BBC senior staff slam corporation and ‘foolish’ Davie over Lineker row

Gary Lineker reinstated as presenter as BBC apologises

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Following the uproar over Gary Lineker’s tweets and his being pulled off the air, BBC Director General Tim Davie has now apologised. But for some working at the BBC, the apology is too little, too late. There will now be an independent review of the 100-year-old corporation’s social media guidelines, though some members of staff are reportedly far from abated, including those in the corporation’s upper echelons.

The BBC’s former North American editor Jon Sopel — who worked at the corporation for the best part of four decades — has given insight into just how furious those in the BBC’s top jobs are, with its “impartiality” now being described as “shot to pieces”. 

Mr Sopel, speaking on Global’s the News Agents podcast along with Emily Maitlis, also a former BBC journalist, revealed that he had been in touch with a number of the BBC’s now disgruntled workforce. 

He said he had received many comments from people who he described as “very senior” at the corporation, adding that some have been there for decades while others are in “prominent positions”.

One senior member of staff told him that it was the “Perfect storm,” before adding: “Tim spectacularly misjudged his power; his impartiality push is shot to pieces. There’s a complete lack of trust in it, given his own Tory background, Robbie Gibb on the board, and Richard Sharp failing to declare his massive interest. 

“A set of guidelines which don’t work in a social media age but not sure what this review can possibly come up with other than to exempt all freelancers; at least it buys time.”

Sir Robbie Gibb, former director of communications for Theresa May, is a member of the BBC board, while Richard Sharp, an ex-banker, did not disclose his role in helping Boris Johnson get access to a loan facility worth about £800,000 reportedly when applying for the role of BBC chair. He has come under pressure to resign with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer describing his position now as “untenable”. 

Mr Sopel did not stop there, as another opinion from a “prominent” figure said: “Gary [Lineker] is the only person who could have achieved this but Tim deserved it. 

“He thought he knew everything; he was so cocky and so foolish to choose impartiality as his thing, giving credence to those who could bang on about us having lost it.”

The former BBC News correspondent described those working at the corporation as “appalled” at what has unfolded over the last few days, adding that the debacle has managed to upset everyone on all sides. 

Mr Lineker was pulled after sharing a Tweet on March 7 slamming the Government’s asylum policy as “immeasurably cruel”, comparing the language used to that of Germany in the Thirties when the Nazis were in power. 

Chaos ensued as other presenters on the flagship Match of the Day programme such as Ian Wright and Alan Shearer walked out in solidarity with the former England captain, who has hosted the show for almost a quarter of a century. 

The BBC has since apologised for the row and the “potential confusion caused by the grey areas”, and Mr Lineker is due to resume as host this weekend. 

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In response, the 62-year-old said he was “very much looking forward” to being back on air on Saturday, describing the support he has received as “overwhelming”. 

While the question of Mr Lineker being on Match of the Day has been resolved, the “grey area” of the BBC’s social media guidance, introduced in 2020, is still far from black or white.

The u-turn has only muddied the waters further, with Mr Sopel describing the BBC as looking like it has been “acting on behalf of and at the behest of” the Government. 

Ms Mailtis, who like Mr Sopel left the BBC last year, said that social media is difficult to police with it being almost impossible to find the nuance between criticism, opinion, and stated facts. She added: “Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is settled now.”

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