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BBC mistaken to suspend Gary Lineker, ex-director general says

WATCH: Gary Lineker tweet row… in under 90 seconds
An ex-BBC head has said the broadcaster “undermined its own credibility” by taking Gary Lineker off air.
Greg Dyke’s comments came as the BBC’s weekend sport output unravelled, with staff mounting an impromptu boycott in support of Lineker.
He was suspended after criticising the government’s language over its flagship asylum policy and has triggered an unprecedented row around impartiality.
It has left the BBC scrambling to get TV and radio football coverage on air.
Some programmes have already been cancelled and it is increasingly unclear how scheduled output will be able to go ahead given the scale of unrest among BBC Sport presenters and staff.
In a statement released on Saturday afternoon, a BBC spokesperson said the corporation “will only be able to bring limited sport programming this weekend” and said it was “working hard to resolve the situation”.
Mr Dyke, who acted as director general between 2000 and 2004, said: “There is a long established precedent in the BBC that if you are an entertainment presenter or a sports presenter then you are not bound by those same rules.”
“The real problem today is that the BBC has undermined its own credibility by doing this,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Mr Dyke warned the move could create the impression that the “BBC has bowed to government pressure”.
He added that the ongoing controversy surrounding BBC Chairman Richard Sharp and allegations that he helped facilitate a loan to former Prime Minster Boris Johnson had helped fuel perceptions that the organisation was failing to stand up to government pressure.
But Richard Ayre, former controller of editorial policy at the BBC, said on Friday that the corporation had “no choice” but to take action against Lineker.
He said the BBC’s director general Tim Davie had “clearly tried” to reach an agreement with Lineker but failed, adding: “It’s inevitable now that having in effect not sacked him but removed him temporarily at least, the BBC will now come under a torrent of criticism saying it’s acting under the government’s behest.”
Mr Davie told BBC News he “absolutely respects people’s right to make that decision” when asked about presenters pulling out of today’s football coverage.
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said “individual cases are a matter for the BBC,” but Downing Street and senior ministers have been more vocally critical in recent days.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer have both attacked the presenter for implying a comparison between the government’s language and Nazi Germany.
Ms Braverman said the Nazi comparison used by Lineker was “lazy and unhelpful”.
The row began on Tuesday, when controversial plans were unveiled to ban people arriving in the UK illegally from ever claiming asylum.
The government says the tough measures are necessary to address a rise in the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats.
Watch: BBC Director General quizzed on Lineker row on Friday
Lineker reacted to it on Twitter calling it an “immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.
Senior Labour politicians have expressed support for Lineker, including leader Sir Keir Starmer. He said the government should focus on fixing the asylum system rather than “whingeing on” about Lineker and accused BBC bosses of bowing to pressure from ministers.
“The BBC is not acting impartially by caving in to Tory MPs who are complaining about Gary Lineker,” he told broadcasters at Welsh Labour’s conference in Llandudno.
Lineker has hosted Match of the Day since 1999 and is the BBC’s highest paid star, having earned about £1.35m in 2020-21. He is employed by the BBC on a freelance basis.
BBC employees are expected to be remain impartial on political matters and must follow strict social media guidelines, but there is significant debate about how they should apply to staff outside of news.
In the statement announcing he would not be presenting MOTD, the BBC said: “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.”
Lineker has not yet publicly commented on the latest developments, but while presenting on Channel 5 on Friday, former BBC presenter Dan Walker read out a text live on air from the 62-year-old.
Walker said he had messaged Lineker asking: “What is happening. Are you stepping back?”
He said he had received a reply saying: “No, they’ve [the BBC] told me I have to step back.”
BBC News has been told that the Match of the Day production team were not told in advance about its decision.
The growing boycott forced the BBC to issue a statement on Friday saying the highlights programme would air “without studio presentation or punditry” and instead “focus on match action”.
Meanwhile, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) has confirmed that players and managers from the 12 Premier League clubs playing matches on Saturday will not receive requests for MOTD post-match interviews.
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