Sacked presenter sues BBC over sex and age discrimination

A BBC presenter who was cut from a rural affairs programme along with other women in their forties and fifties is to sue the BBC for age discrimination.

Miriam O’Reilly and three other women were told in November 2008 that they were being removed as presenters of the BBC One programme Countryfile, as part of a revamp of the show.

O’Reilly, 52, who worked at the BBC for 25 years, lodged papers at London central employment tribunal last week, claiming that the broadcaster discriminated against her on grounds of sex and age.

O’Reilly has also alleged that she was victimised because she was not offered any further work at the BBC after staff at the corporation claimed she leaked stories to newspapers about internal discontent over the removal of the women.

She told the Times: “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 left Countryfile with fellow reporters Juliet Morris, Charlotte Smith and Michaela Strachan, who were all in their forties and fifties. The male hosts, Ben Fogle and Tom Heap, were also removed, but Fogle has since been given a new countryside show, and Heap returned later.

O’Reilly said: “It’s an insult to people like me, like Charlotte and Juliet and the others who are dropped from BBC screens because they have wrinkles. 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.”

A spokesman for the BBC 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.”

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