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Is media's cult of youth costing older people their livelihood?

28 March 2012

A London debate on ageism has heard that today's population is living longer and working longer, yet the cult of youth is as strong as ever largely fuelled by the media industry.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"The media industry is itself ageist, particularly in respect to women, who soon find that they vanish from our TV screen once a few wrinkles appear. I hear from experienced, older women journalists in broadcasting who refer to themselves as 'the disappeared' because they suddenly find themselves frozen out of a job once they hit 45.
"This does not happen to their male colleagues; 55 per cent of women in TV are aged 35 or over compared with 72 per cent of men."

Michelle Stanistreet was speaking at the debate entitled "Does ageism in the media impact upon older people's prospects of finding employment". The event was sponsored by BT and the Age and Employment Network (TAEN).

Michelle Stanistreet argued:

"Behind the camera at the BBC there are plenty of women in powerful positions, but this is not being translated to more women on screen or radio. It isn't only the BBC; other broadcasting organisations chose women for their looks and youth to be newsreaders and presenters.
"And, it isn't just women. Nicholas Parsons, host of Radio 4's Just a Minute, said he feels  'a certain sensitivity' about his age and said it should not be a barrier to keeping someone from doing the job they do well.
"It is this attitude that informs how older people are portrayed on TV and the rest of the media. The NUJ has issued a set of guidelines which warns members about using stereotypes and clichés when they write about old people.
"Patronising phrases such as 'battling granny' and 'plucky pensioner' should be avoided. The over-50s are not just a bunch of "Grumpy Old Men (and Women)" as portrayed on TV, they can embrace new technology and ideas.
"People over the age of 50 are being hit hard by the present economic situation and if they lose their job find it very difficult to find another. It does not help that they are rarely painted in a positive light by the media. The media's thrall to the cult of youth is part and parcel of this."

Read the NUJ guidelines on reporting age.

Other speakers at the event included:

  • Camilla Palmer, partner, Leigh Day & Co Solicitors (acted for Miriam O'Reilly in her discrimination case);
  • Michael Rubenstein, publisher of Equal Opportunities Review and Equality Law Reports and
  • Caroline Waters OBE, director of people and policy for the BT Group.

Tags: , equality, ageism, women