Incoming DG Tony Hall must take note of Today’s 12:1 male/female ratio, says Lis Howell
This month, we monitored the week beginning 19 November, looking at BBC News At Ten, Radio 4’s Today programme, Sky News at 9pm and ITV News At Ten.
We also looked at the number of female reporters and correspondents appearing on the BBC programmes. The stats are shocking.
On Monday 19 November, BBC News At Ten once again had no female interviewees at all. It had 10 male interviewees, three of whom were politicians and two sportsmen, with nine being cast as clear authority figures. The stories covered were varied and of general human interest (including Gaza, the floods, Obama in Burma, and the Welsh government).
The rest of the week panned out at the usual ratio of four men to every woman expert, except for Wednesday, when the issue of women bishops, cycling accidents and the Rochdale sex-grooming case improved the ratio to near parity.
But BBC News At Ten continues to be the weakest TV programme monitored in its representation of women. Female correspondents and reporters (in-house journalists) are also outnumbered at around four men to one woman.
So even with their own staff, the BBC cannot meet the 30% that many commentators argue is a realistic proportion of female authority figures. Surely someone at the BBC is going to have to respond to this soon?
The Today programme didn’t do well this week either. Monday and Thursday had no female experts at all in the hour we monitored, from 7am to 8am. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, the average was five men to one woman.
There was also a dearth of female correspondents. Stephanie Flanders (economics) made an appearance, as did Caroline Hawley (international development) and Rebecca Jones (arts), but in this week there were around 35 reports from male correspondents and only three from women. This is nearly 12 to one – three times as bad as on BBC News At Ten, where at least the women were seen.
The Today programme ratio is unbelievable in a profession where, at entry level, there is a majority of women. Tony Hall – you must take note. Operatic heroines have a higher survival rate than female reporters on Today.
Across the board on every programme we monitored, the stories about the BBC director general and associated TV stories were dominated by men; even cultural secretary Maria Miller made only fleeting appearances. In the area that matters most to BBC TV executives, women barely got a look-in. Shame on you, BBC.
Spirit in the Sky
By contrast, the 9pm Sky News told a much stronger story. On three days, there were equal numbers of male and female experts and the other two days were 4:1 and 2:1, so over the week these stats easily beat the 30% desirable proportion of female experts.
Sadly, Sky’s ratio of male to female journalists wasn’t so good, averaging six male reporters to every female reporter. So there is still a long way to go on that score. But credit where it’s due – the number of female experts was nevertheless impressive.
We had some difficulty with the data on ITV News At Ten. The average ratio of male to female experts this week appears to be three to one, which compares very favourably with the BBC figures in the same slot. But the number of experts overall was smaller than on the other news programmes, and the number of victims or contributors (for example, members of the public involved in news stories) was higher by around 20%.
We did have some difficulty retrieving five full days of data, so we will endeavour to monitor ITV News at Ten in detail against the BBC figures next month. On a casual showing, though, the BBC is lagging behind both ITV and Sky when it comes to female contributors and reporters. Next month, just to see what we find, we will monitor all female voices on these programmes, not just the experts
The BBC, then, is still on the naughty step and unfortunately is not showing any signs of mending its ways. The other broadcasters demonstrate at the very least that the women experts are out there. So what could the BBC’s excuse possibly be for not using them?
Lis Howell is director of broadcasting at City University, London.