The BBC has confirmed reports that Gary Lineker who was caught up in social media storm is set to return following intense backlash over its handling of his tweet about the government’s immigration policy.
The former England international found himself suspended after comparing language used in the British government’s asylum policy to that which could be found in 1930s Germany.
In the now-viral tweet, Lineker wrote: ‘There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries.
‘This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ’30s.’
However, a show of unity from Lineker’s fellow presenters delivered an unprecedented wave of walkouts and there was no commentary or punditry on offer across the BBC’s weekend football coverage.
A statement on Monday morning from Director-General of the BBC, Tim Davie, regarding Lineker’s return to screens issued an apology to viewers for the row over the weekend and admitted that there was ‘potential confusion’ over the ‘grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance’.
His full statement reads: ‘Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this.
‘The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air. Impartiality is important to the BBC.
‘It is also important to the public. The BBC has a commitment to impartiality in its Charter and a commitment to freedom of expression.
‘That is a difficult balancing act to get right where people are subject to different contracts and on air positions, and with different audience and social media profiles.
‘The BBC’s social media guidance is designed to help manage these sometimes difficult challenges and I am aware there is a need to ensure that the guidance is up to this task. It should be clear, proportionate, and appropriate.
‘Accordingly, we are announcing a review led by an independent expert – reporting to the BBC – on its existing social media guidance, with a particular focus on how it applies to freelancers outside news and current affairs.
‘The BBC and myself are aware that Gary is in favour of such a review. Shortly, the BBC will announce who will conduct that review. Whilst this work is undertaken, the BBC’s current social media guidance remains in place.
‘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.’
Lineker, who found support from the likes of Alan Shearer and Ian Wright after it emerged that he would not be hosting MOTD on Saturday night, added: ‘I am glad that we have found a way forward. I support this review and look forward to getting back on air.’
He wrote: ‘After a surreal few days, I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this. I want to thank you all for the incredible support, particularly my colleagues at BBC Sport, for the remarkable show of solidarity. Football is a team game but their backing was overwhelming.
‘I have been presenting sport on the BBC for almost 3 decades and am immeasurably proud to work with the best and fairest broadcaster in the world. I cannot wait to get back in the MOTD chair on Saturday.’
Gary went on to refer to his original tweet, standing by what he wrote about the government’s new Illegal Migration Bill.
‘A final thought: however difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away. It’s heartwarming to have seen the empathy towards their plight from so many of you,’ he continued.
‘We remain a country of predominantly tolerant, welcoming and generous people. Thank you.’
He also reached out to Davie and thanked him for his understanding.
‘Also, I’d like to thank Tim Davie for his understanding during this difficult period. He has an almost impossible job keeping everybody happy, particularly in the area of impartiality. I am delighted that we’ll continue to fight the good fight, together,’ he continued.