Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

BBC presenter 'warned over ageism'

BBC director warned a former Countryfile pesenter over wrinkles, a tribunal has heard

Former Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly was warned "to be careful with those wrinkles when high definition comes in" just nine months before she was dropped from the programme by the BBC, a tribunal has heard.

Ms O'Reilly, 53, is suing the broadcaster for sex and age discrimination after losing her job when the show was moved to a prime-time slot.

In a witness statement handed to the tribunal, she said comments by Countryfile's director Dean Jones "sent a shiver down my spine" when he warned her the high definition could be "crunch time" for her BBC TV career in February 2008.

In the statement, she said: "I do not believe that a man would be asked about his wrinkles nor offered hair dye.

"It was clear to me that this was a reflection of the BBC's view that women on TV needed to look young."

Ms O'Reilly was told she would no longer be working on the rural affairs programme in November 2008.

She said she was "devastated" by the news that she and three other female presenters would lose their jobs when the show relaunched in April 2009 with Julia Bradbury, then 38, and Katie Knapman, then 36.

In her witness statement, she said she was not told why she would not have a role on the programme in its new prime-time slot, only that the show was being "refreshed".

Ms O'Reilly, of Gwynedd, Wales, said: "This news was a huge disappointment. I was of course happy for the programme and its success but felt that this success was linked to the presenters' connection with the audience."

Ms O'Reilly claimed she was victimised because she was suspected of being the source of negative media reports about alleged ageism within the BBC.

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