Page last updated at 12:41 GMT, Sunday, 3 January 2010

Harman says BBC 'doesn't value' older women

Moira Stuart
In 2007, the BBC denied reports that Moira Stuart left because of her age

Equality minister Harriet Harman has attacked the BBC for "not valuing" older female newsreaders.

Ms Harman told the BBC's World This Weekend female newsreaders had to be 10 years younger than male equivalents.

She said: "It's essentially an old-fashioned attitude that thinks you can't value the experience and wisdom of an older woman."

The BBC said its programmes "always strive to reflect as broad a range of diversity as possible".

Ms Harman said: "I think that the broadcast media finds it possible to value the older man but I don't think they find it possible to value the older woman.

I think they're wasting a lot of talent and annoying a lot of viewers
Harriet Harman

"A former senior BBC executive said to me: 'the thing is, the way we saw it was that as male presenters got older they become an authority and as female presenters got older they became a problem'.

"To be a BBC news presenter as a woman you have to be 10 years younger than the men.

"They should be very careful about it and I think they should be anxious and worried about it... and I think they're wasting a lot of talent and annoying a lot of viewers."

Ms Harman's intervention follows widespread criticism of the BBC for its perceived discrimination against older female presenters.

More older women

In 2007, BBC Director General Mark Thompson denied the corporation's decision to remove then-58-year-old Moira Stuart from her regular news slot on Sunday AM was motivated by her age.

He told MPs on the culture select committee that Ms Stewart's "traditional" news reader's role, as opposed to a correspondent or presenter, had "virtually died out".

Last year the BBC again denied accusations of ageism after replacing Strictly Come Dancing Judge Arlene Phillips, 66, with former winner Alesha Dixon, 30.

Following the row the corporation announced it would be recruiting more older women presenters.

Veteran newsreader Julia Somerville is due to return to the BBC as a TV news presenter after an absence of nearly 23 years.

She will join Westminster correspondent Carole Walker, former ITN newsreader Fiona Armstrong and BBC World presenter Zeinab Badawi on the TV news service.

A BBC statement said: "Our programmes always strive to reflect as broad a range of diversity as possible to ensure we represent the BBC's audience.

"Kirsty Wark, Maxine Mawhinney and Martha Kearney regularly feature on BBC television and radio, as well as presenters including Gloria Hunniford, Jennie Bond, Angela Rippon and Annie Nightingale."

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