BBC presenters 'axed partly due to age'

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The Independent Online

A female BBC presenter was told she was not "young" or "pretty" enough to appear on the Countryfile programme when it moved to a prime-time slot, a tribunal heard today.

Charlotte Smith, 46, who worked for 10 years on the rural affairs programme, said she believed she was removed from the flagship BBC show along with three other female presenters "partly" because they were older women.



She said she had become aware of a shortage of presenters on the Countryfile programme towards the end of 2009, following the show's move from a daytime to a Sunday teatime slot in April that year.



"I laughingly said that I might be available," she told the central London employment tribunal.



"I was told by a member of the team that while I might be able to do the job I would not pass the prime-time test as I am not young and pretty."



Under cross-examination, Ms Smith said she did not believe the remark was ironic.



"It was obviously discussed a lot by members of the team. I think it was a reflection of what they thought the BBC more corporately, if you like, wanted," she said.



Now a freelance presenter working three days a week on programmes such as BBC Radio 4 Farming Today, Ms Smith was giving evidence at an employment tribunal brought by presenter Miriam O'Reilly, 53, who claims she was a victim of sex and age discrimination by the BBC.



Ms Smith, along with Ms O'Reilly, Michaela Strachan, 42, and Juliet Morris, 45, were dropped from the flagship show before it was moved to its prime-time slot, the tribunal has heard.



The BBC has denied claims of age or sex discrimination and has insisted that Ms O'Reilly was dropped because she lacked the necessary peak-time television experience.



Ms Smith told the tribunal she believed the four women had been dropped partly because they were "older women".



"I do believe that the BBC decided to remove us from Countryfile partly because we are older women."



She added: "I think they decided not to use us on the prime-time programme partly because some of us do not have a very high profile but also because they wanted that programme to feel and look younger and also because they felt they could not do that with us."

















Ms Smith added that she had been "very happy" working for Countryfile. "I think it is fantastic to be paid for walking around the best parts of Britain and meeting really nice people."

The mother of two young children told the tribunal: "I do not feel the new presenters are doing anything that I am not capable of."



Ms Smith's evidence comes after Ms O'Reilly told the tribunal she had been "devastated" by the news that she was losing her job on the show.



The programme relaunched with Julia Bradbury and former Blue Peter presenter Matt Baker with veteran broadcaster John Craven, 68, kept on for a slot called John Craven investigates.



It was also announced that they would be supported by presenters Adam Henson, James Wong, Jules Hudson and Katie Knapman.



Andrew Thorman, BBC head of rural affairs, giving evidence after Ms Smith, denied sex discrimination or age discrimination by the BBC.



He said: "There was a view that Miriam's profile was mainly in daytime television and in network radio and that, and that alone, was what influenced the decision."



He added that in his conversations about changes to the show with BBC1 controller Jay Hunt, they "never once" talked about age or gender.

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