Kay Burley is an inspirational woman, and calls for her to be sacked are just plain sexist

When Burley takes a tough approach she's called a vicious psychopath, but when someone like Jeremy Paxman does the same he's celebrated

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The Independent Online

I owe Kay Burley an apology. A little over a year a go, I interviewed the Sky News presenter. The brief I received from my editor was clear and straightforward – get her to say a) something stupid, b) something controversial, or c) something related to her appearance. My questions were geared largely towards her on-air mishaps – tumbles at the top of escalators, her embarrassing mispronunciations, the time she made Peter Andre cry...

In highlighting Burley’s failures, I was being a terrible person, and I regret that. But now it turns out that I was also guilty of the same appalling prejudice demonstrated by the 50,000+ signatories of a petition calling for her resignation, following her questioning of the Alton Towers exec Nick Varney, over the rollercoaster crash that seriously injured four and led to one 17-year-old girl having her leg amputated.

In a bid to serve the public interest, Burley was tough in her approach, asking the questions that she assumed her audience would want answered. But it would seem that her good faith in a public desire for justice and honesty was severely misjudged.

“Unprofessional”; “bitchy”; “vicious”; “a sociopath” – these are just a selection of delightful descriptions the Twitter-sphere has branded Burley with. However, none such adjectives were uttered following Jeremy Paxman’s obviously biased “dressing down” of Ed Milliband on the pre-election television debates (in which Paxman called him a “North London geek”).

Nor was there public outcry when Channel 4’s John Snow accused Alex Ferguson of being “Stalinist”, or indeed when Snow’s co-presenter, Krishnan-Guru Murphy, insensitively pried into Robert Downey Jr’s lifelong drug battle. What about when This Morning’s Eamonn Holmes implied that a rape victim could have avoided her attack if she’d opted for a taxi ride home? To the best of my knowledge, there wasn't a national call for their sacking in sight.

Burley’s male equivalents are in fact celebrated. Hailed as “national treasures”; “British broadcasting veterans” - their savage interrogations feature on many “10 BEST EVER BRITISH INTERVIEWS” lists. Many still laugh at the time Paxman asked Michael Howard the same question 12 times, but how would they react if Burley had done the same?

I would never deny the journalistic skill of our longest-serving broadcasters, nor would I put Burley on any sort of news-reporter pedestal, but there is undeniable injustice in the blind scrutiny of a strong, powerful woman – often before she’s even opened her mouth.

Why are we so quick to revel in her mistakes and misfortunes instead of celebrating her impressive, admirable (and rare) success? Unlike most of her privileged, privately educated male counterparts, Burley’s career path was hardly a given.

The daughter of cardboard-box factory workers in Wigan, Burley fought her way up the media food chain the old fashioned way, landing her first reporting job at The Lancashire Evening Post & Chronicle, aged just 17. Surely, her tenacity and relentless endeavor are qualities that we – as a nation with shamefully low numbers of female news presenters – should reward, salute and commend. Sure, she’s sometimes misjudged and she makes mistakes – but don’t we all? It just so happens that hers are broadcasted to the world.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be delighted if my daughter cited Burley as her role model, as opposed to the ever-popular choice of Kim Kardashian.  So, Kay, I’m sorry and I hope you’ll accept my apology. Let's just hope others can realise also begin to realise their mistake, and start seeing you for what you are: a journalist who asks hard questions.

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