Tory MP Dorries brought the Commons debate, Gender Balance in Broadcasting yesterday. You can read the debate in full at Theyworkforyou.com
Using figures gathered by Guardian writer Kira Cochrane and anecdotal evidence from a well-known male BBC broadcaster; Dorries attacked the BBC’s dearth of women, particularly women over 50, on both their radio stations and TV channels.
I am loath to pick any holes in Dorries’s argument here. TV, radio and Newspapers are all clearly dominated by men and you don’t have to check Cochrane’s figures to know that.
However, considering the Today programme’s John Humphrys has been vocal about his wish for more women presenters on the show in a Guardian feature, "…it's regrettable that too many weeks go by without a female presenter. We've only ever had one at a time. I don't know why it is, the editors are constantly looking." Without his career coming to a sudden end I doubt this anonymous broadcaster need live in such fear.
Of course it is necessary this debate be brought up in the Commons and used to provoke more thought about women’s presence on the Radio and TV. To suggest male employees of the BBC and the ‘broadcasting arena’ live in fear of losing their job over mentioning equal opportunities is an absurd smear upon the BBC.
Dorries cited the classic combination of older man/younger women presenting couples (I am not able to handle the thought of Philip Schofield taking the part of older man, I remember the CBBC Broom cupboard) and all TV channels’ apparent aversion to middle aged women.
Oddly, whilst attempting to champion the women DJs of her youth, Dorries did not mention Sound Women. An organisation that is working tirelessly to both rectify and publicise the issues Dorries brought up. It is comprised of many BBC employees. So perhaps her interns had not been quite so thorough in their googling.
The Culture Minister Ed Vaizey did cite Sound Women, mentioning that some of Dorries’s figures were from the Sound Women site. Vaizey said he recognised the importance of the issues Dorries had brought up and was pleased to address them, saying:
“It will not surprise the House to hear that women in radio are more qualified than men, with three quarters having degrees, compared with less than two thirds of men. However, women are still paid less, by an average of £2,200 a year”
The Culture Minister does not appear to quite have it in for the BBC as Dorries does. But then, he has not had his state of breathlessness remarked upon by a BBC presenter.
The BBC is independent from the Government, as it should be. Other channels and local radio stations are equally guilty of allowing men to dominate the airwaves.
Vaizey stated his intention to organise a meeting with the director-general of the BBC Mark Thompson, Dorries and Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt. “Some people might regard it as frivolous or something that makes good copy for a parliamentary sketch, but my hon. Friend made a valid and fundamental point: we want to hear a balance of voices on the radio and to see a balance of presenters on the television.”
This is all well and good, but know this, we want a balance of voices on the radio and a balance of presenters on the television. The key word being balance. Pay attention, TV License payers and keep the BBC balanced, in gender and in politics.