The BBC has “undermined its own credibility” by taking Gary Lineker off air, a former director-general of the corporation has said as the fallout from an impartiality row continues.
Saturday’s Match Of The Day will go ahead without a presenter, pundits and several regular commentators after Lineker was told to step back from hosting the BBC show, while lunchtime show Football Focus and results programme Final Score will not air after presenters and reporters withdrew.
Greg Dyke, the BBC director-general between 2000 and 2004 and a former FA chairman, said the broadcaster was “mistaken” in standing Lineker down.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that 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 said.
He added: “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 England footballers and Match Of The Day regulars including Alan Shearer and Ian Wright announced on Friday that they would be boycotting the show in solidarity with Lineker.
Several of the show’s commentators also said they would be stepping down from Saturday’s broadcast.
The BBC said the show would “focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry”, saying it understood the position of its presenters.
Lineker, 62, became embroiled in a row over impartiality after comparing the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany on Twitter.
The broadcaster said it had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights programme until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.
BBC director-general Tim Davie – who warned staff about their use of social media when he took on the role at the end of 2020 before guidelines on their use were updated – was asked by BBC News why Lineker had not been sacked.
Davie replied: “Well I think we always look to take proportionate action and that’s what we’ve done.”
He said he would not “add to” the corporation’s current statement on the matter but that there had been “very constructive discussions”.
Reacting to Shearer and Wright’s boycott, the BBC boss added: “I absolutely respect people’s right to make that decision, and BBC Sport have to look at the programme they will produce for the weekend as normal.”
The Daily Express reported a group of 36 Conservative MPs and peers had signed a letter to Davie, demanding a full and independent investigation into Lineker’s remarks as well as a full apology “without reservation” from the presenter.
Before the BBC announcement, former Manchester City defender Micah Richards and former Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas – who were both not due to appear this weekend on Match Of The Day – also backed their fellow pundits.
Football Focus presenter Alex Scott said on Saturday morning, just hours before the lunchtime Football Focus show was due to be broadcast, that “it doesn’t feel right going ahead with the show today”.
She wrote on Twitter: “I made a decision last night that even though I love doing Football Focus and we have had an incredible week winning an SJA award that it just doesn’t feel right going ahead with the show today. Hopefully I will be back in the chair next week…”
The show has subsequently been dropped from the BBC One schedule and replaced by an episode of Bargain Hunt.
Jason Mohammad announced he would not be presenting Final Score on Saturday, tweeting: “As you know, Final Score is a TV show very close to my heart. However – I have this morning informed the BBC that I will not be presenting the show this afternoon on BBC One.”
Final Score reporter Marc Webber then said on Twitter the show would not air.
“As Final Score reporters, we have decided to stand down from our duties today in solidarity with Gary Lineker. As a result, no Final Score will be broadcast today,” Webber wrote.
“We all love the BBC and are proud to work for such a great broadcaster. More importantly, we consider it an absolute honour to keep people up to date on football on a Saturday at 3pm.
“A lot of work had already gone into today’s show. Many of us are freelancers – only paid per game. We have made a salary sacrifice today.
“But I can’t stand by and see a colleague unsupporter like this for a personal opinion which did not break BBC Editorial Guidelines.”
Neither players nor managers participating in Premier League games on Saturday will be asked for interviews by the BBC.
A number of players had contacted the Professional Footballers’ Association on Friday evening expressing concern about appearing on Match of the Day, and the union had agreed to fully support any players who refused to fulfil their media duties.
Since then, the BBC has informed the Premier League it will not ask for interviews.
A statement from the PFA on Saturday said: “We have been informed that players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with Match Of The Day.
“The PFA have been speaking to members who wanted to take a collective position and to be able to show their support for those who have chosen not to be part of tonight’s programme.
“During those conversations we made clear that, as their union, we would support all members who might face consequences for choosing not to complete their broadcast commitments. This is a common-sense decision that ensures players won’t now be put in that position.”
Nottingham Forest, who visit Tottenham on Saturday afternoon, said in a statement: “We support our players and manager in whatever personal decision they choose to make regarding their post-match BBC interviews at today’s game.”
An online petition calling for Lineker to be reinstated in his post, organised by the Daily Mirror on Friday, reached 100,000 signatures in under 10 hours.
Philippa Childs, head of Bectu, which represents thousands of BBC workers, said the Lineker decision was “deeply concerning” and “will give the appearance that they have bowed to political pressure from ministers”.
The row was first 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.
The former 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.”