Women in news and current affairs broadcasting - Communications Committee Contents

Women in news and current affairs broadcasting


Our inquiry

1.  Women make up 51 per cent of the population of the UK,[1] but they are underrepresented in many areas of the media. We acknowledge that there are other groups who are not proportionately represented in the media such as disabled people and black and minority ethnic people. These are, however, minority groups. It is the underrepresentation of the majority of the population that is the subject of this inquiry.

2.  We have focused on women in news and current affairs broadcasting, rather than the representation of women in the media as a whole, because of the genre's wide reach and important role in shaping public perception and national life.

3.  We were motivated to undertake this inquiry because we believed that there was a problem in the industry which did not appear to be being addressed. Although the small number of high-profile female appointments mean that, on the surface, the issue appears to have been resolved, in reality, statistics show that there is more work to be done.

4.  We recognise that the underrepresentation of women is an issue in business and society more broadly and that there is a continuing need for gender equality to be improved in many public and private sector organisations.

Overview of the current situation for women in news and current affairs broadcasting

5.  There have long been concerns about the representation of women in television and radio news and current affairs broadcasting with respect to employment, casting and participation. Studies have focused on two key issues: the first is the representation of women who work within the broadcasting industry on news and current affairs—either on air (as presenters or reporters) or behind the scenes (in newsgathering production or corporate affairs). The second issue is the representation of women as experts on news and current affairs programmes.


6.  At first glance the statistics on the representation of women are encouraging. Data from the BBC showed that 48.8 per cent of their total workforce were women; and 47.5 per cent of those working in the field of news and current affairs broadcasting were women.[2] ITN and ITV had similar numbers of female staff.[3] Figures from Creative Skillset,[4] a UK-wide strategic skills body, showed that in television, women represented 51 per cent of the newsgathering and presentation workforce and 44 per cent of the production workforce.[5] In radio, these figures were 44 per cent and 38 per cent respectively. Academics have acknowledged that the representation of women in news and current affairs has been improving, albeit at a slow rate.[6]

7.  Nevertheless, a closer look at what women are actually doing in news and current affairs broadcasting shows that they are still significantly underrepresented in key areas and roles.

8.  The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP)[7] has, since 1995, collected data on the representation of women in news media across the world. Its 2010 report monitored 108 countries over one day (10 November 2010), and found that, although women made up around 51 per cent of presenters in the UK, they were underrepresented as news reporters, making up only 30 per cent of television reporters and only 36 per cent of radio reporters.[8] Furthermore, it has been well documented that although women make up a significant share of broadcasters' workforces, they are underrepresented in flagship news. One study showed that there were three male reporters in flagship news for every female reporter.[9] Data from Sound Women, a network set up to promote women in radio, indicated that women presenting alone are more likely to be on air at weekends than during the week, and that during peak time breakfast and drive time hours, only 1 in 8 solo voices on radio was female.[10]

9.  Statistics showed that women tended to cover "softer" news stories. For example, the 2010 GMMP study showed that in the UK women made up only 15 per cent of reporters covering news stories related to government and politics, and only 27 per cent of reporters covering stories related to the economy, while they made up 48 per cent of reporters covering stories related to "celebrity, arts, media and sports."[11]

10.  Evidence from Creative Skillset also suggested that women are less well represented at senior levels in production and corporate roles in television and radio broadcasting.[12] This picture was reinforced by a 2011 report by the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF)[13] which looked at the representation of women in the television, radio and newspaper media. It found that in the UK, women working in the news media faced a "glass ceiling" that was fixed at the junior professional level. It also found that in terms of salary, women in the UK were compensated at rates relatively similar to those of men at the "average low range" but were seriously under compensated at most "average high" salary ranges.[14]

11.  The view that a "glass ceiling" prevents women from reaching senior positions in news and current affairs broadcasting is borne out by the BBC's figures for women in leadership positions. 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.[15] Figures from Ofcom, the regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, show that this is reflected in the industry more widely; in 2010 women made up 43.9 per cent of the total industry workforce, but only 36.2 per cent of senior managers and 26.2 per cent of board members.[16] In Chapter 3 we consider the underrepresentation of women as employees in the broadcast news and current affairs industry in more detail.


12.  Women are also poorly represented as experts. The 2010 GMMP study found that, in the UK, women made up only 26 per cent of the people interviewed as experts or commentators and 26 per cent of those interviewed as spokespersons.[17] A recent report found that, in a typical month, about 72 per cent of BBC 'Question Time' contributors were men and 84 per cent of reporters and guests on Radio 4's Today programme were men.[18] We recognise that for some expert interviews, for example with the current Prime Minister, it is not possible to select a woman.

13.  We consider in detail the problems faced by women as experts in Chapter 4.


14.  Although the figures give an indication of the situation for women in news and current affairs broadcasting, it is difficult to get an accurate picture. Broadcasters provided us with their own data on the gender of their employees and experts, but they collected the data in different ways and used different metrics. For example, the BBC categorised the data according to gender and department, while other broadcasters categorised the data according to gender and role.[19] The broadcasters also used different role categories.[20] This made comparison difficult.

15.  Some witnesses argued that this lack of comparable data posed a problem for building solutions to the issue of gender balance in news and current affairs broadcasting.[21] We address this problem and possible solutions to it in Chapter 5.

Comparisons in Europe and beyond


16.  Respondents observed that in some countries outside the UK women were better represented in news and current affairs broadcasting.

17.  Dr Cynthia Carter, senior lecturer at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University, told the Committee that, "Nordic countries,[22] especially Sweden and Norway, are somewhat more successful than the UK in terms of gender representation on screen and in the production of news, current affairs and factual broadcasting".[23] She cited the 2011 IWMF report, which showed that women were found to occupy 43.3 per cent of the senior professional jobs, 42.6 per cent of the middle management jobs and 40.5 per cent of the production and design jobs. However, the report could not identify the reasons for this.[24]

18.  Dr Carter suggested that the relative success enjoyed by Nordic countries was a result of the combination of greater cultural acceptance of women in the newsroom, national gender policies on work, maternity and paternity leave, and training for reporters.[25] Professor Karen Ross, Professor of Media at Northumbria University, said that, "the reasons things work better in the Scandinavian[26] countries is because there is a genuine cultural attitude, not simply within broadcasting, but within the country more generally, that equality is in and of itself a good thing".[27]

19.  The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) told us that women in news and current affairs broadcasting were also better represented in Estonia and Lithuania than the UK. It cited a UNESCO study, which found that as far back as 1995, women in Estonia and Lithuania had reached 50 per cent of the workforce.[28] However, the NUJ and Professor Ross made clear that the high representation of women in such countries was not necessarily positive.[29] The NUJ pointed out that in countries which were formerly members of the Soviet Union, the profession had "an altogether different status from that in Western Europe".[30] It said that in some of the countries where women were well represented, the profession of journalism could be referred to as, in the words of the NUJ, "feminised".[31] At the very least, this demonstrates that it is difficult to compare the situation in different countries looking solely at statistics.

20.  In any case, a 2012 report by the International Federation of Journalists found that, regardless of the share of the female workforce in news and current affairs broadcasting, women were still not in receipt of the same level of remuneration as men. It looked at data in 16 countries (within Europe and beyond)[32] and found that, although almost 40 per cent of all working journalists in these countries were women, in none of them did female journalists' wages and benefits equal those of male journalists.[33]


21.  The Government told us that in a number of countries across the world, women were also underrepresented as experts. It referred to a 2013 study by the Economic and Social Research Council[34] which found that in the 10 countries surveyed[35] news coverage was heavily weighted towards male news sources, with women only interviewed or cited in 30 per cent of TV news stories. The report also found that in all 10 countries, female sources tended only to appear in longer news items and were preferred for soft news topics such as family, lifestyle and culture.

Representation of women outside news and current affairs broadcasting

22.  A number of respondents noted that the underrepresentation of women was not simply an issue relating to news and current affairs broadcasting. They made clear to the Committee that women were underrepresented in the wider media sector and in other areas of industry and society.[36]

23.  Government figures published in October 2014 showed that the current percentage of women on the boards of UK FTSE 100 companies was 22.8 per cent.[37] A 2014 report by the Centre for Women and Democracy showed that women were underrepresented in a number of areas, including in the Government, where they made up just 23 per cent of cabinet ministers.[38] Astute Radio, a not-for-profit radio platform which represents women, observed that "Business and industries such as STEM[39] also experience gender imbalances."[40]

24.  Evidence from Ofcom suggested that the number of women on boards in the broadcast industry was increasing. It referred to a 2011 report by the Broadcast Equality and Training Regulator (BETR)[41] which had found that, "over the last five years the [broadcasting] industry has maintained and built upon its representation of women in board and senior roles, outperforming FTSE 100 companies."[42] The report showed that in 2010, 26 per cent of board roles were held by women, compared with 22.6 per cent in 2005, and that 36 per cent of senior managers were women, compared with 34.5 per cent in 2005.[43]

25.  Although these figures show a promising increase in the number of women represented in broadcasting at board level, they also suggest that change is happening at a slower rate in broadcasting than in the business sector. The number of women on FTSE 100 boards has increased by 10 per cent in four years,[44] as compared to an increase of just over 3 per cent in five years in the broadcasting industry.

News and current affairs broadcasters—a particular responsibility?

26.  A number of witnesses broached the question of whether news and current affairs broadcasters had a particular responsibility to ensure gender balance, because of the genre's impact on society.[45] Respondents suggested that the reach of news and current affairs broadcasting, and its ability to shape opinion meant that gender balance was more important in this sector than in others.[46] Astute Radio acknowledged that there were issues of gender balance in other industries, but said:

    "the nature of the [news and current affairs] industry is important … News and current affairs aims to inform, reach and engage large audiences … [and] … can also shape public opinion. For these reasons we believe that news and current affairs broadcasting must accurately reflect the levels of female expertise and authority in society".[47]

The Government agreed with this view, stressing the role of the media in "perpetuating or challenging cultural and societal norms."[48]

27.  Respondents also pointed to the role that the news and current affairs media could play in reinforcing, challenging or creating negative gender stereotypes.[49] The Government cited a study which indicated that stories by female reporters were more likely to challenge gender stereotypes than those by male reporters. It stated that women working in the media could play an important role by offering a "balanced perspective" to their male colleagues.[50]

28.  There are many issues in which women may be more interested than men. It is therefore important to have a gender balance off as well as on air to ensure the discussion of a wide range of issues. Channel 4 gave evidence about the role female journalists such as Cathy Newman had in ensuring that female-focused stories were brought to the fore. ITV stated that recent coverage of the debate on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation "would probably not have been presented so openly and frankly a decade ago".[51] Similarly, ITN said that on issues such as childcare costs or family budgets, women were judged to "have 'merit' to speak with authority."[52] This suggests that it is important to have women in newsgathering roles, whether on or off air.

29.  We agree with witnesses that the reach of news and current affairs broadcasting and its propensity to shape social norms mean that there is a particular responsibility on news and current affairs broadcasters to reflect society. The involvement of women in newsgathering roles on and off air is central to achieving this, through offering a balanced perspective.

30.  Other witnesses focused on the gender balance on air. Respondents broadly agreed that news and current affairs broadcasters had a responsibility to ensure that the gender balance on air broadly reflected the audience.[53]

31.  Channel 5 said that the "news is distinct because it has to report on the issues of the day" but maintained that all genres of programmes "need to reflect the diversity of modern Britain."[54] ITN told the Committee that, "it is both an ethical and a commercial imperative to be better representative of the audience we serve … when people watching [ITN] see people on screen that they can identify with and see are like themselves … that makes it a stronger programme".[55] The BBC agreed that "we do have a special responsibility because it's about portraying society properly."[56]

32.  Magic Radio's DJ Angie Greaves highlighted the fact that the majority of the radio and TV audience were women. She said, "It's always baffled me why the majority of listeners to radio are women, but they're a minority of presenters."[57]

33.  Broadcasters should ensure a gender balance in their wider workforce to facilitate coverage of issues which affect both men and women in varied ways.

Public Service Broadcasters' responsibilities

34.  There are two types of broadcasters in the UK; the Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs)[58] and the commercial sector broadcasters. The PSBs have a statutory duty under section 337 of the Communications Act 2003 to promote equality of opportunity. This statutory requirement is not applicable to the commercial broadcasters, although they are subject to equality law which applies to all private companies. We explain the intricacies of this in Chapter 2.

35.  We consider, because news and current affairs has such scope to inform society, that all broadcasters have a duty of responsibility in this area. PSBs, including the BBC, have a particular responsibility because of the statutory benefits they receive.[59]

36.  Some respondents said that the BBC had a particular responsibility to reflect its audience on as well as off air. The BBC Trust told us that although it was important to "benchmark" across the industry, "the BBC has a special onus on it to really reflect the licence fee payer."[60] The BBC also accepted that, because of its funding model, it had a greater responsibility in this area than the other broadcasters. Fran Unsworth, Deputy Director of News and Current Affairs at the BBC said, "Everybody pays the licence fee, so therefore everybody has the right to see themselves reflected back in our editorial choices and in how we present what we are doing."[61]

37.  Jane Martinson, Chair of Women in Journalism (a network for women in print media) and Women's editor of the Guardian, told us that licence fee payers should be the focal point for the BBC.[62] In discussing wage differentials between men and women across the industry, the NUJ compared the BBC with the other broadcasters saying, "the BBC … is a public body and it should have much higher standards".[63]

38.  The BBC receives funding from a universal licence fee, paid by public households that watch live TV. The other Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) receive certain statutory benefits. Therefore, the BBC and other PSBs have a responsibility to reflect society by setting the standard in ensuring gender balance. We consider that, because news and current affairs has such scope to inform society, all broadcasters have a particular duty of responsibility in this area.


39.  We would like to thank everyone who gave evidence to us, both at oral evidence sessions, which we held between October and December 2014, and in writing. We also wish to thank our Specialist Advisers, Professor Lis Howell and Andrew Worthley, whose expertise greatly enhanced our work.

1   Office for National Statistics, '2011 Census': http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/population-and-household-estimates-for-the-united-kingdom/stb-2011-census--population-estimates-for-the-united-kingdom.html [accessed 7 January 2015] Back

2   The total BBC workforce and News and Current Affairs figures cover the period August 2013-September 2014. Written evidence from the BBC (WNC0021).  Back

3   Written evidence from ITV (WNC0017) and ITN (WNC0014) Back

4   Creative Skillset is a UK-wide strategic skills body that works with employers, individuals, trade associations, unions, learning and training providers, Government and other key organisations to ensure that the UK's Creative Industries have access now, and in the future, to the skills and talent they require. Back

5   Written evidence from Creative Skillset (WNC0015). These figures represent a snapshot of the gender balance across the industry over one day (4 July 2012) for editorial journalism and sport. Back

6   Karen Ross and Cynthia Carter, 'Women and news: a long and winding road', Media, Culture and Society, vol. 33, (2011) p.1149: http://mcs.sagepub.com/content/33/8/1148.abstract [accessed 7 January 2015] Back

7   Global Media Monitoring Project, Who makes the news? (2010): http://www.genderclearinghouse.org/upload/Assets/Documents/pdf/gmmp_global_report_en.pdf [accessed 7 January 2015] Back

8   Ibid. Back

9   City University website, 'Women on Air': http://www.city.ac.uk/centre-for-law-justice-and-journalism/projects/women-on-air [accessed 7 January 2015] Back

10   Written evidence from Sound Women (WNC0005) Back

11   Who makes the news? Back

12   Written evidence from Creative Skillset (WNC0015) Back

13   International Women's Media Foundation, Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media (2011): http://www.iwmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/IWMF-Global-Report-Summary.pdf [accessed 7 January 2015]. It should be noted that this study also included gender balance in the print media, which is outside the scope of this inquiry.  Back

14   Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media Back

15   The figures for leadership in Network News and Global News are taken from the BBC's Employee Information Appendices Profile Data for the year up to September 2013. Written evidence from the BBC (WNC0021) Back

16   Written evidence from Ofcom (WNC0007) Back

17   Who makes the news? Back

18   Fawcett Society, Sex and Power 2013: Who Runs Britain? (2013): http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Sex-and-Power-2013-FINAL-REPORT.pdf [accessed 7 January 2015] Back

19   Written evidence from ITN (WNC0014), Sky (WNC0003), ITV (WNC0017), BBC (WNC0021) and Channel 5 (WNC0008) Back

20   Ibid. Back

21    QQ5-9 (Professor Ross),  Q58 (Penny Marshall),  QQ11-14 (Jane Martinson), written evidence from NUJ (WNC0006), and Creative Skillset (WNC0015) Back

22   Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Back

23   Written evidence from Dr Cynthia Carter (WNC0012) citing Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media Back

24   Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media Back

25   Written evidence from Dr Cynthia Carter (WNC0012)  Back

26   Norway, Denmark and Sweden: which are also part of the Nordic group of countries that includes Finland. Back

27    Q9 (Professor Ross) Back

28   Written evidence from the NUJ (WNC0006) Back

29   Written evidence from NUJ (WNC0006) and  QQ5-9 (Professor Ross) Back

30   Written evidence from the NUJ (WNC0006) Back

31    Q17 Back

32   Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Netherlands, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. Back

33   Central European Labour Studies Institute, Gender Pay Gap in Journalism: Wage Indicator Global Report (2012): http://www.loonwijzer.nl/home/documents/120307-IFJ-WageIndicator-PayGap-Journos-2009-2011.pdf [accessed 7 January 2015] Back

34   Written evidence from Government Equalities Office (WNC0020), citing Curran, James et al., Gender Matters Globally: An Examination of Gaps in Political Knowledge in a 10-Nation Comparative Study (2013) Back

35   Australia, Canada, Colombia, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. Back

36   Written evidence from Dr Cynthia Carter (WNC0012), Astute Radio (WNC0009), Government Equalities Office (WNC0020) and Sky (WNC0003) Back

37   Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Women on boards 6 months monitoring report (2014): https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/363077/bis-14-1121-women-on-boards-6-months-monitoring-report-october-2014.pdf [accessed 7 January 2015] Back

38   Centre for Women and Democracy, Sex and Power 2014: Who runs Britain? (2014): http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Sex-and-Power-2014.pdf [accessed 7 January 2015] Back

39   STEM refers to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Back

40   Written evidence from Astute Radio (WNC0009) Back

41   See Chapter 2 for more information about the BETR. Back

42   Written evidence from Ofcom (WNC0007) citing Broadcast Equality & Training Regulator, Training & Skills and Equal Opportunities Report 2010 (2011): http://www.betr.org.uk/documents/BETR-Report-2010.pdf [accessed 8 January 2015] Back

43   Ibid. Back

44   Lord Davies of Abersoch, Women on Boards (2011): https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/31480/11-745-women-on-boards.pdf [accessed 7 January 2015]. In 2010 women made up only 12.5 per cent of the members of the corporate boards of FTSE 100 companies. Back

45   Written evidence from Astute Radio (WNC0009), Dr Cynthia Carter (WNC0012), Government Equalities Office (WNC0020), Sky (WNC0003) and  Q21 (ITN) Back

46   Written evidence from Astute Radio (WNC0009) and Government Equalities Office (WNC0020) Back

47   Written evidence from Astute Radio (WNC0009) Back

48   Written evidence from Government Equalities Office (WNC0020) Back

49   Written evidence from Government Equalities Office (WNC0020), Astute Radio (WNC0009), and Dr Josephine Dolan and Professor Estella Tincknell (WNC0018) Back

50   Written evidence from Government Equalities Office (WNC0020) Back

51   Written evidence from Channel 4 (WNC0019) Back

52   Written evidence from ITN (WNC0014) Back

53   Q11 (NUJ),  Q12 (Jane Martinson),  Q21 (BBC, Sky and ITN),  Q39 (Sonita Alleyne), written evidence from Channel 5 (WNC0008) and Sound Women (WNC0005) Back

54   Written evidence from Channel 5 (WNC0008)  Back

55    Q21 Back

56    Q31. See also our report on Media Plurality (Select Committee on Communications, Media Plurality (1st Report, Session 2013-14, HL Paper 120) in which we said, "if there is sufficient media plurality, we can expect that citizens have the opportunity to be informed through access to a diversity of viewpoints". Back

57   Written evidence from Sound Women (WNC0005) Back

58   BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C. Back

59   See Chapter 2. Back

60    Q39 Back

61    Q21 Back

62    Q12 Back

63    Q11 Back

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