Axed BBC presenter sues over 'sexism and ageism'

A BBC journalist is to sue the corporation for age and sexual discrimination after she was one of four female presenters dropped from the Countryfile rural affairs programme, according to a report today.

Miriam O’Reilly was told in November 2008 that she and three others women were being removed as presenters of Countyfile as part of a revamp of the show which saw it move to a Sunday tea-time slot.

Last week, O’Reilly, 52, an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years at the BBC, filed papers at London Central employment tribunal claiming that the corporation discriminated against her on grounds of sex and age, the Times reported.

She is believed to be the first broadcaster to sue the BBC for age discrimination.

Her claim follows accusations of ageism levelled at the BBC last year when Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips was dropped in favour of Alesha Dixon.

O’Reilly also alleges victimisation claiming she has not been given further work by the BBC after unfounded claims she leaked stories to newspapers about discontent over the removal of the women, who were replaced by the former Watchdog host Julia Bradbury, 36, and Matt Baker, 32.

The show’s male presenters, Ben Fogle and Tom Heap, were also removed in the revamp. However, Fogle now presents a new Sunday morning show, Country Tracks, while Heap later returned to Countryfile.

“I think ageism is endemic at the BBC and women have been reluctant to speak out, because they have their careers to think about and it is a big risk,” O’Reilly told the Times.

“It seems this refreshing of the programme only applies to the women. I believe that it’s an insult to people like me, like Charlotte and Juliet and the others who are dropped from the BBC screens because they have wrinkles. I think it’s an insult to the viewers for women like us to be dropped.

“The only reason is because we’ve got older. I can’t walk away and leave it because I believe what’s happened to me is wrong.”

News of O’Reilly’s claim will come as a blow to Mark Thompson, BBC director general, who recently called on BBC management to hire more older women, including a newsreader, to counter accusations of ageism.

A BBC spokesman said: “Any suggestion the presenters of Countryfile were replaced on the grounds of age is absolute nonsense. Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury were chosen based on their proven successful record in prime-time as presenters and extensive rural knowledge and keen interest in countryside issues.

“Kirsty Wark, Maxine Mawhinney and Martha Kearney regularly feature on BBC television and radio shows as well as presenters including Gloria Hunniford, Jennie Bond, Angela Rippon and Annie Nightingale.”

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