Furious BBC staff are refusing to appear on the channel amid fears of being labelled a ‘scab’ amid the ongoing row over Gary Lineker’s suspension, insiders have said.
The mood inside the Beeb is said to be mutinous after the TV presenter was taken off air by higher-ups for his criticism of the Government’s anti-illegal immigration plans, and is threatening to boil over into other departments, according to reports.
BBC staff and freelancers, including high-profile stars such as Mark Chapman, have allegedly refused to step in for the Match of the Day presenter, with some within the corporation slamming ‘disgraceful cowardice from leadership’.
It has hit programming, with last night’s MOTD reduced to a 20-minute show with no commentary or analysis after pundits and mic-men both refused to appear in support of him, and the disruption is set to continue today, with coverage of the Women’s Super League and MOTD2 set to be curtailed.
It is thought the BBC could have to ‘pay millions’ if they sack Lineker as they would lose any legal claim should he sue them, with his eldest son saying last night the former England striker will never back down and apologise.
Gary Lineker was taken off air by the BBC last week after criticising the Government’s small boats bill
The row has threatened to engulf the corporation, with staff expressing their unhappiness at the decision. Director-general Tim Davie (pictured) has apologised to viewers for the disruption caused
The row which has engulfed the corporation is threatening to spill over, with claims from people inside the organisation it has become a channel for staff to vent their frustrations.
As shows like Match of the Day, MOTD2 and the Women’s Super League are hit by the walkouts, there have even been suggestions that if it drags on the row could see the BBC run the risk of losing its Premier League broadcasting rights.
Lineker was taken off air last week after he criticised the Government’s announcement of new laws to crackdown on small boats crossing in the English Channel.
The former England striker, who has regularly been outspoken on his Twitter account, called the Government’s bill ‘beyond awful’ and said the language used was ‘not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s’.
He has since refused to apologise for his comments and bosses at the Beeb took the decision to stop him appearing on his regular Saturday night programme Match of the Day.
This has sparked fury within the organisation, and left higher-ups scrambling to respond after pundits, commentators and fellow presenters in its sport department walked out.
Insiders claim the search for a replacement for last night’s Match of the Day was hampered by the groundswell of support for him, as the usual replacements declined to do so.
It came amid fears from some they would be seen as a ‘scab’ for doing so, with one source telling The Times: ‘If they weren’t wise enough to say no, their agents were.’
This refusal saw MOTD, which normally runs for at least an hour, curtailed to just 20 minutes, with no commentary or in-studio analysis.
Well-known figures such as presenters Mark Chapman, Gabby Logan and Jason Mohammad are all thought to have declined to appear Lineker’s place or on their regular shows.
Meanwhile, ex professional footballers such as Ian Wright, Alan Shearer and Alex Scott also refused to turn up in a show of solidarity.
However, the revolt appears to have been limited to the BBC’s football coverage, with Logan appearing on today’s programming of the Six Nations match between Scotland and Ireland as scheduled.
BBC presenters Mark Chapman (left) and Gabby Logan (right) declined to appear in Lineker’s place
Pundits Ian Wright (left) and Alan Shearer (right) refused to take part on Match of the Day when Lineker was taken off air
Fellow presenters Jason Mohammad (left) and Alex Scott (right) also refused to go on air in to show support for Lineker
Linker, pictured here on the set of Match of the Day, has refused to apologise for his criticism of the Government
It has since been confirmed that tonight’s MOTD2 will follow a similar format, after Chapman refused to appear, as did pundit Jermaine Defoe.
One correspondent told the publication it was ‘terrible’ for the BBC, adding: ‘BBC Sport and Match of the Day are the jewels in its crown. There could be a risk of losing Premier League rights if this isn’t sorted quickly.’
But how quickly it will be sorted remains to be seen, with Lineker refusing to apologise and the corporations director-general Tim Davie seemingly unwilling to back down.
Unhappiness appears to be fermenting within the organisation, with ‘Garygate’, as it has been dubbed, acting as a lightening rod for people to air their grievances with management.
Posts from the BBC’s Slack messenger system, which staff use to speak to one another, show furious staff laying into higher-ups for perceived ‘disgraceful cowardice’.
In one message leaked to The Times a staff member wrote: ‘I’m starting to think there is little point in working here anymore’, while another said: ‘Richard Sharp – all good; Gary Lineker calling out racism and fascism – outrage’.
Another scathingly added: ‘Who has more integrity, a banana republic or the BBC?’
A radio presenter who asked to remain anonymous, explained the messages are an example of the ‘pent-up anger of an entire organisation, channelling through this incident’.
Former BBC executive Peter Salmon, who was previously controller of BBC One and director of sport, told Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg the situation was ‘complex’ and Lineker is a ‘major figure’.
Staff at the BBC have hit out at what they see as the ‘disgraceful cowardice’ of the corporation’s leadership
Protesters gathered outside the BBC Sport studios at Salford’s Media City on Saturday to show their support for Lineker
He added: ‘Twenty-five years in Match Of The Day – he’s more than just a TV presenter, he’s a national figure.
‘He’s got views, he’s got passions, he’s been involved in looking after Ukrainian refugees. It may be that Gary’s outgrown the job and the role in the BBC.
‘Twenty-five years in, before that Des Lynam, Gary took over, he’s been brilliant. Sometimes there’s a point at which you cross the line.’
Reflecting on the disruption to the BBC’s sports schedule, he added: ‘It’s a mess, isn’t it?
‘They must be wishing they could reel back 72 hours and start all over again. It’s Oscars day but there’s no awards for how this has been managed.
‘I think they’ve got to take action pretty quickly. It doesn’t help the chairman of the BBC himself is slacked to one side in this process and there’s a bit of an issue.
‘Tim Davie is isolated in some ways, he needs to come home and grip this now. We need him back running the ship.’
This morning Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said ‘people’s confidence’ should be restored in knowing the BBC has no ‘political agenda’ when he was asked about the Gary Lineker row.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: ‘I don’t agree with his comments and I personally think that he was wrong to say what he said, but I don’t think it’s for me to decide how that issue is resolved.’
‘If you believe in BBC independence, then it’s not for the chancellor or any other government minister to say how these issues are resolved.’
Asked whether the corporation’s leadership is too close to the party of Government, Mr Hunt said it was not for him ‘to make those judgments’.