The BBC Education Editor Penny Marshall has quit the broadcaster before even going on air and has returned to her “journalistic home” at ITV.
The experienced reporter’s departure comes less than 24 hours after she addressed a parliamentary inquiry on women in broadcasting, and complained about the discrimination faced by older females in TV news. Ms Marshall described herself as part of “the rare breed of women in television who is over 50” and told a House of Lords committee: “I’m kind of like the last woman standing.”
Her departure from the BBC is a blow to James Harding, the BBC’s Director of News and Current Affairs, who had cited her appointment earlier this year as an indication that the broadcaster was making progress in its on-screen representation of older women.
The BBC said Ms Marshall was departing “on health grounds”. Giving evidence to the House of Lords Communications Committee on Tuesday, she disclosed that she had been undergoing treatment for breast cancer and praised the BBC for being “extremely understanding” over her condition.
Ms Marshall left ITV in March and joined the BBC in September. She is returning to her former role of ITV News Social Affairs Editor and has told friends that “the lure of colleagues I admire and the style of the journalism I’m used to and proud of proved too much to resist”.
Announcing her sudden departure from the BBC, she said: “I am very proud to be rejoining my impressive colleagues in the ITV newsroom with a general election approaching when social affairs will be centre stage of the national debate and at the heart of ITV’s coverage.”
The BBC said: “We’re obviously sorry that for health reasons Penny won’t now be joining us and we didn’t get to see her put her talents to use on the BBC. We fully understand and respect her decision and wish her all the best”.
Jonathan Munro, Head of BBC Newsgathering, emailed the newsroom to say Ms Marshall had “agonised” over her decision but was unsure about taking on a new role in her current condition.
“The long term prognosis is good but the treatment itself has taken a huge toll on her. Penny has now decided that the challenge of taking on a major and high profile role here at the BBC is incompatible with her continuing treatment. It’s typical of her that she wanted to come firing on all cylinders, or not at all,” it said. “I know that she agonised over this decision because the role here would have been a career highlight.”
When the BBC secured Ms Marshall’s services it was regarded as a coup. She was a familiar face to ITV viewers for 30 years and had made her name reporting from Serb-run detention camps in 1992, winning an Emmy for investigative journalism. She has also covered the release of Nelson Mandela, the presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton and worked as ITV News’s Home Affairs Correspondent, Moscow Reporter, and Defence and Diplomatic Correspondent
The BBC’s appointment of Ms Marshall followed Mr Harding’s poaching of Mr Munro, former ITV News deputy editor. The BBC has also piqued its broadcast rival by hiring star ITV reporters Lucy Manning and Ed Campbell this year.
Geoff Hill, Editor of ITV News, said: “Penny is a remarkable journalist who is renowned for producing world class, award-winning journalism. I speak for the entire newsroom when I say I am thrilled that she’s returning to ITV News and bringing her unrivalled expertise back to the newsroom to report on a range of important issues affecting millions of our viewers around Britain today.”
The employment of older women in TV newsrooms has become a contentious issue and Marshall told the hearing that broadcasters recognised the issue and were anxious to retain experienced female staff. She told the House of Lords that TV news needed to collect more data on the experience of women in television and complained that TV newsrooms had been “created by men, largely for men”.
But former BBC Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly claimed that women journalists were forced to act “more male than the men in news”. She suggested that she had been “blacklisted” by the BBC since winning an industrial tribunal case against the broadcaster for age discrimination. Ms O’Reilly provided the committee with a anonymous statements from other senior BBC female journalists who claimed to have been maltreated because of their age.Reuse content