BBC Director General Tim Davie has apologized to audiences for the disruption caused to the organization’s sports programming but said he won’t resign following the unprecedented talent walkout over the Gary Lineker row.
“I’m sorry audiences have been affected, and they haven’t got the programming,” Davie said in an interview with BBC News in Washington DC, where he is, somewhat ironically, speaking to journalists about impartial news.
“As a keen sports fan, I know to miss programming is a real blow, and I’m sorry about that. We are working very hard to resolve this situation and make sure we get output on air.”
When quizzed if he had considered resigning following the dispute, Davie confirmed that he would not be leaving the organization but said he is currently in “listening mode” with the aim of resolving issues on all sides.
“I want to make sure that going forward, we have a workable solution,” he said.
He added: “Everyone wants to calmly resolve the situation. Gary Lineker’s the best in the business – that’s not for debate.”
On Saturday evening, the BBC’s popular Premier League highlights show Match of the Day will air without a studio presenter or its regular roster of pundits after Lineker, who has presented the show for nearly 25 years, was asked to step back from coverage following a breach of the broadcaster’s impartiality rules on Twitter.
Following a day of hugely disrupted sports programing as hosts stood down en masse, tonight’s Match of the Day will be just 20 minutes long, airing without presenters, pundits or commentators. Even the football players union has indicated players would refuse to take part in interviews.
During today’s interview with BBC News, Davie refused to be drawn on specific details about current discussions at the organization or if he had spoken to Lineker in the last 24 hours.
Davie was also asked if he would suspend other high-profile presenters such as Apprentice host Alan Sugar or documentarian Chris Packham, who have shared public opinions on politics in the past.
In response, he said the current BBC guidelines “draw a distinction between those people who are seen as pan-BBC figures that are different to those appearing on programs.”
“We can debate that,” he added.
The BBC announced the decision to pull Lineker back from the popular highlights show on Friday afternoon after “extensive discussions,” during which the sports presenter was told that his tweet comparing the language around UK government asylum policy to Nazi Germany was unacceptable.
In response, a series of pundits and commentators – starting with Match of the Day pundits Ian Wright and Alan Shearer – stood down in solidarity with Lineker, and other presenters said they wouldn’t be appearing. In the much-shared tweet, Lineker railed at what he described as a “beyond awful” British government policy to stop small boats carrying asylum seekers from arriving on British shores.
He added in a later tweet: “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.”
Lineker’s suspension has prompted criticism of the BBC from across the political spectrum. On Friday, the opposition Labour party said the BBC’s decision was “cowardly” and an “assault on free speech in the face of political pressure.”
Broadcaster Piers Morgan said in a tweet that Lineker’s suspension was “pathetically spineless.”
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak jumped into the debate Saturday and said he hoped the dispute could be “resolved in a timely manner.”
“Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a talented presenter,” Sunak said. “I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly a matter for them, not the Government.”
The scandal comes fresh off the back of a tricky few weeks for BBC Chair Richard Sharp, during which time his role in facilitating a loan for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been placed under the microscope. Some analysts have suggested Sharp’s resignation would be a fair trade-off to see Lineker, who is the BBC’s highest-paid presenter at £1.35M ($1.62M) per year, welcomed back into the fold