Norwich-based ITV Anglia has been accused of pushing aside older staff to achieve a younger on screen presence.
Former reporter on the station’s flagship programme Anglia News, Dianne Stradling, 53, has accused the company of dressing up her old job with a different title to allow it to be handed to a younger colleague.
An employment tribunal sitting at Bury St Edmunds is considering her claims of age-related discrimination and unfair dismissal. She also alleges that she has not received her notice pay.
Today Stradling told the tribunal panel: “TV worships at the altar of youth”.
She pointed to the departure of Anglia presenter Helen McDermott, in 2001, at the age of 47 – which Mrs Stradling claimed had been age-related.
Stradling said that her 18 years service for ITV Anglia as a reporter, during which time she received no complaints about her work, appeared to count for little when she was forced to apply for a new post.
The process during which applications for the smaller number of jobs on offer were considered had been “skeewed and riddled with mistakes” claimed Stradling, who lives near Braintree, Essex
She alleged that the four-person panel at ITV Anglia who considered her application for the newly created role of correspondent had not studied in detail what she had written. That was evident from their failure to see that she had also wanted to be considered for the post of reporter, she claimed.
“They didn’t need to [study her application in detail] because they knew I wasn’t getting a post” said Stradling.
She told the tribunal it was her belief that it had been decided in advance who would get the job she had previously been doing.
The successful 29-year-old applicant managed to get maximum marks for questions on her application form even though she had filled in parts of it wrongly, claimed Stradling.
Her own application had contained good marks, although not high enough to secure a job, because if they had been put too low it would have appeared suspicious, said Stradling.
Stradling said that since leaving ITV Anglia she had spoken to three of the people who were given new ‘correspondent’ posts and all had confirmed that it involved exactly the same work as she had been doing as a part-time reporter.
She told the three-member tribunal panel: “I do watch the programme and I can see that little has changed other than a more youthful presence on screen”. Stradling said she felt no animosity towards those still working at the TV station.
Stradling, who has worked as a jounalist since leaving university at the age of 22, was made redundant in February last year. She said it was ironic that the tribunal was being heard in the week that Moira Stewart had returned to read the news on BBC Radio Two yet ITV appeared unwilling to accept the benefits to it of employing older, more experienced staff.
The tribunal heard how Stradling, along with all other staff in ITV Anglia’s news department, had been told in the autumn of 2007 that her job no longer existed and that she must reapply for one of a smaller number of new posts if she wished to remain working for the company.
That led to the loss of around 30 staff as part of cash-strapped ITV’s attempts to turn itself around within five years by axing £40 million from it’s local news budget.
Head of ITV’s human resources, Richard Thurston, told the tribunal that he believed the cutbacks, which heralded a reorganisation of news programmes across the ITV network, had been handled as fairly and openly as possible.
Planning for the cuts had begun before the broadcasting regulator Ofcom ruled that ITV could go ahead with widespread changes to news output, said Thurston.
If Stradling had wished to be considered for a second post, said Thurston, she should have completed a second application form. Despite clear instruction on this point she failed to fill in a second form, he added.
David Jennings, who at the time had been head of news at ITV Anglia, said the process to select candidates for the new, smaller number of jobs available and which he had helped to draft, had been “exhaustive and completely transparent”.
It had been made clear from the outset that everyone within ITV Anglia’s news department would be affected and that everyone would have to apply for a new job, said Jennings.
Jennings said Stradling had come ninth out of the 18 candidates that applied for the seven vacant post.
Strongly denying claims of age discrimination, Jennings said that three of the successful candidates had been aged over forty and one over fifty.
Jennings said that it was untrue to suggest that a younger member of staff had been appointed to work from the Ipswich office, where Stradling had sometimes worked, as locations for individuals had not been decided until all the appointments had been made.
Responding to a claim by Stradling that she was still owed notice pay, Thurston said that it had already been included in an enhanced redundancy package.
Employment Judge Brian Mitchell said a judgement on Stradling’s claims would be issued at a later date.