UPDATED: The BBC has apologized after its Premier League output went into freefall as mutinous presenters and pundits staged a protest over the suspension of Gary Lineker.
The British broadcaster took the unprecedented step of standing down Lineker on Friday afternoon over a politically-charged tweet, but the decision has backfired spectacularly with coverage falling off air.
The BBC said: “The BBC will only be able to bring limited sport programming this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect that. We are sorry for these changes which we recognise will be disappointing for BBC sport fans. We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”
Barbara Slater, the BBC’s director of sport for nearly 14 years, apologized to staff in an email. “We understand how unsettling this is,” she said.
In a breathless few hours on Saturday, the BBC’s television and radio output was left in tatters after a string of stars showed their solidarity for Lineker by refusing to work. Here’s what has happened:
- BBC1 shows Football Focus and Final Score have been replaced by repeats of Bargain Hunt and The Repair Shop after hosts Alex Scott and Jason Mohammad joined the protest.
- As of midday UK time on Saturday, the BBC was planning to show flagship Premier League highlights show Match of the Day without presenters, pundits, and commentators, but insiders increasingly think it could collapse. “I can’t see how it’s going to be able to go out tonight,” said one.
- BBC Radio 5 Live’s schedule was obliterated as live sport coverage was replaced by podcast repeats. Colin Murray and Mark Chapman were among the presenters who were no-shows.
- Premier League players will not be giving interviews to the BBC on Saturday after they indicated that they wanted to boycott Match of the Day in support of Lineker.
- Lineker is yet to even comment on his suspension. He was filmed leaving his house on Saturday, but only offered salutations to the press mob camped outside his property.
- A petition calling for Lineker to be reinstated by the BBC has amassed more than 150,000 signatures.
The events are unprecedented and unsustainable, stemming from a single tweet, in which Lineker compared government rhetoric on asylum seekers to Nazi Germany.
The BBC said the tweet broke social media rules on impartiality, but sources close to Lineker, the corporation’s highest-paid presenter, said he stood by the post’s accuracy and would not apologize.
BBC journalists are held to a higher standard of impartiality than non-news presenters like Lineker, though all have been told that their social media activity “can affect perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality.”
Lineker was deemed to have broken BBC impartiality rules last October after tweeting his views on the Conservative Party accepting donations from Russia. The BBC said Lineker had “additional responsibility” because of his high profile and reminded him that employees should “avoid taking sides on party political issues or political controversies.”
Announcing Lineker’s suspension on Friday, the BBC said: “The BBC has been in extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days. We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines.
“The BBC has decided that he will step back from presenting Match of the Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.
“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.”
BBC presenters, pundits, and commentators who walked out:
Alan Shearer, BBC’s top football pundit and former Newcastle United striker
Ian Wright, former Arsenal player is a Match of the Day regular
Jermaine Jenas, ex-Spurs player is a presenter and pundit
Alex Scott, Football Focus host and former Arsenal player
Mark Chapman, anchors live sports coverage on 5 Live and presents Match of the Day 2
Colin Murray, presents Fighting Talk on BBC Radio 5 Live
Dion Dublin, former Manchester United player and 5 Live regular
Jason Mohammad, presents Final Score for BBC1
Micah Richards, former Manchester City defender and one of the BBC’s top football pundits
Glenn Murray, ex-pro is a Football Focus pundit and 5 Live regular
Kelly Somers, football presenter and journalist
Steve Wilson, one of the BBC’s top football commentators