Michael Buerk's views on those who ‘cry ageism’ belong in the past

Surely there is enough space for both younger and older employees to co-exist?

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The Independent Online

The veteran broadcaster Michael Buerk is back to his old, inevitably opinionated, tricks. Whether it’s quibbling gender politics, slamming 'politically-correct recruitment' or insulting the Welsh by claiming that 'Wales is not a country; it’s England with an accent and a good singing voice', the 68-year-old isn’t one to keep his controversial thoughts to himself. And on this occasion, he’s taken to castigating female news readers and television presenters who 'cry ageism'.

Writing in the Radio Times, he said: “If you got the job in the first place mainly because you look nice, I can’t see why you should keep it when you don’t.” Well, that’s charming, Michael. I take it ability doesn’t count for anything, then, once that natural aging process has taken hold?

Of course Buerk didn’t stop there, going on to argue that it’s “fair enough” for television big cheeses to squeeze out older employees, likening the process to pruning “the raspberries to make way for new growth.” But why do the raspberries have to be cut back to allow room for budding blooms, Michael? Surely there is enough space for both to co-exist, to complement and learn from one another, in order to thrive within this highly-competitive field?

I’m sure Miriam O’Reilly would agree. The 57-year-old former Countryfile presenter battled ageism at the BBC and subsequently won an employment tribunal. She recently told The Independent that attitudes towards women in the media are “shocking and dire”. “Men are prominent, promoted and given opportunities that women are not,” she said. “Mostly, that’s to do with the fact that men are in charge and they don’t take women seriously.” Last week’s news that men still outnumber women by a ratio of four to one on UK TV and radio news bulletins makes for similarly depressing reading.

Another high-profile case worth mentioning is that of Selina Scott, who, in 2008 at the age of 57, reached a settlement worth an estimated £250,000 with Channel 5, after she was dropped from covering Natasha Kaplinsky’s maternity cover in favour of Isla Traquair, then 28. No wonder, then, that she feels strongly about ageism, previously going as far as to say that discrimination was a “pervasive and institutionalised… disease” at the BBC.

I find it particularly strange that Buerk lacks empathy for ambitious, astute and accomplished older women who are replaced by bright young (arguably prettier) things. Not only because he’s hardly a spring chicken himself but also because he admitted that he found himself “washed up” in an industry “suddenly about yoof” during the 1980s.

Buerk’s Radio Times piece is about a new ITV show, Amazing Greys, which will see young contestants compete with some of the country’s most talented pensioners. In it he goes on to contradict himself somewhat by saying that older presenters are unexpectedly “cool” again, citing David Dimbleby, 75, Mary Berry, 79, and Bruce Forsyth, 86, as pertinent examples.

But why should it come as such a surprise that older presenters are in demand? As 69-year-old Angela Rippon, who will co-host Amazing Greys, told Buerk: “Television has at last realised you need maturity and experience alongside youth and beauty. It’s finally come of age.” It’s about time your antiquated views did too, Michael.

Michael Buerk calls axed BBC3 'drivel' and criticises sacked TV presenters who 'cry ageism'