Former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly sues BBC over sex and age discrimination

A former Countryfile presenter is alleging sex and age discrimination against the BBC after being dropped from the rural affairs programme.

Miriam O’Reilly, 52, was one of four women in their 40s and 50s told in November 2008 they were being axed from the show, the BBC has reported.

Papers lodged at the London Central employment tribunal offices also show O’Reilly is seeking compensation for loss of earnings and injury to feelings, as well as claiming victimisation.

The BBC said it would be “vigorously defending” the case.

The show’s male presenters, Ben Fogle and Tom Heap, were also removed from the programme. But Heap returned later in a reporting role, while Fogle became a presenter on Country Tracks, another nature programme in the old Countryfile timeslot.

Former Watchdog host Julia Bradbury, 36, and Matt Baker, 32, were among the new presenters on the revamped programme.

O’Reilly’s allegations are the latest in a string of ageism accusations against the broadcaster, including the BBC’s decision to cut 58-year-old Moira Stuart from her regular news slot on Sunday AM and after replacing Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips, 66, with Alesha Dixon, 30.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “Any suggestion that 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 track record as presenters and their extensive rural knowledge and keen interest in countryside issues.

“Our programmes always strive to reflect a wide range of diversity as possible to ensure we represent the BBC’s audience.

“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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