BBC ageism verdict gives hope to older presenters
MIRIAM O'REILLY was looking pretty good as she gave a press conference to celebrate victory in her two-year battle with the BBC -- but not good enough, it seems, for fastidious young people who might be inclined to tune into 'Countryfile'.
She was dropped after the BBC1 programme moved from its daytime slot, causing audience figures to treble from 1.8 million to 5.4 million, with the BBC claiming Ms O'Reilly was not well known enough for the larger, younger audience. But yesterday a tribunal ruled she had been a victim of age discrimination.
She can now look forward to a six-figure payout and the prospect of more television work.
Ms O'Reilly's victory will give hope to other television presenters who feel they were pulled off the screen prematurely.
When Moira Stuart was dropped from her Sunday morning slot on BBC 1 in 2007, at age 55, there were also accusations of age discrimination. In the same year, Anna Ford quit the BBC after 17 years, claiming nobody over 60 was employed as a newsreader.
Two years ago, 57-year-old Selina Scott won £250,000 (€300,843) from Channel Five after her contract offer was suddenly withdrawn and offered to two younger presenters.
In July 2009, Arlene Phillips (66) was dropped as a judge from 'Strictly Come Dancing' in favour of 30-year-old Alesha Dixon, prompting Harriet Harman, who was then the equalities minister, to accuse the BBC of ageism.
Ms O'Reilly was one of four female presenters who was told late in 2008 that they were going to be dropped from 'Countryfile'.
Yesterday, after a 12-day hearing in November, the employment tribunal dismissed the argument that age was not a factor as John Craven, then 68, had been retained as the main presenter. The tribunal contrasted instead the ages of three "second-tier presenters" who were dropped -- Ms O'Reilly, then 51, Charlotte Smith (44) and Juliet Morris (43) -- with the ages of their replacements: Jules Hudson (38), Katie Knapman (36) and James Wong (26).
"We consider that a significant factor in their choice was their comparative youth," the judgment said. "If the claimant had been 10 to 15 years younger, she would have been given proper consideration to remain as a presenter." (© Independent News Service)