Page last updated at 16:12 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Presenter O'Reilly seeks BBC 'ageism' compensation

Miriam O'Reilly
Ms O'Reilly is seeking compensation for loss of earnings

A former presenter on its Countryfile programme is seeking compensation from the BBC for alleged discrimination on the grounds of age and sex.

Miriam O'Reilly, 52, was one of four women in their 40s and 50s told in November 2008 they were being dropped from the rural affairs programme.

She is also claiming victimisation, in papers lodged at the London Central employment tribunal offices.

The BBC said it would be "vigorously defending" the case.

A number of staff, including Juliet Morris and Michaela Strachan, left Countryfile when the programme was moved from Sunday morning to an early evening slot.

Former Watchdog host Julia Bradbury, 36, and Matt Baker, 32, were among the new presenters on the revamped programme.

The show's male presenters, Ben Fogle and Tom Heap, were also removed. But Heap returned later in a reporting role while Fogle became a presenter on Country Tracks, another nature programme in the old Countryfile timeslot.

'Absolute nonsense'

Ms O'Reilly's complaint follows rows over other claims that programming decisions at the BBC have been motivated by age.

In 2007, director general Mark Thompson denied the BBC's decision to remove then-58-year-old Moira Stuart from her regular news slot on Sunday AM had been because of her age.

Our programmes always strive to reflect a wide range of diversity as possible to ensure we represent the BBC's audience
BBC spokeswoman

And last year the corporation denied similar accusations after replacing Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips, 66, with former winner Alesha Dixon, 30.

The BBC recently announced newsreader Julia Somerville, 63, would be appearing alongside other older women presenters.

Award-winning journalist Ms O'Reilly, who has presented Radio 4 programmes Farming Today and File on 4, is being represented by solicitors Leigh Day and Company.

The firm said she had also been "held responsible, without foundation" for media stories that had accused the corporation of ageism and sexism and "after 25 years with the BBC, work virtually dried up".

She is seeking compensation for loss of earnings and for injury to feeling.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "Any suggestion that the presenters of Countryfile were replaced on the grounds of age is absolute nonsense.

"Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury were chosen based on their proven successful track record as presenters and their extensive rural knowledge and keen interest in countryside issues.

"Our programmes always strive to reflect a wide 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 shows as well as presenters including Gloria Hunniford, Jennie Bond, Angela Rippon and Annie Nightingale."

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