Belfast Telegraph

Atkinson condemned for ageism views

Miriam O'Reilly has criticised Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson after he described her legal action against the BBC as an "attack on creative free expression".

The former Countryfile presenter won an age discrimination case against the corporation in 2011 after she was rejected for a role on a revamped prime-time version of the popular rural affairs programme.

In a letter sent to BBC Radio 4's The Media Show, Atkinson said he did not "blame" her for "pursuing her case", but added: "My argument would be that the creative industries are completely inappropriate environments for anti-discrimination legislation and that the legal tools she used should never have been available to her."

Atkinson compared her to "Pierce Brosnan complaining that he was sacked from the role of James Bond for being too old" and said the BBC show was "no less contrived" than a 007 movie.

He said: "And as with any creative construct, whether it's a BBC Factual Television programme or a film or an oil painting, if creative freedom means anything, it is having complete creative latitude to include or exclude anybody or anything for any reason."

He added: "I remain amazed that, to this day, few people seem to appreciate the attack on creative free expression that Miriam O'Reilly's case represents."

Ms O'Reilly said: "Rather than an attack on free expression I made a principled stand so that women wouldn't be excluded from the creative process because of their age, which has been the case for decades.

"I won't accept that working in film or television should exclude you from the rules that apply to everyone else in society."

Camilla Palmer, from law firm Leigh Day and Co who represented Ms O'Reilly in her case against the BBC, said people in the creative arts needed to "stop believing that they are a special case".

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