STEPHEN GLOVER: Tim Davie may have saved Match Of The Day – but he has damaged the BBC more than he knows
There was a time when most children learnt the nursery rhyme about the Grand Old Duke of York, who marched his 10,000 men to the top of the hill — and then marched them down again.
It was supposed to convey a futile show of force — playing tough and then doing nothing. And that is exactly what Tim Davie, director-general of the BBC, has done in his showdown with Gary Lineker.
Mr Davie has capitulated — there is no doubt of that — having last week given every sign of wishing to prevent the garrulous football pundit from firing off further tweets which could undermine the BBC’s impartiality.
The director-general even half-apologised in his statement this morning — blaming ‘confusion’ and ‘grey areas’ in the BBC’s social media guidance. In other words, Gary had a point after all.
As for Mr Lineker, he has emitted a stream of tweets in which there isn’t the slightest hint of apology or regret. He even doubled down on his original outrageous tweet by saying that, ‘however difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare with having to flee from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away’.
STEPHEN GLOVER: There was a time when most children learnt the nursery rhyme about the Grand Old Duke of York… It was supposed to convey a futile show of force — playing tough and then doing nothing. And that is exactly what Tim Davie, director-general of the BBC (pictured), has done in his showdown with Gary Lineker
The director-general even half-apologised in his statement this morning — blaming ‘confusion’ and ‘grey areas’ in the BBC’s social media guidance. In other words, Gary (pictured) had a point after all
So Gary Lineker has won, and will be back on our screens this weekend. Having shown a degree of moral courage — though it took some time for it to do so — the BBC has hoisted the white flag.
Why? I suspect Mr Davie’s cowardice (and no doubt that of fellow executives) arises from a misplaced sense of the importance of Match Of The Day — the programme on Saturday night fronted by Mr Lineker — and of the presenter himself.
To hear some commentators talk during recent days, you would think that the temporary suspension of a show normally watched by just over two million people was little short of a national disaster.
In fact, the pundit-free edition of Match Of The Day on Saturday night attracted about half a million more viewers than usual. Some people were seemingly attracted by the novelty of watching football matches without any commentary.
In many ways, it was a relief not to have to listen to Mr Lineker witter on, or to hear his sidekicks offer tepid banter about their former glories as players. For once we didn’t have to endure listening to pundits mangle the English language.
Of course, I accept there are some people who value the commentary, whatever its shortcomings, and the programme could probably not have continued for many weeks without pundits offering their pennyworth.
But there must be other experts in the world who could have been persuaded to stand in either temporarily or permanently for Mr Lineker and his mates, who are not indispensable.
Nor is there any evidence that rival broadcasters were lining up to offer a comparable job to Mr Lineker, and meet or surpass his whopping £1.35million-a-year annual salary. Scott Young, senior vice-president at BT Sport — where the presenter once had a lucrative berth — has told staff that the channel isn’t interested in hiring him.
In any case, what would it matter if they did? I repeat: Mr Lineker has abilities that are appreciated by a small section of the public, but there are others who could do just as good a job, or possibly even better.
And unlike Mr Lineker, they wouldn’t think they had a God-given right to produce divisive tweets that are not only in defiance of BBC guidelines, however imprecise they may be, but also alienate millions of licence fee payers and damage the BBC’s already precarious reputation for impartiality.
This is the crucial point. In the great scheme of things, neither Gary Lineker nor even Match Of The Day in its present form is irreplaceable, and they don’t matter a hundredth as much as the BBC’s good name and the esteem in which it is held by the people who fund it.
Mr Lineker is by far the Corporation’s highest-paid presenter. Although he doesn’t work in the news department, where employees are supposedly constrained by clear rules of impartiality, he is regarded by many as a voice of the BBC. The fact that he is technically freelance is beside the point. He represents the Beeb.
Mr Davie may have saved Match Of The Day, and kept Gary Lineker in absurdly lucrative employment. But he has damaged the BBC far more than he or his colleagues can understand
If an actor who appears regularly on the BBC compared the language of Government ministers about illegal immigration with that used by Nazis in the 1930s, there could have been no reasonable objection. Ignorant and distasteful, yes, but not a matter of great significance.
Mr Lineker, though, is in an entirely different category because of his prominence. In a state of misplaced alarm, Mr Davie is terrified that not only the presenter but a bevy of virtue-signalling sidekicks might desert the Corporation. And so he has given in.
He has forgotten about the silent millions — those licence fee payers who don’t think that the Government’s policy on illegal immigrants can reasonably be compared to that of the Nazis, and who greatly resent that one of the BBC’s most prominent presenters should permitted to say such things.
Mr Davie may have saved Match Of The Day, and kept Gary Lineker in absurdly lucrative employment. But he has damaged the BBC far more than he or his colleagues can understand.
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