question of the day: Should creative industries be allowed to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, and so on?

Miriam O’Reilly

So the BBC has a show called Countryfile, a magazine show about “the people, places and stories making news in the British countryside.” In 2009, presenter/host/reporter Miriam O’Reilly was fired from the show when it upwent a revamp and moved from a daytime slot to primetime. She sued the BBC, claiming her dismissal was the result of sexism (three other female presenters were also fired at the same time) and ageism (she was 51 at the time). She won on the ageism claim, but not the sexism one.

That’s the background. Today, actor and comedian Rowan Atkinson suddenly chimed in on this issue. From Mail Online:

Rowan Atkinson has claimed the BBC should have been allowed to axe Miriam O’Reilly from Countryfile without facing claims of age discrimination.

The Blackadder and Mr Bean star criticised the presenter’s landmark ageism tribunal victory last year, saying it was an ‘attack on creative free expression’.

The 57-year-old said ‘creative industries’ were ‘completely inappropriate environments’ for anti-discrimination legislation – and the ‘legal tools’ she used to win her case ‘should never have been available to her’.

He said her complaint that she was axed from Countryfile due to her age – she was then 51 – was ‘no more sensible’ than Pierce Brosnan complaining he was dropped as James Bond for being too old, ‘which he was and which he is’.

In a letter to Radio 4’s The Media Show, Mr Atkinson said if programme-makers wanted to replace an ‘old person with a young person’ or ‘a white person with a black person’ or a ‘disabled straight with an able-bodied gay’ they should have the ‘creative freedom to do so’.

Atkinson’s point about James Bond doesn’t seem pertinent here. Countryfile is a news show, not a narrative, not fiction — the demands and requirements are different, and in fact, it’s in a news format where experience and expertise carries a completely different kind of weight.

What do you think? Is Atkinson right? Should creative industries be allowed to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, and so on?

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