Lineker: can consultation STILL help?

Posted on 14th March, 2023

This is Blog No 18 (Amended)


Over the weekend, Ex-BBC Mark Damazer suggested a consultation as part of the solution to the Gary Lineker problem, and this commentary was published Monday morning. Then they struck a deal, and the BBC committed to an Independent review. 

But this will be in private, and I now believe that Damazar's proposed consultation might be an excellent element in this Review. So here is the analysis - what do you think?


On Sunday morning’s edition of ‘Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, respected ex-BBC Controller and ex-BBC Trust member, Mark Damazer called for a ‘proper consultation’ on the issues behind the Gary Lineker dispute.

He went on to explain (slightly paraphrased)

“It would take 3 months and take us to the end of the season …. and  in which various different stakeholders – including Gary and other freelance presenters, …, staff presenters, senior BBC Editors, OFCOM, and other stakeholders could take part and of course, the public.”.

Helpfully he added – “There are ways of consulting the public which we did on the BBC Trust; there are well known techniques for doing it. You can run various quantitative and qualitative groups who can look at this and at the end  you produce some kind of report. …


Far be it for me to dismiss a serious suggestion of consultation. But I’m afraid there are arguments against Damazer’s idea.

Traditionally, I’ve always argued against using a consultation as a tie-breaking problem solver. Positions are often polarised, and getting people to address the arguments is more difficult late in a dispute, better at the beginning. Would this be seen as a gimmick to kick a tricky issue into the long grass? Will it be possible to consider the issues without being distracted by the personalities?


On the other hand, we have a classic conflict of principles to manage. Freedom of speech versus the need for a public broadcaster to be politically impartial. There is a clear distinction between those who speak on behalf of the BBC as the day-job and less frequent broadcasters, freelances and others. Guidelines need to reflect these different situations and BBC Managers aren’t the only ones scratching their heads as to where to draw the line. Or lines!


So, why indeed not ask the rest of us?  Wouldn’t it be great if the BBC took account of the views of the multitude of stakeholders and licence payers – who might well take a slightly less purist view and argue that they can tell the difference between a sports personality and a newsreader! Might we all learn more about the true state of public opinion…?


Which then begs the question – why do you need a consultation? Can we not whistle up a quick poll by IPSOS-MORI or Whitestone Insight and see in an instant what the great British public thinks?  Why go through the whole palaver of a consultation exercise?


Here, I think Mark Damazer is right. What he has spotted is that the BBC may not just want an answer – it needs a debate. For several reasons. It needs to acknowledge the complexity that leaves many broadcasters unsure where they stand; they need to delve into the detail with regulators and key stakeholders. It also needs to give a safe space for concerned people to raise uncomfortable questions about possible bias at the very top, and about inconsistencies in applying the existing rules.


The value of consultation – as will be heard repeatedly on this site, lies in having a structured debate, informed by the right and truthful information, sound impact assessment, enough time, and the assurance of conscientious consideration. As Damazer says the BBC knows how to do consultation, but on this occasion may need a partner body of real standing. 


The ball, as it were, is now in its court!

Well it was - but the question now is whether a transparent consultation would widen the dialogue and add credibility to the BBC's review


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