11 January 2011
Miriam O’Reilly, the former Countryfile presenter, has won her landmark claim against the BBC for age discrimination. In a judgment handed down today, the Tribunal upheld her claim that the BBC’s decision to drop her in favour of younger presenters was age discrimination. The Tribunal did not agree that the decision amounted to sex discrimination, but said “We do not doubt that older women have faced particular disadvantage within the broadcast media”.
The tribunal also found that Miriam was victimised because her boss thought wrongly that she went to the press saying the decision was ageist.
The BBC have apologised for their action and indicated that they want to work with her in the future.
Camilla Palmer, a discrimination expert at Leigh Day who represented Miriam, welcomed the judgment and said:
“Miriam has won a great victory –not only for herself but all older people in the media. This has huge implications for all broadcasters not just the BBC. The lesson is that presenters should be selected for their ability, not their age. Women and men on screen should not be hired or fired on the basis of their age.
Miriam has been so brave to take this case. She took it on behalf of a lot of other people because she believed it was the right thing to do. And the tribunal’s decision shows that it was. A lot of women have been waiting for this verdict.”
The Tribunal will now decide what remedy Miriam should receive at a separate ‘remedies’ hearing. Heather Williams QC and Amanda Hart of Doughty Street Chambers will continue to represent Miriam at this hearing. The hearing date is not yet fixed.
At this hearing Miriam will be seeking:
1. A declaration by the Tribunal that the BBC discriminated against her;
2. Damages for loss of earnings and injury to feelings; and
3. Tribunal ‘recommendations’ requiring the BBC to conduct age equality audits and take steps to address identified under-representation of this group.
The Tribunal now has power to make recommendations that an employer take specified steps to avoid similar discrimination in the future.
When Countryfile moved to prime time, Miriam and three other journalists in their 40s and 50s were dropped from the programme (Michaela Strachan, Charlotte Smith and Juliet Morris). New younger presenters Julia Bradbury and Katie Knapman were taken on.
Miriam O’Reilly worked for 25 years on some of the BBC’s most popular programmes, including Woman’s Hour, Farming Today, Costing the Earth and File on 4. She is a highly respected journalist and has been given a number of awards for her work in the environmental field. But offers of work on these other programmes dried up soon after she was let go from Countryfile. The Tribunal agreed that this treatment amounted to victimisation by the BBC because Miriam had complained of discrimination.
Research by the industry training body, Skillset, shows that half of all women in the TV industry are under 35.
In her witness statement, Miriam said “I felt as if my life had been cancelled because of something I had no control over – getting older”.
Your can see a recording of Miriam's press conference here
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