Tim Davie said the BBC did the “right thing” as the corporation asked Gary Lineker to return to Match Of The Day after the weekend saw the broadcaster’s sports coverage suffer severe disruption due to a row over impartiality.
The director-general of the corporation has faced pressure after a host of sports presenters and pundits pulled out of BBC shows due to Lineker being asked to step away from his programme.
The former England striker, 62, had been taken off air for a tweet comparing the language used to launch a new government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany.
“There’s never been an easy solution but asking Gary to step back off air, I think, was a significant thing and now we look forward with this agreement, moving forward, to resolve things and get back to business as usual.”
On whether he had reached an agreement on social media with Lineker after the presenter was announced to be coming back on air, Mr Davie said the presenter will “abide by the editorial guidelines” until a review has taken place.
He added: “I think it was a very big moment in terms of us saying we have to take stock here, we have to take action, we did take action which we thought was proportionate and as the BBC we did the right thing, I did the right thing.”
Mr Davie was also asked if he was out of touch after reduced sports programming at the weekend, and said he “respects the views” of staff, pundits and commentators at BBC Sport who walked away from scheduled shows.
He added: “(Staff) were obviously put in a very difficult situation.
“I think people across the BBC… are all very passionate about our standing as an impartial broadcaster, so important in this world, and this affair tells you how polarised debate has become.
“I want to fight for a BBC where we can have proper calm debate (and) facilitate free speech.”
When asked about Conservative Party pressure on the BBC, Mr Davie said it is “not how we work” at the corporation and the impartiality guidelines are “equally applied” to those who express left and right-wing views.
He added: “The issue is getting involved in party political matters and we apply that independently.
“The audience numbers in terms of trust in the BBC… is in good order.”
A number of ministers were critical of Lineker last week including Home Secretary Suella Braverman who said she was “very disappointed” by his comments.
When Davie took on the role in 2020, he warned staff about their use of social media and guidelines around social media use have since been updated.
Staff were told they need to follow editorial guidelines and editorial oversight on social media in the same way as when doing BBC content.
Lineker is a freelance broadcaster for the BBC, not a permanent member of staff, and is not responsible for news or political content so does not need to adhere to the same rules on impartiality.
The presenter wrote on Twitter on Monday he was “delighted” to have “navigated a way through this” with the BBC and thanked his colleagues for their support.
Lineker also thanked Mr Davie for his “understanding during this difficult period” and said he had an “almost impossible job”.
BBC chairman Richard Sharp is also facing growing pressure to resign as the corporation’s policy on impartiality has been called into question.
Mr Sharp, who was appointed chairman in February 2021, has been embroiled in a cronyism row over helping former prime minister Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility in recent months.
An investigation is being undertaken into his appointment but he now faces renewed scrutiny.
Mr Davie was also asked about Mr Sharp, and said the BBC does not appoint the chairman.