Gary Lineker ‘plainly’ broke BBC guidelines with his controversial migrant tweets, former Director-General Lord Birt tells MPs
The BBC’s former director-general has told MPs Gary Lineker ‘plainly’ broke the corporation’s guidelines with his anti-Conservative tweets.
Lord Birt, who ran the broadcaster between 1992 and 2000, said the star’s remarks which compared the Government’s language in its migration crackdown to Nazi Germany was ‘way over the top’.
Speaking in front of a special hearing of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the peer said: ‘The guidelines are extremely clear….They plainly cover this situation and it’s clear that the expectation is that people like Gary have to obey the rules and he didn’t.’
The former BBC boss added he was ‘very sorry’ other presenters, pundits and commentators ‘didn’t stop to think’ about what the BBC stands for, before they walked out in solidarity with the star, after the broadcaster took him off air.
Stars like Ian Wright and Alan Shearer pulled out of a planned appearances on the BBC in support of Lineker, 62, after he was temporarily stood down by the corporation.
Lord Birt, the BBC’s former director-general, said Gary Lineker ‘plainly’ broke the corporation’s guidelines with his controversial migrant tweets
The former BBC boss described the Match of the Day presenter’s comments about the government as being ‘way over the top’
Lord Birt said he hoped Lineker will continue to host Match of the Day but added this had to happen ‘in the context of agreeing to abide by these very clear guidelines’.
When asked if it had been right for the BBC to take action over the social media post, he responded: ‘It’s certainly appropriate to call it out and to say what it is.’
Lord Birt also poured cold water on the idea that Lineker, as a freelancer, should not be subjected to strict rules on impartiality for BBC staff.
The peer said he was sure the public ‘doesn’t even think’ about the differences between news staff and freelancers, adding that Lineker’s power and status were entirely due to his hosting of Match of the Day.
He added: ‘What it knows is that Match Of The Day is one of the most important BBC programmes and this is a well-established presenter.
‘And yes, he was one of England’s great centre-forwards but let’s not kid ourselves.
‘His status, his standing and his power arise above all else from presenting this extremely important programme.’
Lord Birt said he did not think it was ‘legitimate and right’ that a BBC presenter of ‘such an important programme should opine’.
He suggested the committee imagined if a presenter of Strictly Come Dancing, another flagship BBC show, who was ‘passionately opposed to immigration’ spoke openly about stopping small boats.
He added: ‘It doesn’t matter whether it comes from the left or right.
‘I don’t think it is appropriate for a BBC presenter, certainly of news which everybody seems to agree with, but any presenter who is inextricably bound up with an important BBC programme.’
Lord Birt indicated that the ‘brouhaha’ over Lineker’s tweets showed the situation could not continue, and said he expected the BBC to lay down ‘very clear guidelines’ for the presenter.
He added he did not think the damage from the row was ‘terminal’ but it was an ‘issue that needs resolving’ and ‘the speedier it is resolved the better’. He said he wished it had ‘been resolved more speedily’.
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