What has happened to the Today programme? In what can only be described as a staggering change, its ratio of male experts to female experts in the week of 11 March was almost 3:1. That’s showing TV competitors how to do it.

Male / Female ratio

BBC News At Ten 4:1
ITV News At 10pm 5:1
Sky News At Nine 3:1
Today 3:1

Period covers week beginning 11 March

Anne Diamond was the expert on press regulation and other contributors included Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the British Medical Journal; pension expert Ros Altman; and an item with only female experts (how amazing is that?) on the perfect temperature for your office. Thank you to the team at Today for showing that it can be done. It would be fascinating to find out if viewer appreciation or ratings changed at all that week.

Just out of interest (or could it be cynicism?) we followed this up the following week, when Today’s ratio was 4:1 – not as good but still better than in previous months. Could this be green shoots? Or a false spring? Fingers crossed.

Conversely, ITV News At 10 averaged five male experts to every female expert. For the first three days of the week, the figure was nearer 2:1, which is great. The stories on these days were broad ranging and not confined to social affairs. But on Thursday and Friday, the ratio changed dramatically to nearer 15:1, with news dominated by the Leveson recommendations and the government’s reaction.

Male domination

The Leveson enquiry itself has been criticised for hearing evidence from far fewer women than men, and the coverage of the debate revealed how male-dominated the print medium still is.

On Friday, Leveson still dominated the news agenda, backed up by coverage of the governor of the Bank of England on tour, and rugby. If it hadn’t been for a woman whose house was set on fire by a faulty dishwasher, ITV’s bulletin would have had no female interviewees at all that night.

BBC News At Ten improved its ratio during the week, hitting an all-time high for the programme of 4:1 on average. The first three days of the week were good at 3:1; not as good as ITV, but it did hit Broadcast’s minimum target. But again, when wall-to-wall coverage of Leveson kicked in on the Thursday, the use of female authority figures plummeted to 6:1.

However, it’s worth noting that on Thursday evening there was also a package on Lockheed Martin that featured female technologists Samantha Smith and Cindy Van Dover. This was the item that saved the programme’s ratio this month.

In a close-run race, star billing goes to Sky News, monitored at 9pm, with an average ratio of 3:1. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sky News did far less on Leveson, leaving space for other stories such as the discovery of the Crossrail plague pit and the HS2 controversy, which may be why it used more female experts.

If Sky News had covered the Leveson recommendations in more depth in this bulletin, would the ratio have suffered? Interestingly, on Monday 11 March, it used an equal number of men and women experts – with three women talking about antibiotics.

On a personal note, I recently took part in a radio debate on 5 Live Breakfast with the irrepressible Nicky Campbell. There was one male and two female experts when I joined them at 9.30am. But for the next half hour, every caller was a man. Maybe it’s time we turned our attention to the self styled experts at home.

Lis Howell is taking a year’s sabbatical from her role as director of broadcasting at City University to focus on the campaign to champion the use of women experts on TV.

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