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'Simply not enough women' says Lords committee report on broadcasting and current affairs

16 January 2015

Women journalists are under-represented in news and current affairs and, if TV and radio stations do not address the gender imbalance, the broadcasting regulator must have greater powers to intervene, a House of Lord's report has recommended.

The Lords Communications Committee said it was concerned about evidence to its inquiry into women in broadcasting, "suggesting that discrimination against women, particularly older women, still exists in the industry".

The committee recommended that public service broadcasters should "consider adopting a policy which promotes (but does not mandate) the use of positive action in favour of women for all relevant recruitment and promotion opportunities in broadcasting".

The report singled out the BBC, "because of its special status and its dominance as a provider of news and current affairs".  It said: "Despite the fact that women make up almost half the BBC’s total workforce, they represent only 37.3 per cent of the leadership in network news and 35.1 per cent of leadership in global news."

The NUJ welcomed the wide-ranging report, which backed many of the union's recommendations, saying it marked a very important step in recognising discrimination against women and that it sent a strong message to the industry to "ensure a gender balance in their wider workforce to facilitate coverage of issues which affect both men and women in varied ways".

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"This is a very important and comprehensive report and must be taken very seriously by the government and industry. It contains some very sound recommendations and clearly sets out the problems women journalists face because of discrimination, bullying, recruitment practices and insufficient checks on employment practices.

"It places the ball very much in Ofcom's court to ensure data on gender balance and pay is collected officially, so we can see the difference between broadcasters' recruitment polices on paper and what happens in reality.

"The report contained good practical advice. It recognised the problems women have in juggling a career in broadcasting and their childcare and family duties. It said woman should not be disadvantaged by freelance contracts. It said broadcasters must be more transparent in how they recruit and reward staff and acknowledged the shocking findings of an NUJ survey of members which showed women doing the same job as male colleagues being paid less. The peers said where appointments were made by an interview panel, it should be a mixed-gender panel."

The report took up the NUJ's suggestion that Ofcom should have a duty to monitor gender representation by broadcasting companies. The peers said:

"An industry-wide standard is urgently needed to monitor properly the rate of change in the industry. Current monitoring of the gender balance within news and current affairs broadcasting is unsatisfactory.…We therefore recommend that Ofcom uses its power under section 337 of the Communications Act 2003 to require broadcasters, through the Creative Diversity Network or otherwise, to record annually the gender balance within their organisations, in line with an industry-wide standard. This data should include information on rates of pay, age, promotion, and should be categorised by role and genre."

The data should include figures for freelance workers and should be made public.

Lord Best, chair of the committee said:

"We recommend that Ofcom should ensure the collection of all the data needed to monitor progress toward short, medium and long-term targets to ensure a better gender balance. If this hasn’t materialised within a year, we would call on Ofcom to revive the model of a separate entity such as the Broadcast Equality and Training Regulator (BETR) and delegate responsibility for gender equality issues to this body."

The BETR was established in 2005 as the broadcast industry co-regulatory body for training and skills. One of its roles was to encourage broadcasters to promote equal opportunity in employment and career development; it was closed in June 2011, with Ofcom taking on some of its responsibilities.

The report said that independent broadcasting companies providing programming for public service broadcasters should sign contracts containing obligations relating to recruitment and promotion policies.

The Lords heard from a number of journalists, including Miriam O'Reilly who won an age discrimination case against the BBC, and concluded: "The number of older women in news and current affairs broadcasting is too low. Evidence we have received suggests there is an informal culture of discrimination against older women within the BBC and other broadcasting organisations. We conclude that this culture is contributing to the lack of women in news and current affairs broadcasting."

The report said human resources departments must take responsibility for encouraging employees to identify gender-based bullying at work, so the issue can be directly addressed and suggested appointing a "women’s champion" to advise women being bullied at work. In practice, it has been union reps who have carried out this role.

The committee also argued that women were “poorly” represented as experts in news and current affairs coverage, underlining the Expert Women campaign run by Broadcast magazine in partnership with City University. It heard evidence that women made up only 26 per cent of the people interviewed as experts or commentators and 26 per cent of those interviewed as spokespersons. In a typical month, about 72 per cent of BBC's Question Time contributors were men and 84 per cent of reporters and guests on Radio 4’s Today programme were men.

Lord Best said:

“Despite the fact that women make up just over half the population, they are underrepresented, both as staff and as experts, in news and current affairs broadcasting. And although we recognise the fact that the nature of the sector means that there are additional barriers to women – for example, the fast-paced nature of news which can mean anti-social hours, and freelance work that can make it harder for women with caring responsibilities – the situation is simply not good enough.
"The fact that news has such a wide-reaching audience means that a special effort must be made by broadcasters – public service broadcasters in particular and especially the BBC because of its special status and its dominance as a provider of news and current affairs. We were also concerned about the evidence we heard suggesting that discrimination against women, particularly older women, still exists in the industry.

“We found that there isn’t enough data on the representation of women in the sector to fully understand the extent of the problem. We noted, for example, that the majority of journalism students are women, and yet there are so few of them in news and current affairs broadcasting sector. We need a robust, extensive body of data to figure out what needs to be done to address the problem."

Watch Lord Best talk about the report

Women in news and current affairs broadcasting, House of Lords select committee on communications, full report

 NUJ submission to the Lords communications committee inquiry on women in broadcasting

Tags: , women, broadcasting, gender, Lords Communications Committee, Ofcom, diversity, discrimination, bullying, radio, tv