When pop star Madonna was deemed too old for BBC Radio 1 at the grand old age of 56, this was a judgement that seemed all too familiar. BBC Boss Ben Cooper said when she releases something ‘more relevant’ she can return, and was duly accused of ageism. The BBC do have form in this area, with accusations of ageism, sexism and racial discrimination often levelled at this dinosaur of a corporation in the past.
Exhibit A: TV presenter Miriam O’Reilly famously won her case plus damages against the BBC in 2011, having been unceremoniously dropped as a presenter of Countryfile, a rural affairs programme, along with a number of other women also in their middle years, when the show was moved to a primetime slot in 2009.
Former Olympic swimming champion Rebecca Adlington was ‘unsuitable’ apparently for their flagship TV show, Strictly Come Dancing, and not ‘glamorous’ enough to adorn a sparkly outfit alongside the other celebrity contestants.
Not that all the other contestants are glamorous of course. MP Ann Widdecombe and journalist and broadcaster John Sergeant were just some of the previous participants to grace the dance floor. However, even they may acknowledge they were filling the ‘frumpy and useless category’, only there to provide the laughs, and weren’t expected to make that much of an impact. An early exit would follow if all went to plan.
It is likely that in the eyes of the show’s producers, Rebecca, then aged 24 years old, simply did not fit the ‘young and glamorous’ category well enough, and was therefore surplus to requirements. Victoria Pendleton on the other hand, another Olympic champion, took part that year, and clearly measured up, as she was perhaps considered a more conventional beauty.
What message does this send to women everywhere? That you must conform to the young and pretty archetypal presenter and performer to maintain a prominent role at the BBC, while your male counterparts will face no such scrutiny.
The BBC is in a unique position as a public-service broadcaster paid for by the British public, and to that end, you would think, have added impetus to be more representational of the public it serves, with more diversity on all levels: different ages, races and women of all types ‘front and centre’ on our TV screens. It has so far failed to do this despite numerous pledges to improve things down the years.
With many channels to choose from these days, it is becoming increasingly difficulty for the BBC to justify a license fee as it was in the days before tablets, streaming and other advances in technology, and they are well aware that this arrangement is becoming increasingly untenable.
Credit where credit is due, the BBC is a well respected broadcaster around the world, often providing quality programming, but irrespective of this, it is also sadly reminiscent of a broadcaster right out of the forties and fifties, with institutionalized discrimination, highly suspect ingrained views, and in need of a massive overhaul to bring it into the 21st century. Just don’t hold your breath!