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Gary Lineker furore: BBC chairman Richard Sharp must resign, says Selwyn College master and former BBC editorial director Roger Mosey

The BBC chairman should resign as he is damaging the corporation’s credibility amid the Gary Lineker furore, according to the master of Selwyn College, Roger Mosey.

Mr Mosey, a former editorial director of the BBC, commented as the broadcaster was forced to cancel a host of sports programmes because presenters and pundits had withdrawn their services in solidarity with the former England footballer.

Gary Lineker arriving ahead of Leicester's Premier League match on Saturday March 11, 2023. Picture: PA
Gary Lineker arriving ahead of Leicester's Premier League match on Saturday March 11, 2023. Picture: PA

Lineker was told by the BBC to step back from hosting Saturday’s Match of the Day following a tweet in which he branded the government’s plans to tackle small boat crossings in the Channel as “immeasurably cruel” and compared the language used to launch the policy with 1930s Germany. BBC editorial guidelines call for political impartiality.

The broadcaster said it had “decided” Lineker, 62, would take a break from presenting the football highlights show until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.

Mr Mosey, who joined the University of Cambridge college in 2013 after spending most of his career at the BBC - including a spell as director of sport - responded with some tweets of his own, in which called he called the corporation’s chairman, Richard Sharp - who is known to have donated £400,000 to the Conservative party - to go.

Roger Mosey, master of Selwyn College, Cambridge
Roger Mosey, master of Selwyn College, Cambridge

Mr Mosey said: “So a few quick thoughts on where we are now with Gary and the BBC and the future.

“First, the tweets this week weren’t compliant with editorial guidelines as they have developed over the decades. The BBC is right about that, and also that impartiality is vital. But the BBC has been inconsistent in applying the guidelines over the years. Their statement about not wanting Lineker to be ‘an opinion-free zone’ is an example of murkiness. The corporation also hasn’t explained why Lineker is restrained but Alan Sugar & Co seem not to be.

“But most crucially now, by removing Lineker from MOTD, it looks as if the BBC has given in to one side of the culture war. That is, of course, intensified by the presence on the BBC board of govt appointees - most notably the chairman.

“So suggestions for now: Richard Sharp should go. He damages the BBC's credibility. Ideally, Lineker should stay within clear, agreed guidelines. And the BBC should send out its executives to be interviewed and explain how they intend to resolve this crisis.”

Mr Sharp is a former banker who has been chair of the BBC since February 2021. A former boss of current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak when they both worked at Goldman Sachs, Mr Sharp also helped the former PM Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan.

Mr Sunak also weighed in on the issue on Saturday and defended proposals to put permanent bans on asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on unauthorised small boats.

The BBC told Lineker to stand back from presenting Match of the Day. Picture: PA
The BBC told Lineker to stand back from presenting Match of the Day. Picture: PA

He said: “As Prime Minister, I have to do what I believe is right, respecting that not everyone will always agree. That is why I have been unequivocal in my approach to stopping the boats.

“Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a talented presenter. I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly a matter for them, not the government.

“While that process is ongoing, it is important that we maintain perspective, particularly given the seriousness of the issue at hand. Forty-five thousand people crossed the channel illegally last year, many of whom have been exploited or trafficked by criminal gangs, putting their lives in danger.

“We need to break this cycle of misery once and for all and the policy we set out this week I believe aims to do just that. It is not only the fair and moral thing to do, it is also the compassionate thing to do.

“There are no easy answers to solving this problem, but I believe leadership is about taking the tough decisions to fix problems. I know not everyone will always agree, but I do believe this is fair and right.”

Home secretary Suella Braverman has accused Lineker of “diminishing the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust with his tweet.

And former culture secretary Nadine Dorries said the ex-England striker “does need to decide… is he a footie presenter or a candidate for the Labour Party?”

But Sir Keir Starmer said the broadcaster was “caving in” to Tory MPs and its actions were “the opposite of impartial”.

The Labour leader told broadcasters at Welsh Labour’s conference on Saturday: “The BBC is not acting impartially by caving in to Tory MPs who are complaining about Gary Lineker.

“They got this one badly wrong and now they’re very, very exposed, as is the government, because at the heart of this is the government’s failure on the asylum system. And rather than take responsibility for the mess they’ve made, the Government is casting around to blame anybody else – Gary Lineker, the BBC, civil servants, the ‘blob’.

“What they should be doing is standing up, accepting they’ve broken the asylum system, and telling us what they’re going to do to actually fix it, not whingeing on about Gary Lineker.”

Labour MP Jess Phillips told Times Radio: “If Gary Lineker had tweeted ‘stop the boats’, he would still be on air tonight.”

The row has thrown the BBC sports programming on TV and radio into chaos, with only a limited Match of the Day planned on Saturday night, without a presenter or pundits, and Match of the Day 2 on Sunday in doubt.

Former England footballers Alan Shearer and Ian Wright later announced on Friday night they would be boycotting MOTD in solidarity with Lineker, while several commentators also confirmed they would be stepping down from Saturday’s broadcast.

Gary Lineker watches his beloved Leicester play on Saturday. Picture: PA
Gary Lineker watches his beloved Leicester play on Saturday. Picture: PA

In a joint statement, the commentators – including Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Rowen and Steven Wyeth – said they did “not feel it would be appropriate to take part in the programme” given the current circumstances.

Sports presenters including Alex Scott, Kelly Somers and Jason Mohammad said on Saturday that they were pulling out of their shows, which resulted in Football Focus and Final Score being scrapped from the BBC One schedule, while 5 Live’s radio coverage was also altered.

The BBC’s director-general Tim Davie apologised for the mess on Saturday.

Speaking to BBC News, he said: “I’m very sorry for the disruption today. It’s been a difficult day and I’m sorry that audiences have been affected and they haven’t got the programming.

“As a keen sports fan, I know like everyone that to miss programming is a real blow and I am sorry about that.

“We are working very hard to resolve the situation and make sure that we get output back on air.”

Asked whether he thinks he should reign, he added: “Absolutely not, I think my job is to serve licence fee payers and deliver a BBC that is really focused on world-class, impartial landmark output – and I look forward to resolving this situation and looking forward to delivering that.”

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