BBC boss calls Gary Lineker ‘one of our finest’ at Jewish Q&A event

Rhodri Talfan Davies also claims ‘the word terrorism often can get in the way of our journalism’


Journalist Angela Epstein chaired an event between the Manchester Jewish community and BBC Director of Nations, Rhodri Talfan Davies, and Controller of BBC Radio 5 Live, Heidi Dawson. The event, organised by Northern Advocacy Group: NAG for Israel, covered accusations of bias at the cooperation.

Gary Lineker is one of the “finest at the BBC”, a top executive at the corporation has claimed amid jeers from a Jewish audience during a question-and-answer event on Tuesday evening.

Responding to a question about why the BBC initially refused to describe Hamas as a terror group, Director of Nations Rhodri Talfan Davies also said: “The word terrorism often can get in the way of our journalism.”

Speaking at the event at Manchester’s King David School held to address accusations of bias in the BBC’s coverage of the Gaza war, Davies added that in his “personal view”, Gary Lineker, Lyse Doucet, Orla Guerin and Jeremy Bowen were “some of the finest reporters at the BBC”.

Following audible derision among the crowd at this suggestion, Davies said: “It’s very clear in this room that there are people with different views.”

Lineker presents the BBC’s flagship football programme Match of the Day, and is their best paid star. His controversial tweets have been defended on the grounds that he is a presenter – not a journalist – and so is subject to different impartiality rules.

Responding to the JC after the event, the BBC said that Davies did not mean to describe Lineker as a journalist.

Over five hundred people attended the event, which also featured BBC Radio 5 Live controller, Heidi Dawson. The meeting was arranged by the Northern Advocacy Group: NAG for Israel, an organisation set up by Manchester community leaders in the wake of the October 7 massacre. JC columnist and broadcaster Angela Epstein chaired the conversation, which was the second time the Jewish community had been invited to meet with the BBC since the start of the war.

Davies addressed the room: “I have to tell you that reporting on the Middle East and the polarisation in society there and the polarisation between states and between people is the toughest journalistic ground”.

The exec said, “if you think that Orla Guerin and Jeremy Bowen get up in the morning and try to spin a lie, you don’t understand their integrity.” He said the corporation was “lucky” to have them.

Davies told the crowd, “You need us to get it right [...] we need to remind ourselves every day that the decisions we make are critical because we are a standard-setter and because your expectation of us is higher than of anybody else.”

The exec was asked about a recent controversial BBC report that claimed medical staff were stripped, beaten and tortured by Israeli forces during a raid on Nasser Hospital.

Davies said, “Access to Gaza for journalists is very severely restricted. Our teams both in the UK, in Jerusalem and in the rest of the Middle East are reliant on sources within Gaza, administration sources in the IDF and the Israeli government. We are having to piece together the situation on the ground in Gaza and it is incredibly challenging.

“When we talk about whether the BBC is getting it right or wrong in Gaza, if we could get permission to get into Gaza then that would transform the quality and the breadth of what we could do on the ground,” he went on.

He noted that the corporation describes Hamas as “a terrorist group as proscribed by the UK and US governments” adding that “the reason why is we are a global broadcaster”.

According to Davies, the using word “terrorist” can mean that “one side of the debate or one side of the conflict immediately assumes we’re biased against them.

“We have no issue in describing exactly what happened on October 7, we used the word massacre [...] But we don’t use the word terrorism without proscription,” Davies said.

Journalist Adam Cailler was in the audience and said: “The overall feeling from the audience was that the two of them were not listening to anything that was being said and were extremely defensive the whole time.

“Rhodri was extremely defensive and was interested in trying to back his journalists and back all the people that we know have been making an absolute ass of this, like Jeremy Bowen, like Gary Lineker.

"To sit in front of a room of hundreds Jewish people and say that people like Gary Lineker and Jeremy Bowen are some of the finest reporters that the BBC have, it’s just a slap in the face. You may as well have just stood up and walked out at that point because you’ve completely lost the room.”

Davies told the room he would be meeting BBC Director General Tim Davie and would raise the points presented to him.

NAG member and former Labour MP Ivan Lewis pointed out that a key commitment to taking such concerns seriously will be "whether the BBC will review their use of dubious sources and biased journalists and continue a meaningful dialogue with NAG and the wider community, which we sincerely hope they do”.

Lewis suggested that BBC executives should attend another meeting in 12 months and “evaluate whether we think that things have improved in any way”.

NAG founding member Nadine Lewis said: “This was a landmark event – the largest gathering of Jewish people – over 500 – in a public forum where they could directly question the BBC and raise their concerns.

“We are extremely grateful that executives from the BBC agreed to submit themselves to harsh and robust questions from the audience. All of which they dealt with courteously and unflinchingly.

“As such the event reflects the unique work of NAG – to call to account those who, by default or design, are propagating anti-Israel feeling and consequent Jew-hatred."

A BBC spokesperson said: “We always welcome constructive feedback about any of our coverage, and we would consider any invitation from groups who wish to discuss our reporting or issues that matter to them.”

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