Belfast Telegraph

BBC NI's Karen ruffles feathers by referring to woman as 'bird' live on air

By Claire McNeilly

BBC presenter Karen Patterson has come under fire after using the word 'bird' to refer to a woman during yesterday's flagship Good Morning Ulster programme.

The Co Down journalist, who was presenting the breakfast show from Belcoo in Co Fermanagh, employed the term during a discussion with customs expert Robert Murphy.

In a segment about the role of border controls after Brexit, Ms Patterson asked Mr Murphy to tell listeners about the duty-free allowance.

"Will customers potentially have to pay money for bringing expensive goods over the border?" she asked, adding: "A young man decides, 'I'm going to take the bird down to Dublin, we're going to get engaged', and buys an expensive diamond ring. Coming back over the border, does that have to be declared? Does duty have to be paid?"

In reply, Mr Murphy said: "From a EU customs point of view, the answer is yes."

Her terminology was criticised by feminists, who said it was inappropriate for the high-profile radio and television presenter to "denigrate women" in such a fashion.

A number of callers also contacted this newspaper to express their surprise that one of the BBC's best known voices "would come out with a phrase that belongs in the 1970s".

A BBC spokeswoman said: "We recognise the term used was inappropriate. There was no intention to offend."

Belfast Feminist Network activist Elizabeth Nelson said people with a public profile must act responsibly, particularly when they have tens of thousands of listeners.

"It's extremely disappointing to hear a woman being called a bird on radio," she added.

"It is not just another word. That is not a valid argument. Words have power.

"What she said is an example of everyday sexism and, where that word persists, attitudes demeaning women will persist and that can eventually escalate into much more serious acts."

Londonderry-based women's rights activist Goretti Horgan said she was shocked to hear the BBC employee of 17 years use the word.

She added: "I find it hard to believe that any woman would use that kind of language in this day and age."

Former Lord Mayor of Belfast Jim Rodgers said he was astonished to hear Ms Patterson, who is in her 40s, use the expression live on air, but stressed he was going to give her the benefit of the doubt.

"I couldn't believe it when I heard the word being used," he added.

"Karen is a very professional presenter and interviewer, and she very rarely says the wrong thing.

"It could've been a slip of the tongue. She wasn't in the studio.

"She's a human being and, like all of us, is capable of making the odd howler."

Following the radio remark controversy, questions were also raised about whether it was appropriate to call a nightclub 'The Tipsy Bird'.

That refers specifically to an establishment on Ann Street, opposite Musgrave police station in Belfast city centre.

"In the eyes of some people, that name sends out the wrong message about women and alcohol, but unfortunately it is a sign of the times," said Mr Rodgers.

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