Take a quick glance at the UK’s trending topics on Twitter, and you’ll find the recent inclusion of the hash tag #proudofthebbc, in response to the Conservative led governments’ threat to cut the licence fee. There’s no denying the fact that BBC is a British institution, providing service to millions. But with every pro comes cons, and it appears that the twittersphere have conveniently forgotten media reports of a dossier sent to the chairman of the BBC Trust Sir Michael Lyons, by ex BBC presenter Selina Scott, last week. Scott was unceremoniously dropped from BBC Breakfast Time, and the 59-year-old maintains that her forced departure was due solely to her age. This isn’t the first time it’s happened.
Long standing newsreader Moira Stewart was one of the first to go, amidst an outcry of ageism and sexism from the press. She has since been reinstated and is now reading news bulletins on BBC Radio 2. Her controversy was, more recently, followed by Strictly Come Dancing Judge, Arlene Philips’ shock departure from the show that she originally pioneered. Labour’s Equality minister at the time, Harriet Harman, spoke out in defence of Philips, as did Conservative MP Nigel Evans who told The Daily Telegraph: “We had the problem with the BBC and ageism when they got rid of the excellent Moira Stuart. This seems exactly the same. They are ditching a person whom they see as being on the wrong side of the tracks as far as age is concerned and replacing her with a younger model. It’s almost like a TV presenter scrappage scheme’.
These unfortunate women are either replaced by a younger face (in Arlene’s case, this face belonged to 30-year-old Alesha Dixon), or they disappear altogether. It’s a strange sort of ageism. Funnily enough, the British Broadcasting Corporation isn’t caught out kindly asking it’s older, and more specifically, male television presenters, such as David Dimbleby or Bruce Forsyth, to retire. Quite the contrary. In fact, during the BBC’s general election coverage, 71 year old Dimbleby, who has been with the broadcaster for 48 years, covered the election action live for 18 hours whilst the nation voted for a hung parliament. This can’t be a case of the BBC considering its older anchors incompetent of doing the job, then.
Nigel Evans MP was correct to an extent, but it’s frustrating how the media’s coverage of the BBC’s ruthless culling of its older female television presenters is repetitively branded as ‘ageism against women’, when it is in fact, a case of old fashioned sexism- implying that women are only fit to appear on our television screens if they’re young and attractive.
When a woman’s age becomes an issue, and is perceived to hinder her ability to perform, yet the same rule doesn’t apply to her male counterparts- that’s sexism. This sort of treatment should not be labelled ageism, because the very word implies the discrimination applies to all, regardless of gender, when clearly it doesn’t. Singling out a gender for a reason so binary and reductive is both laughable (in theory) and unbelievable (in practice). This is disgusting behaviour from one of Britain’s well loved institutions, even more so shocking because the corporation often finds itself setting an example to society, silently filtering into the British consciousness.
Proud of the BBC? I think I’ll pass.