Page last updated at 17:06 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 18:06 UK

BBC seeks older female newsreader

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

The BBC is actively seeking an older female newsreader, as it seeks to counter accusations of ageism.

Director general Mark Thompson asked news director Helen Boaden to find the presenter, although reports of a recruitment deadline have been denied.

Earlier, a spokesman said the BBC hoped to find a newsreader aged over 50 but the organisation has since said no specific minimum age would be set.

Mr Thompson has stressed the need for a wide range of talent across the BBC.

The BBC has recently denied accusations of ageism after replacing Strictly Come Dancing Judge Arlene Phillips, 66, with former winner Alesha Dixon, 30.

'Experienced women'

The BBC News spokesman confirmed that Mr Thompson had spoken to Ms Boaden "and other directors about the need to have a broad range of presenters on air - including older women".

"News has a pretty good story to tell with Kirsty Wark, Martha Kearney and Maxine Mawhinney all flourishing - as well as highly experienced women out in the field like Bridget Kendall, Caroline Wyatt and Orla Guerin," he said.

"However, we'd be the first to say that it's important not to rest on our laurels in this area and ensure we reflect the public we serve."

He added: "And of course, this isn't an issue just for the BBC - other broadcasters face the same challenges."

Speaking later on Thursday, BBC News channel controller Kevin Bakhurst told Radio 5 live the move was part of "an ongoing review of the presenter line-up we have across BBC News".

"It would be jolly good to get an older woman on board," he continued.

"Most of our woman presenters are aged kind of 30 to 40. A few are aged in their early 40s. I think we need to look slightly above that - and that's the message from Mark [Thompson]."

Broadcaster and government adviser Dame Joan Bakewell - described as its "voice of older people" - said she was "really gratified" by the BBC's decision.

We get lots of jowly white-haired men - that's no inhibitor of employment for them - but it seems to have been eliminator for women until now
Dame Joan Bakewell

Dame Joan, 76, said she had held meetings with Mr Thompson and Ms Boaden and they had agreed there was "a case there to be answered".

"I said there was a conspicuous absence of older women - of all the segments in society - that isn't seen."

"We get lots of jowly white-haired men - that's no inhibitor of employment for them - but it seems to have been eliminator for women until now.

"I'm glad it's changing."

Former BBC newsreader Jan Leeming, 67, meanwhile, said "the job should be given on merit".

"I don't ever think anybody should be given a job unless they deserve it, unless they get it on merit," she said.

Charity Age Concern said it was right "the BBC should aspire to have presenters that better reflect all sections of our society".

'Graveyard shift'

But The Age and Employment Network, which supports older people in the job market, said the move looked "suspiciously like tokenism" and that it would "suspend judgement".

In April 2006, after announcing she would be leaving BBC News after 30 years, Anna Ford, then 62, said she felt she would have been sidelined had she carried on at the corporation.

"I might have been shovelled off into News 24 to the sort of graveyard shift, and I wouldn't have wanted to do that because it wouldn't have interested me," she said.

Staff who were joining the BBC News team were "being brought in because they are younger", she added.

"I think that's specifically one of the reasons why they're being employed."

Anna Ford
Anna Ford presented her last BBC news bulletin in 2006, aged 62

And in April 2007, Mr Thompson told the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee that allegations in the press that newsreader Moira Stuart - then 55 - had left the BBC because she was too old were "not true".

He said she had lost her regular TV news slot because the traditional role of the newsreader was dying out.

Last December, Selina Scott reached a settlement with TV channel Five after suing them for age discrimination.

Scott, 58, was reportedly being lined up to provide maternity cover for Five News host Natasha Kaplinsky but was subsequently overlooked.

Her lawyers said the broadcaster had apologised for offence caused and said the financial terms of the settlement would remain confidential, while a Five spokeswoman declined to comment.

Earlier in the year, Scott had complained about the lack of older female presenters on television.

"Anna Ford has retired, Moira Stuart has been bumped off, yet you look around and see lots of men," she said.

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