BBC accused of ageism and tokenism by newsreader

A former newsreader has accused the BBC of ageism and tokenism in its attitude to older women presenting mainstream programmes.

Anna Ford, who is a former journalist for the BBC and ITN, made her comments when she was a guest on Desert Island Discs on Radio 4.

She was asked what she thought about comments by the BBC Director General, Mark Thompson, who said he regretted that there were so few older women on television.

Ford replied: “It’s a bit late, isn’t it? He’s been here for a long time; he hasn’t done a lot about it.”

Ford claimed it was tokenism to bring back older presenters on part time contracts.

She said: “They have asked people like Julia Somerville back and I did bump into her recently and said ‘congratulations, I’m really pleased that you’ve taken this job’ and she said ‘yes, I know, but I’ve only got 24 days a year on my contract’. It seems to me tokenism.”

Ford’s comments follow the case of Miriam O’Reilly who won a claim of age discrimination against the BBC in 2011.

Replaced by Younger Presenters

Ms O’Reilly lost her job, presenting Countryfile when it was moved to a primetime slot. The BBC replaced her with younger presenters.

Ms O’Reilly took the case to an employment tribunal. She won her claim of age discrimination and victimisation, but the judge rejected her claim that she was also the victim of sex discrimination.

In her witness statement, Ms O’Reilly said: “I felt as if my life had been cancelled because of something I had no control over – getting older.”

The Tribunal said the discrimination against Ms O’Reilly was not justified. “The wish to appeal to a primetime audience, including younger viewers, is a legitimate aim.

“However, we do not accept that choosing younger presenters is required to appeal to such an audience. It is not a means of achieving that aim.”

Thompson recently told the Daily Mail that there were “manifestly too few older women broadcasting on the BBC, especially in iconic roles and on iconic topical programmes”. He also said that Ms O’Reilly’s case had been a ‘important wake up’ for the BBC.