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Sunday, 3rd December 2023



The latest case of age discrimination at the BBC reported here in the Guardian about Miriam O'Reilly shows how a culture of discrimination exists inside the BBC. Miriam was a very talented broadcaster and created a highly successful series called 'Country File' but was suddenly dropped when it moved to a prime-time television slot, because of age and sex discrimination. She had already worked for the BBC for 22 years, and did not accept an out of court settlement and went through to the full tribunal hearing. All too often, such cases are settled out of court, silence is bought from the victim, and the perpetrating organisation continues without any change in behaviour. Miriam found the process stressful, but she persevered for the sake of justice for all the others behind her. She was even accused of leaking her story into the print media and pursuing her campaign that way and therefore vicitimised whilst working there. The BBC has since apologised unreservedly and invited her back into the organisation. Now it has to change, and not just superficially.

Discrimination breeds from an ethic - a set of values where certain aspects are considered more important than others, and where people are seen as dispensable commodities. The media industry has a very bad record of discrimination in all areas, racism being a prime example. One reason for this is that it is obsessed with 'audiences' and 'ratings' and bosses and leaders have power over deciding who should go in front of the screen and what they should look like. In many cases, especially in the BBC, the bosses come from one culture and mindset and racial diversity is virtually absent at the top of programming and editorial decision-making.

The BBC has also promised to re-train its bosses and producers, but I am curious as to what approach will be used? How do we change mindsets and habits, obsession with ratings, people who have lived and worked in 'ghettos' all their lives? Diverse Ethics have developed many innovative ideas about this, but it will be interesting to see what the BBC does in this case. If you would like to share your ideas, please comment below. One answer is very clear - it cannot be done over a one hour or half-day training programme. What is needed is a serious re-examination of the values of the organisation, and if its latest big bible on ethics is anything to go by, it does not say much that is radical at all. It seems as if leaders are afraid to talk about their values, and more importantly live by them. This is true of most British organisations today, sadly. Yet the reality of our present predicament demands this very much. The BBC needs to understand and fully accept that it is publicly owned, and not in the hands of programme-makers. Names of programme editors and their email addresses should be publicly available so people can write to them personally.

Article added on 12th January 2011 at 3:26pm
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