BBC One controller hated women, tribunal told

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The Independent Online

Four female presenters in their 40s and 50s were dropped from Countryfile because BBC One controller Jay Hunt "hated women", a tribunal heard today.

Miriam O'Reilly, 53, is suing the broadcaster for age and sex discrimination after she and three others were axed from the show when it moved to a prime-time slot.

Michaela Strachan, 42, Juliet Morris, 52, and Charlotte Smith, 44, were also removed from the rural affairs show ahead of its relaunch in April 2009.

The BBC appointed Julia Bradbury, then 38, and Matt Baker, then 30, to present the programme.

Under cross-examination at a tribunal in London, Ms O'Reilly said Juliet Morris had agreed it was ageist for the BBC to drop the four women.

Giving evidence, Ms O'Reilly said: "I had a conversation with Juliet Morris. She said the decision was ageist and it was made because Jay Hunt hated women."

Asked earlier today whether she believed 43-year-old Ms Hunt, the BBC One controller, would have discriminated against a woman in her 40s, Ms O'Reilly replied she did.

Ms O'Reilly also said she felt her ability and experience matched that of John Craven, then 68, who was kept on by the BBC for a slot in the new "refreshed" show called John Craven Investigates.

"I think after 25 years' experience, I think my ability would be equal to John's," she said.

"He has more experience in terms of years but in terms of ability to deliver a story, I feel I could have competed with John very fairly for that."

Jason Galbraith-Marten, representing the BBC, accused Ms O'Reilly of "embellishing" her evidence.

He suggested she was not considered suitable for the new show, claiming her strength lay in investigative journalism rather than light-hearted presenting.

Ms O'Reilly rejected the claim, saying: "I don't believe I'm perceived generally just as a serious journalist. I think in my long career on Countryfile, people have seen me in other ways."

Mr Galbraith-Marten also said Michaela Strachan had felt "not a jot" of anger about the decision to change the presenting line-up.

He said: "She laughed off the suggestion she had been discriminated against because she was over 40. She left the show because she was based in South Africa."

He added Ms Bradbury, who had previously presented Watchdog, was later replaced by Anne Robinson, who was in her 60s.

He said Ms O'Reilly was not considered appropriate for the new Countryfile show in its 7pm slot because she did not have a big enough profile.