The BBC’s director-general, Mark Thompson, has admitted that older women are under-represented on its TV channels and pledged that the corporation will seek to rectify the situation in the future.
He also said that Miriam O’Reilly’s age discrimination lawsuit had been an “important wake-up call” for the BBC.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Thompson said: “There is an underlying problem that – whatever the individual success stories – there are manifestly too few older women broadcasting on the BBC, especially in iconic roles and on iconic topical programmes.
“As the national broadcaster and one which is paid for by the public, the BBC is in a different class from everyone else, and the public have every right to expect it to deliver to a higher standard of fairness and open-mindedness in its treatment both of its broadcasters and its audiences.”
The BBC has come under fire in recent years for perceived sexism and ageism against its older female stars and presenters, most notably in the cases of O’Reilly, who successfully proved in court that she was unfairly dismissed from her role on Countryfile, and Arlene Phillips, whose removal from Strictly Come Dancing caused a public outcry.
Thompson reported that a survey he commissioned called Serving All Ages found that a significant minority of respondents felt that older women were “invisible” on the airwaves.
“That perception, and the reality behind it, is what we have to change,” said the director-general.
While he opined that the lack of attention paid to older women was a more widespread problem in society generally, Thompson said that: “Where we can, we should bring great female talent back to the BBC.
“We are determined to act and already, on the BBC News Channel, on BBC1 and on other services, we’re beginning to see a difference.
“I hope that it will also encourage other broadcasters and media players to follow suit,” he added.