Spoty row BBC boss defends stance on Fury during grilling over Belfast Telegraph reports
Tony Hall, the Director General of the BBC, has defended his handling of Tyson Fury's nomination for Sports Personality of the Year after being challenged by an MP over reports in the Belfast Telegraph.
In a tense sitting of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee at Westminster yesterday, Lord Hall was accused of evading questions and told the BBC had been "caught in a muddle" over the Fury controversy.
The SNP MP John Nicholson led the questioning, asking him directly about the Belfast Telegraph's report that BBC executives had imposed Fury's name on the awards shortlist, against the wishes of some members of the judging panel.
"The Belfast Telegraph reports that they spoke to a panel member who said that they did not approve of the decision, that they felt it was imposed on them by BBC Executives," said Mr Nicholson. "Are you saying the Belfast Telegraph story is wrong?"
Mr Hall replied: "I am. The decision was taken by the panel and I'm sure that's the case."
Mr Nicholson pressed him on the matter: "My office has spoken to the Belfast Telegraph journalist who has spoken to panel members who say that's what they've been told.
"The addition of Tyson Fury was imposed on them. They may have gone along with it, but they certainly didn't initiate it."
Mr Hall again rejected the claims. He commented: "I would, knowing some of the names on that panel, find it strange to say that a name or names were imposed on them.
"As I say, I've not been party to the decisions."
Mr Nicholson read out two of Fury's previous controversial tweets, asking if they made him an appropriate role model for the BBC to put on television for a prestigious award.
The tweets he referred to read: "don't like gays should all be shot dead' and another saying: "Off home now to break the wife's jaw."
Mr Hall replied: "He's been put on that list because of his sporting prowess, not for other things he's doing.
"It's actually up now for the people to judge, then to vote who becomes Sports Personality of the Year."
Mr Hall also argued that while he sympathised with the views of those objecting, "there are others who say, you know, that we believe in free speech and we'll make sure when it comes to the vote, trust us to say what is right." In another clash, Mr Nicholson asked: "Do you think that had he said for instance, 'don't like Muslims should all be shot dead'. Do you think he would still be on your shortlist?"
Lord Hall refused to be drawn, saying: "I'm really not going to get into hypotheticals like that."
After the committee hearing, John Nicholson spoke to the Belfast Telegraph, saying that he found Lord Hall's answers "entirely unsatisfactory."
He said: "By keeping (Fury) on the shortlist the BBC has sent out a disturbing message.
"As Lord Hall acknowledged at today's Culture, Media and Sport select committee, no view is too extreme, violent or inflammatory to warrant exclusion from this prestigious BBC award."
Mr Nicholson added: "They'll have no one to blame but themselves if he goes on stage and repeats some of these revolting views. He's also tweeted that he regrets nothing that he said and that he's a role model.
"If he is a role model, he's an extremely disturbing one.
"It disturbs me that gay kids and girls will watch this, they'll see a man they've read about with revolting views elevated by a national broadcaster and see that society accepts him."