Sunday, 21 Apr 2024

Lineker believed ‘special arrangement’ allowed his tweets on migrants

Labour’s shadow culture secretary fumes over Gary Lineker being pulled off air

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Gary Lineker thought he was allowed to make comments about refugees due to a “special arrangement” with the BBC, his agent claims. Jon Holmes, who represents the former England striker, says that the Match of the Day presenter believed he had an understanding with the head of the corporation.

Writing in the New Statesman, Mr Holmes said: “Gary takes a passionate interest in refugees and immigration and, as he saw it, had a special agreement with Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, to tweet about these issues.”

Mr Holmes said the BBC did not share this viewpoint and he was “summoned” to Broadcasting House to try and resolve the row over Lineker’s comment on Twitter.

He defended his client’s adherence to the rules, writing that he “believes in the independence and impartiality of the BBC” and backs the view that “those who work in news should not express political opinions on Twitter”.

In the piece, Mr Holmes also revealed that Lineker is “constantly being asked to appear on political programmes – including by the BBC” but “assiduously avoids them”.

He says the guidelines for freelance presenters are “a bit vague” and require review.

Mr Holmes has said that he proposed such a review when he first met with the BBC about the impartiality row, on the Friday before Match of the Day was to be broadcast, and “told them taking Gary off air would not be helpful”.

But Lineker was “taken off air” and Mr Holmes said the situation then “collapsed into a shambles”, with other Match of the Day presenters pulling out of the programme and then other sports presenters from other shows following suit.

Mr Holmes said that he had talks on March 12 with the BBC director general and plans were made for a satisfactory solution involving an apology and a review of impartiality guidelines.

And he says he thinks Lineker has become a controversial figure at the BBC, in part because people know he earns £1.3 million a year.

He wrote: “The BBC describes Gary as an icon, a totemic figure.

“One of the reasons he has this status (apart from the money the BBC pays him, the subject of endless controversy since it was made public) is his huge Twitter following.”

And he said his client’s tweets have been the subject of “difficult” debate.

The impartiality review is likely to clarify whether stars like Lineker will have to give up outside media work, where political opinions could be aired, in order to continue working for the non-partisan BBC.

And it is believed that he may also have to choose between BBC duties and his own production company, depending on what the review says.

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Daily Telegraph reports that just this week Lineker’s Goalhanger production company released a politics podcast on the Iraq War featuring Alastair Campbell, and the review will need to decide whether output like this should be subject to impartiality rules.

If the rules do apply, and stars breach guidelines through their external media commitments, the review may need to establish what happens next so they know if they are allowed to keep up both their BBC duties and their partisan personal projects.

Plans to review the rules for famous freelancers have been welcomed by journalism professor, Richard Sambrooke, who was commissioned by the BBC to draw up its current impartiality guidelines.

He said: “The impartiality guidelines for news staff, which I reviewed in 2020, need to be strictly observed.

“But those have never applied to high-profile freelance presenters, where the guidance has always been looser and inconsistently applied.”

It is understood Lineker will be taken off air again if he goes against impartiality guidance.

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