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BBC boss backs more 'older' women

The head of the BBC has admitted there are not enough older women appearing in television's top programmes and presenting roles.

Despite undergoing a "revolution" in recent years that has seen more women take top leadership roles, Mark Thompson said the publicly-funded broadcaster still has "a case to answer" about the way it treats older women on the air.

Writing in the Daily Mail, the director-general conceded the landmark age-discrimination employment tribunal brought by ex-Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly was an "important wake-up for the whole BBC" and marked a turning point of its handling of the issue

Mr Thompson said: "Let's not mince words - those who say that the BBC has a case to answer about the way it treats older women on the air are right. We do. There are manifestly too few older women broadcasting on the BBC, especially in iconic roles and on iconic topical programmes."

He added: "The BBC is in a different class from everyone else, and that the public have every right to expect it to deliver to a higher standard of fairness and open-mindedness in its treatment both of its broadcasters and its audiences. If the BBC isn't prepared to take this issue more seriously, what hope is there that others will start to do so?"

Mr Thompson said a growing number of older women held top executive roles at the Corporation, but admitted it has "too few women in key news and current affairs presenting roles, especially when it comes to the big political interviews".

He continued: "Of the 12 members of our Executive Board, five are female, all of them (and no, there isn't a completely satisfactory way of saying this) 'older' women. Critical BBC services - including both Radio 4 and BBC Two - are in the hands of exceptional women controllers. BBC News, once an almost entirely male management domain, is largely led by women. But we've yet to see the same rate or scale of change on the air."

The long-serving head, who is tipped to step down from his role in the near future, said other broadcasters, newspapers and advertisers were guilty of ageism at a "far more pronounced and disturbing" level "than anything you'll ever see or hear on the BBC".

He added: "I don't believe for a moment that the BBC is riven by sexism or ageism."

Mr Thompson said the BBC needed to cherish the "outstanding women broadcasters" it already had while bringing great female talent back to the corporation. But he warned it should not "turf out other much loved and respected presenters and reporters in an attempt to achieve an instant fix" to the issue.


From Belfast Telegraph