Martin Hughes-Games, a presenter of nature programmes on the BBC, has suggested that he has been side-lined by the broadcaster for being white and middle class. The BBC denies the allegation and has stated that his role is "being negotiated". 

Hughes-Games said "Whatever I may think, it's crucially important that high profile shows like Watches reflect diversity. Chris [Packham], Michaela [Strachan] and I are all white and middle class, so a more diverse team must present some of the films that go out. It's hard for me because it's my living but the more I thought about it, the more I thought: "No that's the right decision, it has to be like that."

This is not the first time that the BBC has hit the headlines this year for allegations of "positive" discrimination. Jon Holmes, a radio presenter for 18 years,  tweeted "sad to announce that I've been axed from @BBCNowShow as "we want to recast with more women and diversity" Tsk. And I didn't even punch a producer". These claims have been refuted by the BBC, but they have also pointed to diversity targets set by the Government. Earlier in the year the BBC also hit back over claims that an advert that it placed for a researcher on Panaroma was only open to applicants who were Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic was discriminatory on the grounds that this represented positive action to address under represented groups. 

As a public sector employer, the BBC is under a general duty to consider how it can eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity.  This might include taking proportionate positive action to address disadvantage and under representation by those sharing a protected characteristic such as age, race and gender, disability or sexual orientation. The Equality Act also permits (but does not oblige) an employer to treat a person who possesses a protected characteristic more favourably in connection with recruitment or promotion from two equally qualified candidates, where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. In reality these are  very limited exceptions, which makes their use very difficult to defend. 

So do employers need more support to take affirmative action without fear of reprisal? In countries where quota systems have been imposed, such as the Norwegian 40% representation of each gender in the boardroom, the short term benefits have indeed been impressive. The long term benefits remain controversial with the majority of female positions being held on a non-executive basis. Indeed many commentators believe that compulsory quotas are counter-productive and suggest a more "holistic" approach to diversity and equality. There is however a role for the law in providing braver and more forward thinking employers with greater protection for addressing under-representation, given that the majority of barriers to true equality remain outside of their control.