Lineker fiasco risks support for licence fee, warns minister
The Gary Lineker fiasco risks harming public support for the BBC licence fee, a minister has suggested.
The presenter will return to Match of the Day this weekend despite not apologising for comparing the Government’s migration crackdown to Nazi Germany.
Culture minister Julia Lopez said yesterday that ‘trust and impartiality’ were vital to the ‘social contract’ that underpins the licence fee. Ms Lopez also admitted the licence fee was losing support among the public, amid furious calls from MPs to drop the ‘poll tax on propaganda’.
Backbenchers lined up yesterday to blast the corporation for ‘cavingin’ to Lineker by allowing him to return to MOTD.
Unfazed by the events of the past week, Lineker last night changed the picture on his Twitter profile to a photoshopped image of himself in front of a George Orwell quotation about freedom of speech that can be found on a wall outside the BBC’s New Broadcasting house in central London
The presenter is depicted smiling in front of the words: ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’
Director-general Tim Davie and content chief Charlotte Moore travelled to Salford yesterday to ‘reflect on the events of the last few days’ with sports staff. A source there said people were ‘livid’ about what has happened, amid claims that Mr Davie had ‘just presented’ at staff when he spoke to them.
The BBC continued to suffer high-profile attacks from those on both sides of the debate last night. Ian Wright, who boycotted last Saturday’s MOTD in ‘solidarity with Lineker’, said the corporation had made a ‘hot mess from high up’ and that ‘surely heads have got to roll’.
But former BBC chief political correspondent John Sergeant said the corporation could not back down on ‘the commitment to political impartiality’ and that if ‘key freelance presenters’ cannot ‘stick to the rules, their contracts should end’.
Yesterday a debate about the row was held in Parliament after Labour asked an urgent question in the Commons.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson (east Antrim) attacked the way the BBC handled Lineker over his comments on Twitter about the Government’s immigration policy.
Mr Wilson told the Commons: ‘The BBC has shown once again it’s impossible, because of the bias inherent in it, to be impartial and it is now time that people are no longer forced to finance the BBC through the licence fee, especially when every week 1,000 people are taken to court by the BBC – 70 per cent of them women – for refusing to pay this poll tax on propaganda.’
Ms Lopez said Mr Wilson was ‘right to highlight the importance of impartiality to the trust in which licence fee- payers hold the organisation and the importance in relation to the future of the licence fee’.
Former Tory minister Damian Green told the Commons the Lineker affair had been ‘embarrassingly terrible for the BBC’.
he added: ‘Presenters whose reputations and bank balances are enhanced by regular appearances on BBC shows owe a reciprocal responsibility to the BBC, which may include some self-restraint in what they say and do in public.’
The debate sparked further anger after Labour’s culture spokesman Lucy Powell said Lineker being taken off air for tweeting something ‘ the Government doesn’t like’ sounds like ‘Putin’s Russia’.
Conservative former minister Andrew Percy said: ‘I hope the shadow secretary of state will reflect on her comparison of this Government to the Putin regime which, of course, is engaged in war crimes and the murder of men, women, and children in Ukraine. That was beneath her.’