The fate of outspoken "Top Gear" host Jeremy Clarkson will be decided by a disciplinary panel that will examine allegations in regards to punching a producer. However, a petition posted online since Tuesday to save Clarkson's job at the British Broadcasting Corp. has been signed by over 600,000 people.
According to Patrick Foster of Radio Times, Ken MacQuarrie, the head of BBC Scotland, will assess the claim that the TV presenter and journalist punched producer Oisin Tymon last week. MacQuarrie previously oversaw an investigation of the BBC program "Newsnight," which falsely accused Lord McAlpine, a member of the Conservative Party in Britain, of being involved in a child abuse scandal in one of its episodes.
"Mr. MacQuarrie, who is paid £185,000 a year (about $276,000 a year), is understood to be preparing to call witnesses by the end of the week," Foster wrote. "A formal disciplinary letter, summoning Clarkson to appear at the hearing, which is expected to be held at a London hotel, is set to be posted."
Foster reported that "non-practicing barrister" Orla Tierney will join the panel alongside MacQuarrie. A senior BBC source told Foster that the panel is not expected to decide Clarkson's fate before the weekend.
"He is alleged to have punched Mr. Tymon at the Simonstone Hall Hotel in Hawes, North Yorkshire, last week, after the producer told him the hotel had finished serving hot food," Foster wrote in regards to the allegations faced by 54-year-old Clarkson.
Foster added that based on information from sources close to Clarkson, the controversial presenter has considered quitting his job at the BBC regardless of the decision made by the panel. However, a petition posted on Tuesday by political blogger Guido Fawkes on Change.org asking the BBC to save Clarkson's job has received over 600,000 signatures so far.
"We the undersigned petition the BBC to reinstate Jeremy Clarkson," Fawkes wrote. "Freedom to fracas. Please reinstate Jeremy Clarkson to Top Gear."
According to John Aglionby, Barney Thompson and Mark Odell of the Financial Times, social media users on Twitter used the hashtag "#BringBackClarkson" more than 40,000 times over a 24-hour period to express their support. Clarkson also had some support from within the BBC.
"Tony Hall, BBC director-general, said an investigation was under way to 'gather the facts' about the incident involving Mr. Clarkson, adding that he was 'a fan' of the Top Gear presenter," Aglionby, Thompson and Odell wrote.
The Financial Times reported that James May, a fellow "Top Gear" presenter alongside Clarkson and Richard Hammond, said that he was not present during the time of the alleged incident. However, while he thought that Clarkson was "involved in a bit of a dust-up," he indicated it was not "that serious."
According to the Financial Times, Clarkson has presented "Top Gear" since 2002 and sold his 30 percent stake in the production company behind the show for £8.4 million (about $12.5 million) two years ago. However, Clarkson and the show have previously brushed with controversy before.
"In March 2014, the BBC apologized after Mr. Clarkson used an insulting term in a sequence that showed an Asian man crossing a bridge over the river Kwai in the show's Burma special," Aglionby, Thompson and Odell wrote. "Only a few weeks later he was given what he called a 'final warning' from the corporation after claims he used a racist word while muttering the nursery rhyme 'Eeny Meeny Miny Moe.'"
In an article written by Jake Kanter of trade magazine Broadcast back in January, "Top Gear" executive producer Andy Wilman thought that last year was "an annus horribilis." He was questioned on how much the BBC supported the program when it had controversies like the one now faced by Clarkson.
"We walk a tightrope most of the time," Wilman said back then. "Sometimes we're going to fall off it and if you do, that's when the BBC - I'm not a fan of their reaction."
Wilman argued to Kanter that "Top Gear" could be trusted by the BBC. He cited the fact that Ofcom, a British communications regulator, found that the show only violated the Broadcasting Code twice since it went on air back in 2002.
"Sometimes I feel they don't trust us at heart, but actually - apart from the very odd occasion - we can be trusted," Wilman said.
As for the fate of the show itself, the BBC axed from its schedule the remaining three "Top Gear" episodes that were supposed to air until the end of the month. Kanter reported that the current contract to make the show expires in April.
"Our appetite is still there," Wilman said in regards to the show's future. "I would hope and think we'll continue."