Football presenter Gary Lineker has triumphed over freedom of speech with the BBC and is returning to TV screens. "After a surreal few days I'm glad we found a way," the ex-England international tweeted on Monday. He is next to be seen at next Saturday's FA Cup quarter-finals between English champions Manchester City and second division leaders Burnely. BBC Director General Tim Davie was also delighted.
Apparently part of the deal is for the BBC to launch an independent inquiry into its social media regulations for employees. Davie acknowledged that "grey areas" created some confusion. At the same time, he emphasized that Lineker would "adhere to the editorial guidelines" during the test.
Has the BBC bowed to government pressure?
Lineker tweeted last Tuesday that the Conservative British government's rhetoric was "not unlike that of Germany in the 1930s." The BBC saw this as a violation of its strict rules of neutrality and suspended the popular moderator. As a result, several prominent moderators and commentators refused to work, and Lineker's flagship show "Match of the Day" only showed game scenes without comment. Critics accused the BBC of bowing to government pressure after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman expressed outrage.
Now the public pressure was apparently too great. In a survey by the opinion research institute Yougov, a clear majority supported Lineker. Prominent right-wing conservative voices had also criticized the suspension as an inadmissible interference in freedom of expression.
Lineker wants to continue to voice his opinions
BBC Director General Davie, on the other hand, insisted that the move was the right one. "I have always said we must take appropriate action," Davie said in an interview with the BBC's own media correspondent. "By the way, from some people's point of view, we have taken measures that are too strict, others think that we are too lenient." Davie was criticized internally for the case and had to be accused in the BBC interview of not having a feel for the employees. "Everyone recognizes this has been a difficult time for staff, contributors, presenters and most importantly, our audience," he said. "I apologize for that."
Lineker indicated that he will continue to speak out. "As difficult as the last few days have been, it just doesn't compare to having to flee your homeland from persecution or war to seek refuge in a country far away," the former striker tweeted. The empathy of colleagues and viewers was "heartwarming".
At the same time, the star moderator, who has been presenting "Match of the Day" since 2009, signaled support for the general director after the agreement. "He does an almost impossible job of making everyone happy, especially in the area of impartiality," the 62-year-old tweeted. Davie returned the praise. "Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend," he said. With an annual salary of £1.35 million (€1.53 million), Lineker is the highest-paid BBC presenter.
What's next for Richard Sharp, the chairman of the supervisory board?
However, the case has not yet been finally resolved. Because in the course of the Lineker debate, the personnel of the BBC supervisory board chairman Richard Sharp again came more into focus. Prime Minister Sunak distanced himself from the 67-year-old, who was once his boss at investment bank Goldman Sachs and had been hired as an advisor when he was Treasury Secretary. Sunak said on a flight to the United States that it was right that Sharp's appointment would again be independently reviewed by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Shortly before his appointment by Johnson, Sharp had helped the prime minister land an £800,000 personal loan. Both reject nepotism.
The opposition again called for Sharp's expulsion on Monday. Labor leader Keir Starmer said his position was becoming increasingly untenable. Many people would wonder why Sharp is still in office but Lineker is temporarily not. Starmer's party colleague Lucy Powell said: "The Tory government has long wanted to undermine the BBC." The ongoing uncertainty makes the broadcaster "vulnerable to political campaigns orchestrated by ministers, MPs and the right-wing press."