BBC Boss Speaks Out Against Sexism, Signals Sports Host Won't Be Fired

Luke Macgregor/Reuters
BBC director general Tony Hall.

Tony Hall responds to the U.K. culture minister's call for action against John Inverdale, who described tennis star Marion Bartoli as "not a looker."

LONDON – BBC director general Tony Hall swiftly gave the OK to publish in full his response to U.K. arts, media and culture minister Maria Miller's call for further action in a sexism spat tied to the public broadcaster's Wimbledon coverage.

Hall, thanking the minister for her letter of complaint over remarks made by Wimbledon anchorman John Inverdale, said matters had been dealt with, appearing to rule out sanctions against the commentator.

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The sportscaster had described women's champion Marion Bartoli as "not a looker" before her win in the ladies' singles final.

In the letter, Hall said he agreed that Inverdale's comments were "totally unacceptable" and that they "fell well beneath the standards we expect of our presenters."

But Hall notes that the presenter "sincerely regrets that he made such an inappropriate statement and for the offense caused," pointing to his on-air apology the day after his comments and his written apology to the player.

"In addition, the [BBC] director of sport and the controller of [BBC radio network] 5 Live have both spoken to John to make it clear that his comments were unacceptable and that an incident of this nature must never happen again," Hall writes to Miller.

Hall's letter then goes on to trumpet the public broadcaster's commitment to women's sports, highlighting the BBC's ongoing coverage of the Euro 2013 women's soccer tournament while reminding Miller of the success of last year's London Olympics.

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"We have also appointed an editorial lead specifically for women’s sport, which has helped to ensure significantly increased coverage across our daily sporting output, such as on 5 Live, the News channel and Breakfast TV, as well as online," Hall writes.

"I would be happy to make sure you are kept updated as we enhance our editorial ambition for women’s sport."

Hall also took the opportunity to point out to Miller that the broadcaster is taking "another look at the BBC’s equality and diversity policies, which apply to all our staff" following its recent Respect at Work Review.

"Whilst the Review found no evidence of sexual harassment in the BBC now, one outcome has been for us to be much clearer when we communicate to those who work for us what constitutes inappropriate behavior or language and to reaffirm the BBC's values around respect," Hall says.

"Our equality and diversity online training also provides clear guidance on general standards of behavior by all those we employ, as well as emphasizing the importance of treating people with respect."

Hall also points out that while editorial judgments about what happens on air are distinct from issues within the workplace, "I hope you will appreciate that this is a matter I take very seriously across the BBC."