On 13 November the Central London Employment Tribunal handed down its reserved decision in the case of McCririck v Channel 4 Television Corporation and IMG Media Limited. Given the celebrity status of the Claimant the case attracted a good deal of attention. IMG took over the contract to broadcast all terrestrial coverage of horse racing commencing 1 January 2013. In doing so it displaced the incumbent, Highflyer, for whom McCririck had worked since 1996 and previously with Channel 4 since 1984. As part of its pitch for the contract IMG said that they wanted to introduce a more analytical and journalistic approach to coverage. However IMG management, and former BBC employee Carl Hicks in particular, took the view that Mr McCririck did not fit the brief. Ultimately the Tribunal agreed and held in its judgment:
Mr McCririck was dismissed because of his persona emanating from his appearances from celebrity television shows, and the associated press articles resulting from them, together with his appearances as a broadcaster on Channel 4 Racing where, as he accepted, his style of dress, attitudes, opinions and tic tac gestures were not in keeping with the new aims, and his opinions seen as arrogant and confrontational…
All the evidence is that Mr McCririck’s pantomime persona, as demonstrated on the celebrity television appearances, and his persona when appearing on Channel 4 Racing, together with his self-described bigoted and male chauvinist views were clearly unpalatable to a wider potential audience. The tribunal is satisfied that the respondent had the legitimate aim of attracting a wider audience to horseracing.
However Mr McCririck claimed in evidence that, particularly in his appearances elsewhere, such as on Celebrity Big Brother, he was adopting a “pantomime persona” that was positively encouraged by Channel 4 executives so that, in effect, they could not have it both ways.
The judgment provides an extraordinary insight into the details of a tender for a significant television sports contract. Much of the narrative is of great interest to a racing fan such as me. From a legal perspective the detail is light on the application of the law to the facts. It is significant that, although barely noted in mainstream reporting, since all those whose contracts were not renewed were over 50, the onus shifted from Mr McCririck to Channel 4 and IMG. Instead of the claimant establishing that there was age discrimination, the respondents had to show that there was not. An unsatisfactory aspect of the decision is that there is no analysis of this aspect and it seems to be assumed that there was age discrimination. However, that discrimination was justified because the approach adopted was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, namely extending the appeal of horseracing to a wider audience.