Ex Countryfile host wins ageism case against BBC

The former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly has won an age discrimination case against the BBC after she was sacked from the show in 2008.

Miriam, 53, took the BBC to an employment tribunal claiming age and sex discrimination after she was one of four female presenters, all in their 40s or 50s, who were dropped from the 23-year-old show when it moved to a primetime Sunday evening slot in 2009.

BBC News online reports that, in a landmark ruling, the tribunal upheld Miriam’s claims, finding that managers subjected her to ‘direct age discrimination and age victimisation’.

The sex discrimination claim was not upheld.

The verdict came after Miriam told the tribunal a producer, Dean Jones, said to her: ‘You’re going to have to be careful about those wrinkles when High Definition comes in,’ adding ‘that would be crunch time’ for her BBC career.

Speaking about the ruling, Miriam said: “I feel overwhelmed by this victory. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been fighting for 14 months to get justice.

“I’m so pleased the judges have agreed with me.

“It was hard to take on the BBC because I love the BBC. I loved working there, but I felt that I was treated badly because of my age and standing up to the BBC was the right thing to do however hurtful and however stressful it has been.”

Miriam will now receive substantial damages from the BBC as they face a record payout following the ruling – the corporation’s first high-profile tribunal over ageism.

Despite maintaining at the time that age and sex had nothing to do with Miriam’s dismissal and younger presenters Julia Bradbury and Matt Baker being brought in as replacements, the BBC has now issued an apology and said it would be ‘speaking to her’.

They have also released a statement saying: “The BBC is committed to fair selection in every aspect of our work and we clearly did not get it right in this case…

“Senior managers who made decisions on presenters would undergo additional training on selection and appointment and new guidance would be issued.

“We would like to acknowledge the important contribution Miriam has made to the BBC over more than 20 years and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss working with her again in the future.”