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BBC News Boss: Radio Host's Comment About Wimbledon Women's Champ Was Wrong

Marion Bartoli P
Getty
Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli.

James Harding says any punishment for the remark that Marion Bartoli is not "a looker" should be proportionate with the offense.

LONDON – BBC head of news and current affairs James Harding has said comments made by the public broadcaster's Wimbledon tennis-coverage radio anchorman John Inverdale about female champion Marion Bartoli were wrong.

Harding, who previously worked at News Corp.'s The Times, where he was editor from 2007 to 2012 until resigning late last year, said Inverdale must take responsibility for what he said.

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The Radio 5 Live radio host said before Bartoli's match against Sabine Lisicki: "Do you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little: 'You're never going to be a looker, you'll never be a [Maria] Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight'?"

Harding was asked at a Women in Journalism event at London's Southbank Centre on Monday whether this "casual sexism" warranted termination, citing an infamous British TV incident that led to Sky Sports presenter Andy Gray being fired amid a sexism row in 2011.

According to the Women in Journalism Twitter feed from the event, after pausing Harding said the punishment for wrongdoing had to be proportionate.

"I think he said the wrong thing... You have got to own your mistakes and apologize for them," said Harding. "I do think it's important that an apology too is an important thing, and if you are talking about sacking someone, [you have to ask] is it proportionate. As a license fee payer I think it was wrong."

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The BBC received almost 700 complaints in the hours after Inverdale made his remarks and later apologized for "any offense caused."

The BBC had previously apologized on Inverdale's behalf.

Inverdale subsequently noted he had been trying to make the point -- "in a ham-fisted way" -- that "in a world where [players] are all 6 feet tall," Bartoli's achievement was particularly impressive. The French player is 5 feet 7 inches.

For her part, Bartoli has dismissed Inverdale's comments as irrelevant to her.

Harding was also asked at the WIJ event if he felt there was a gender imbalance in the BBC's news presenting team, with a disproportionate number of older men and lack of older women.

He said there was an imbalance, adding that action would be taken when he starts his job later this year with the BBC.

He was also asked about reports that he had been given a £1.3 million payoff from News International (now News U.K.) when he resigned in December.

He said no before quickly moving on, the Women In Journalism feed noted.