STYLE

David Conquers Goliath: It's Time The BBC Smartened Up Its Act

12/01/2011 10:44 | Updated 22 May 2015

Actually, it wasn't David, it was Miriam O'Reilly, and it wasn't Goliath, it was the BBC.

After "a very stressful 14 months", the ex-Countryfile presenter – who was dropped from the programme when it was moved to a primetime slot – has received the news she was waiting for: judges have found the BBC guilty of ageism and victimisation.

That they didn't also agree with her grounds for sexism is still up for debate if you ask me. Some of the evidence that came to light in O'Reilly's case was horrendous, perhaps the worst being the suggestion that she should be careful about her wrinkles when HD came in. I can't help wondering, despite the ruling, whether a male presenter in his mid-50s would have received the same comment, perhaps along with a card for a local botox clinic.

One thing's for sure though, with this verdict, O'Reilly has really got one in the back of the net for everyone who believes their usefulness does not have an inverse relationship with the number of candles on their birthday cake. I for one am delighted that she's won her case. The woman is only 53 years old. The Beeb claimed they had dropped her without warning because she did not have the experience for presenting on primetime TV, and that her face would not be recognisable to a primetime audience.

What a load of rubbish that is. It only takes one episode for viewers to recognise her the next time. And what better experience for presenting a programme than (excuse me while I roll my eyes) presenting it for the past eight years? It's not like they had their primetime audience standing behind the rolling cameras, jeering: "Who the hell are you?! You're not Alesha Dixon!"

Oh yes, let's not forget the furore when the gorgeous, young Ms Dixon replaced 66-year-old expert in her field Arlene Phillips on Strictly Come Dancing. That was a skin of teeth moment for the Beeb, no?

I have no doubt that ageism and sexism, along with all the other vile forms of discrimination people use to make their choices when it comes to employing staff, are rife throughout the UK's workplaces. You hear about it all the time – you probably know someone who has been victim of it in one way or another. But a corporation as famous as the BBC – a British institution as it is so frequently referred to – should be leading the way in terms of fairness. Apart from it not being right that they think they can get away with it, it's a national embarrassment.

According to the Telegraph, the BBC paid out more than £600,000 last year settling claims against them by members of staff. And let us not forget that this is our money, the cash of the UK's licence fee payers. Even your least-likely-to-be-discriminated-against white, young, straight, able-bodied male must feel a little bit pissed off knowing that.

Well, after all this time denying it ever happened, the BBC has taken the verdict on the chin, apologised and said it will be talking to O'Reilly in the hope they can work with her again. Perhaps she will consider it after she has counted her considerable compensation payout from them, however much that turns out to be.

I really do hope that the promise to give additional training to senior executives and to issue new guidance on the fair selection of presenters (as ridiculous as it is that they should even need it) will come to fruition because a landmark case like this could open some floodgates. And if the Beeb doesn't smarten up its act, it'll be our cash pouring through them.

By: Pip Jones

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