Leading article: Ability has nothing to do with age

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The Independent Online

Most employers are savvy enough to grasp that overt age discrimination is now unacceptable. But that is not to say the practice has ended. Cases abound of employees being pushed aside or overlooked for promotion by management. Though it was made illegal in 2006, surveys still find ageism to be the most frequently cited form of discrimination in British workplaces.

In this depressing context, the outcome of the employment tribunal on the case of Miriam O'Reilly will be widely cheered. The 53-year-old former Countryfile presenter was dropped two years ago by the BBC when the programme moved to a new time-slot. The Corporation says that Ms O'Reilly was dismissed because she lacked the necessary peak-time television presenting experience. But the tribunal ruled yesterday that the BBC bosses would have behaved differently if the presenter had been 10 to 15 years younger. Delivering its finding of victimisation, the tribunal also pointed out that the younger presenters introduced to the programme by the corporation had no greater experience or public profile than Ms O'Reilly.

The BBC has form for this. In recent years some perfectly competent older broadcasters, such as Moira Stuart and Arlene Phillips, have been let go. And older women seem to get the worst of it. It is difficult to recall any of the BBC's veteran male broadcasters being treated this way.

This attitude to older female talent is hardly reserved to the BBC. And, in fairness, the Corporation's record in this area is better than most of its rivals.

In the case of Ms O'Reilly, the Corporation accepts that it erred and now says it will "ensure that senior editorial executives responsible for these kinds of decisions in the BBC undergo additional training". That makes it sound like some sort of painful process of re-education. Yet the principle is not complicated. Decisions about staffing, which managements are perfectly entitled to take, should be made based solely on the ability of individuals to do the job in question. Age discrimination, whether in broadcasting or any other workplace, is simply past it.