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Daily View: Age discrimination

Clare Spencer | 09:33 UK time, Wednesday, 12 January 2011


Commentators discuss a tribunal's finding that the BBC discriminated against TV presenter Miriam O'Reilly on the grounds of her age.

The Independent's editorial argues that ability has nothing to do with age:

"The principle is not complicated. Decisions about staffing, which managements are perfectly entitled to take, should be made based solely on the ability of individuals to do the job in question. Age discrimination, whether in broadcasting or any other workplace, is simply past it."

Neil Midgley says in the Telegraph that for better or worse, the TV industry makes its living by providing "titillation to jaded punters":

"Fortunately for lecherous old dogs like me, the tribunal's outpourings do not constitute binding law. But they will certainly have an impact on how the BBC and other TV companies - not to mention other image-conscious employers, such as clothing stores and holiday companies - choose their staff... When people are being chosen for jobs presenting the telly programmes I watch, I'm going to have to watch them in 47" HD for hours at a time. What is so wrong in wanting them to be easy on the eye?"

In the Times Libby Purves follows on from Neil Midgley to back the decisions of TV bosses to be free to choose their presenters:

"Of course it's stupid to drop people just because they're old: but what the BBC should have said is that editors have a right to drop presenters for any reason at all, just as a theatre director rejects an actor who doesn't fit the vision, or a Times editor is free to throw me out on my ear. TV in particular is showbiz. Personally, I would rather watch a lively, quick-witted and well-informed woman whether she is 27 or 70 than a decorative airhead of 25; but if your target audience is a bit dim and lecherous, it is your right as an editor to feed them cheesecake."

Sheena McDonald says in the Guardian that she isn't hopeful that this case will lead to a fairer Britain for over 50s in the context of the rising popularity of short-term contracts:

"As a freelance broadcaster, I have been accustomed over the decades to enjoying time-limited periods of work, and acted accordingly - always keeping as many plates spinning as possible, in the knowledge that none will go on for ever. I foresee the growth of fixed-term contracts, particularly given the current volatility of the ever-expanding broadcasting world. The idea that employees will now feel better protected may be sound, but the era of the employee may itself be time-limited."

In the Wall Street Journal Iain Martin detects a trend in ageism not just in TV but also politics:

"Despite Britain aging (with life expectancy for those born in 2009 estimated by the ONS to be 88.7 for men and and 92.3 for women), political leaders are getting younger (as, I notice as I get older, are policemen). This, the political bit, must have something to do with wanting to look good on television and the shorter apprenticeships that MPs are these days expected to serve before they reach the top. Ed Miliband is 41 and Nick Clegg has just turned 44. Cameron was 43 when he became prime minister, Brown was 53, Blair 43 (then the youngest PM since Lord Liverpool), Major 47, Thatcher 53, Callaghan 64, Heath 53, Wilson 48, Sir Alex Douglas-Home 60, Harold Macmillan 62, Eden 57, Attlee 62 and Churchill 66.
"A reversal of that trend in line with demographic changes looks overdue. As more Britons live longer and work on well into their late 60s, and 70s in some cases, is it likely that they will want to be governed by younger and younger leaders? I doubt it. If political parties want to reconnect, as they are forever saying they do, they could in future do worse than opt for leaders who are in their late 50s or older. Vote Miriam O'Reilly."

Links in full

Independent | Ability has nothing to do with age
Neil Midgley | Telegraph | Prepare for lots of old, ugly people on the telly
Sheena McDonald | Guardian | Britain is no country for old folk
Times | Dropped for your age? What do you expect in showbiz?
Iain Martin | Wall Street Journal | Cult of Youth Doesn't Make Sense in Aging Britain

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