Twelve names have been put up there and the British public will make a judgement on Sunday. I trust the British people to make their views clear.” Lord Hall said he would consider changing the criteria for the public vote.
The Director-General said the nomination had begun a debate over “free speech.” Fury’s comments were “at odds with the BBC’s policies” on equality. But the BBC should be a place where “people’s views can be heard across a range of opinions.”
Lord Hall said a report that members of the Sports Personality panel felt Fury had been “imposed” upon them by BBC executives was categorically untrue. The panel had unanimously endorsed the nomination.
The BBC boss also said that he had extracted an apology from Alan Yentob over his interventions as chairman of the Kids Company charity before the veteran executive and arts presenter resigned as Creative Director.
Yentob accompanied the charity’s chief executive, Camila Batmanghelidjh, to a Radio 4 Today programme interview and stood beside a producer. He resigned last week saying the affair had become a distraction for the BBC.
“I had a conversation with Alan and I made clear that this was improper behaviour and he shouldn’t do it. He apologised,” Lord Hall said. Yentob’s resignation was “the right thing to do” but Lord Hall said the fact that the BBC pursued the Kids Company story enthusiastically showed that its editorial standards had not been compromised.
Lord Hall also dismissed criticisms by ITV, which has accused the BBC of chasing ratings with commercial programme propositions. BBC1’s creative and audience success with dramas such as Happy Valley showed that the channel was becoming more distinctive not less, Lord Hall said.
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