BBC ex-boss Hunt hits back in Countryfile ageist row

Image caption,
Jay Hunt (left) was recently appointed chief creative officer at Channel 4

Former BBC One controller Jay Hunt has denied she hates women at the tribunal of an ex-presenter seeking compensation for alleged sex and age discrimination.

Ms Hunt said the claims - attributed to an ex-colleague by former Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly - were "entirely and categorically" untrue.

Ms O'Reilly, 53, claims she was dropped when the rural news show moved to a prime-time Sunday evening slot in 2009.

The BBC has denied the presenter was axed because of her age.

Last week Ms O'Reilly said one of the other presenters dropped from the show had told her the decision was "ageist".

The presenter in question, Juliet Morris, allegedly went on to say it was made "because Jay Hunt hated women".

At a London tribunal on Wednesday, Ms Hunt said it was "entirely and categorically untrue" as well as "profoundly distressing and utterly offensive".

"I am a 43-year-old woman," she went on. "I have had my own difficulties surviving this industry.

"For that reason, the last thing I would ever do is ever discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender or age. Nothing could be further from my mind."

Media caption,
Miriam O'Reilly presenting for the BBC in 2006

The former BBC One boss, who has now joined Channel 4, said many women who work in the industry have since contacted her to show their support.

Ms O'Reilly, along with Juliet Morris and Michaela Strachan, lost her job on Countryfile ahead of its move to Sunday evenings.

Former Watchdog host Julia Bradbury and Matt Baker were among new presenters who joined the revamped programme. Main presenter John Craven was retained.

In a witness statement given to the tribunal, Ms O'Reilly said director Dean Jones had told her in 2008 that the introduction of high definition could be "crunch time" for her career.

The remark, she said, had "sent a shiver down my spine".

"I do not believe that a man would be asked about his wrinkles nor offered hair dye," she added.

The tribunal continues.

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