Here’s the Employment Tribunal’s ruling in Miriam O’Reilly’s successful age discrimination and victimisation claim aginst the BBC over its decision to drop her as a presenter of Countryfile. She won on age discrimination, on the basis that the ET thought she would have been considered seriously as a presenter when the programme moved to an evening slot, had she been 15 years younger. She lost on sex discrimination, because the ET didn’t think an older man would have been treated better. The victimisation relates to decisions to drop O’Reilly from Radio 4 programmes, and to drop an artcle from her in the Countryfile magazine.
This case seems to me to involve a clash of cultures, between the “slot-filling” approach it often seems is followed in the media, according to which a man or woman for instance might be chosen so as to create the appearance of diversity and fairness on the screen, perhaps in the genuine belief that that’s what fairness consists of – as against the culture of real equal opportunity which the tribunal pointedly makes clear is actually required from organisations.
It’s encouraging that the BBC seems to have reacted positively to the ruling. I hope it brings in changes to remove age discrimination in its practices. But doing so would be a really radical step – the issue is not just about getting it wrong in this case, but about the whole acceptability of judging presenters as “looking wrong” for a programme – and could change the face of its programming markedly. I wonder if it really will.
(Hat-tip: UK Human Rights Blog).
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I hate to be cynical but the positive reaction by the BBC reflects the fact that they know that they have got in wrong and, in particular, that they have got it wrong in a way that they know is unpopular. However, its current policy of bringing back older women in a few roles seems to me to be exactly the sort of slot-filling that has been criticised in the judgment. It has not really learned its lesson at all.
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