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Thursday 14 December 2017

BBC not just ageist against women, says veteran war reporter Simpson

He once claimed to have liberated Kabul. Now, John Simpson is facing a different kind of war much closer to home: ageism at the BBC. Many female correspondents have railed against age discrimination and now it is the turn of the men.

"There are not many of us left," said Simpson, the corporation's 65-year-old world affairs editor. "We have mostly died out or retired. I'm certainly the oldest person in the BBC newsroom. There should be older people going [to report from] abroad, and there should not be the pressure to give up reporting, after a given age," he said.

"I don't see people, certainly reporting, at my sort of age. I don't think there should be rules against it. If they are up to the job [they should do it], but it is a very hard job, in television particularly, lugging lots of recording equipment around, carrying stuff; it's physically hard with long hours."

Simpson said he had never been placed under pressure to take retirement and ageism had not affected him directly, but added that he felt there were judgments based around age at the corporation and "in a big outfit like the BBC, right at the top or fairly near the top, quite a lot of ageism".

He cites one example, an incident in 2009, when he took an idea to BBC1 for a series entitled Top Dogs -- a show featuring himself, Ranulph Fiennes and Robin Knox-Johnston, which the channel turned down.

"I put forward a proposal with another two elderly characters, but I was told it 'didn't fit the audience profile of BBC1' [which meant] they didn't want old people on BBC1. The proposal was something that BBC2 took up."

Simpson is probably the most experienced BBC correspondent, having reported from more than 120 countries, including 30 war zones, and interviewed many world leaders, but he is acutely aware that he is in the minority among older journalists.

hnews@herald.ie

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