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Gary Lineker

BBC seeks to end crisis by reinstating presenter Lineker

BBC seeks to end crisis by reinstating presenter Lineker
Television presenter and former footballer Gary Lineker speaks at a 'People's Vote' Rally in Central London, Britain, 13 November 2018. EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER

LONDON, March 13 (Reuters) - Britain's BBC reinstated its highest-paid presenter Gary Lineker on Monday after a move to take the sports host off air over his criticism of the government sparked a near mutiny at the public broadcaster.

The corporation was forced to axe much of its sports coverage over the weekend after presenters, pundits and commentators refused to work in a show of solidarity with Lineker, who had criticised the government’s immigration policy.

The decision to suspend Lineker led to accusations from staff, opposition politicians and commentators that the politically neutral BBC had bowed to pressure from the government, prompting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to intervene to say he hoped the situation could be resolved soon.

It also renewed the focus on the chairman of the corporation, Richard Sharp, who failed to previously declare that he had facilitated a loan for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson shortly before he was appointed to the role by the government.

Sharp has not commented on the row since it blew up last week. The BBC said it would also review how freelancers such as Lineker, in areas outside news, can use social media.

“I have been presenting sport on the BBC for almost three decades and am immeasurably proud to work with the best and fairest broadcaster in the world,” Lineker said, before returning to the topic of immigration.

“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.”

The publicly funded BBC had suspended Lineker for breaching its impartiality rules by comparing the rhetoric of Britain’s interior minister Suella Braverman to the language used in 1930s Germany.

Last year Braverman had faced a backlash for her own use of language when she called the arrival in southern England of thousands of asylum seekers on small boats an “invasion”.

Lineker, the former England soccer captain who presents the country’s flagship football highlights programme, has previously hosted refugees in his home and co-founded a podcast production company whose shows include the popular ‘The Rest is Politics’.

Tim Davie became BBC director general in 2020 with a pledge to uphold the corporation’s impartiality in the face of increasingly furious rows in Britain over a range of cultural issues.

He said on Monday that the suspension of Lineker had been appropriate and that the presenter – who has hosted the main BBC soccer highlights and analysis show Match of the Day since 1999 – had agreed to stick to current editorial guidelines until a new policy is formed.

Lineker threw his weight behind Davie on Monday, saying that he had “an almost impossible job keeping everybody happy, particularly in the area of impartiality”.

By Sarah Young and Kate Holton

(Writing by Kate Holton; additional reporting by UK bureau, editing by Michael Holden and Hugh Lawson)

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