Was Rowan Atkinson Right?

Convener(s): Cindy Oswin

Participants: Fiona Drummond, Rosemary Lee, Gerard, Kate, Mhairi Credlis, Aaron Peterson, Daniel Copeland, Clementine Jones, Emma Bernard, Kathryn, Laura Mugridge, Jonathan Petherbridge, Jools Voce, Isabel Carr

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Miriam O’Reilly brought a case against the BBC for unfair dismissal from Countryfile on the grounds of ageism. Rowan Atkinson responded yesterday with a letter saying she should not have been allowed to do so.

The letter from Rowan Atkinson to R4 Media show which sparked this session contained the following quote: “if either at the outset of a TV programme or at time during its screen life you want 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, you should have as much creative freedom to do so as you have the change the colour of John Craven’s anorak”

The group broadly disagreed with the letter but a director pointed out that it was difficult when an organisation was pushing for inclusivity -  enforced diversity when a creative felt that a particular person was wrong for a role.

People begin to feel insecure when things change and shift.

Just because the BBC is a public institution doesn’t mean it’s competent.

Country file has more to do with entertainment that a factual programme.

What difference does this make?

The BBC has surprisingly less accountability than private ones.

Different dynamics come into play when it is a public platform 

Presenters - Duos of age and youth prevalent –that is an older man and younger glamorous female – eg Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daley – sacking of Arlene Phillips from Strictly Come Dancing. Also happens in news programmes.

Appearance dominates in casting, for TV in particular

What people want to see is it youth dominating the media or do people want to see themselves represented – is it our fault – the consumers - that we want to see good looking people on TV generally ie youthful

It’s young people making programmes and therefore they favour young people when employing.

An actor gave an example of a casting spec that required a man to be heterosexual looking.

Creative freedom was one thing but possible discrimination regarding the presenter of a factual programme on a public service broadcaster involved other factors – not the same thing and important not to conflate or misconstrue issues. Possible mis-application of legislation yet another issue.

A female actor said that before the O’Reilly case she felt that she didn’t have a voice as she was “older” but now she felt that she did.

Mark Thompson DG of the BBC has said since then “we got it wrong about women”

In conclusion, the group felt that we need to keep challenging the media – the BBC in particular as we are paying for it - around issues of ageism - and bring possibly unconscious decision making forward into consciousness, to bring about change.