Women in news and current affairs broadcasting - Communications Committee Contents
CHAPTER 4: WOMEN AS EXPERTS AND PARTICIPANTS
Representation of female experts
132. The lack of consistent and specific terminology
used by the industry makes understanding the data on the gender
balance of experts difficult. Words such as expert, contributor
and guest are often used interchangeably. None of the broadcasters
provided their definitions of these terms in their written evidence.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "expert" as "One
whose special knowledge or skill causes him to be regarded as
an authority; a specialist."
Women in Journalism defined expert as "anyone speaking/mentioned
in their professional capacity, i.e., politicians, sports pundits,
health professionals, business executives, and so on."
133. The main external source of data on this
topic is a study carried out by City University. This is an ongoing
study which monitors the same programmes for the same week every
month. The definition
they used was "any interviewee used for her or his knowledge,
expertise or achievement we don't class case study or vox
pop contributors as experts."
134. The first set of data from City University's
study was published in 2012. It led to several broadcasters signing
a pledge to improve their ratio from nearly 5:1 to 3:1. Those
signed up to the pledge included Channel 4 and Sky News.
The latest data from this study, published in 2014, found that
across flagship news programmes
male experts outnumbered female experts by 4:1. These data were
gathered from a period covering January and February 2014.
135. However, these data contrasted with the
more encouraging figures provided by the broadcasters. ITV told
us that on ITV National News, for the period most recently measured
(which they did not specify), 41 per cent of contributors to news
stories were female. On ITV's current affairs programmes, guests,
contributors and experts over the past year were 48 per cent female
and 52 per cent male.
It was unable to provide figures for the regions as it was in
the process of implementing a new standardised monitoring system
across the regions in order to increase the number of female contributors.
136. Channel 5 did not make a distinction between
"expert" and "contributor". It stated that
over a three month period, 42 per cent of the main contributors
to 5 News were women and that, in the period cited, there were
an equal number of panellists on its flagship current affairs
show, The Wright Stuff.
137. The BBC did not provide us with any data
on female experts. City University's study showed the male to
female ratio of experts on BBC News at Ten was almost 5:1 and
on the Today programme, almost 4:1.
138. The problem of definition was compounded
by the use of different reporting periods, which rendered meaningful
analysis and comparisons difficult. Channel 4 stated that for
the months of June, July and August 2014 its news programme had
an expert contributor ratio of 2:1.
However the academic data from City University for January and
February of the same year found the ratio was 5:1.
139. A similar study by Women in Journalism was
conducted into the print media.
The study analysed the front pages of the major national daily
newspapers. It discovered that out of the sample of women, "some
61 per cent of them were mentioned or quoted in their capacity
as 'experts'" and "corresponding figures for men were:
82 per cent, 'experts'."
140. As we discuss in more detail in Chapter
5, it is our view that standardised monitoring and reporting is
Why is this a potential problem?
141. As we indicated in Chapter 1, paragraph 27,
we received a considerable amount of evidence about the negative
consequences of an unequal gender representation in news and current
affairs. Several respondents pointed to the role news and current
affairs plays in providing role models for society. Astute Radio
emphasised the importance of female experts in this connection,
writing that, "Authority figures are role models and it is
imperative to give confidence and inspiration for girls who may
want to become experts in particular fields many experts
were influenced to enter their field of expertise because
of role models they encountered during their lives, including
on television and radio."
142. As expressed in Chapter 1, paragraph 26,
a majority of witnesses agreed that news and current affairs had
a particular responsibility to reflect society and that the BBC
had a greater responsibility in this area than the other broadcasters,
because of its funding structure.
A lack of female experts in society?
143. A number of witnesses told us that there
could only be a roughly equal number of female and male experts
appearing on television and the radio if there was a roughly equal
number of male and female experts in society.
Fran Unsworth explained, "some of the people you will be
putting on air are self-selecting. There is not much you can do
about the fact that the Governor of the Bank of England is a man
or the Prime Minister."
144. The overriding view from the broadcasters
was that an "underrepresentation of women in British public
life" prevented them from a better representation of women
There was consensus among the broadcasters who appeared as witnesses
that there was a "supply problem."
145. Sky provided a case study from Budget Day
2014 when they had almost a 50-50 split between male and female
contributors. It said it had achieved this by, "going beyond
Westminster to small businesses, to families, to areas where we
are more likely to find female guests and experts."
However, it said that this had proved to be "very challenging".
146. Research conducted by City University found
that two agencies providing expert witnesses for courts reported
a 70/30 per cent male to female ratio.
This suggests that the disparity in the use of experts in news
and current affairs is larger than in some other industries in
which experts are used.
147. We received evidence that women are underrepresented
in several areas of professional society including business and
meant that it was less likely that there were female experts on
these subjects. This was borne out by a BBC Trust review published
in 2011 which
found that only 17 per cent of science contributors to news were
148. Other witnesses rejected the idea that there
was a lack of female experts. Professor Ross, said that there
were many available female experts, but "the problem is getting
them on air".
Creative Skillset pointed out that "it is the barriers to
entry and progression that are problematic in achieving diversity
and inclusion in broadcasting, rather than the lack of talent."
149. We examine possible reasons for this difficulty
Barriers to equality of representation?
150. Professor Ross said that there was
a tendency for those in decision-making roles tend to appoint
people similar to themselves. The impact of this was that journalists
tended to rely on a narrow range of sources, "most of whom
are white, middle-class and middle-aged professional males".
151. Broadcasters claimed that the companies
or organisations had to accept some responsibility for the gender
imbalance amongst experts. ITV told us that:
"When offering a speaker for interview,
companies are most likely to suggest their most senior member
of staff, who is often a man. Indeed, it is often policy to allow
only their most senior staff to speak on camera We find
we have to proactively seek women experts."
152. Witnesses also pointed to the nature of
news broadcasting as a possible reason for the inequality. In
her evidence Professor Ross suggested that one of the issues
was the fast-paced nature of a news environment, which meant that
it was easier for producers to contact tried and trusted experts
that they knew would be reliable.
ITN shared this view saying that, "There is often very little
time in newsrooms to spend time discussing who our best contributors
Unsworth of the BBC echoed this saying that, "producers up
against deadlines reach for their contacts book and they go for
the tried and tested".
153. Sky reminded us that 24 hour news channels
face a greater challenge because they work "at a faster pace
to other news programmes".
It is clear that news programmes must be produced at greater speed
than other factual genres and that this can impact on the ability
to consider the gender balance of contributors.
154. Other witnesses pointed to a confidence
gap between men and women which led to fewer women putting themselves
forward as experts. A number of respondents suggested that men
generally have more self-belief than women. Liz Leonard stated,
"As a producer, I have noticed a reluctance on the
part of women experts to put themselves forward, even when
they are more knowledgeable than their male counterpart."
155. Similarly, the BBC told the Committee that
research had shown that women were more likely than men to consider
themselves "not expert enough". Professor Ross
observed that women often needed "a little bit more nurturing
and encouraging", which was difficult for producers under
time constraints to provide.
156. A number of witnesses cited financial pressures
as a reason for the gender inequality amongst experts. Creative
Skillset said that "Lower budgets and other pressures in
news production and broadcasting in general may often be a barrier
for using new people, rather than 'those already in the system'."
157. Liz Leonard explained that "As production
budgets have been slashed, pressures to identify contributors
as quickly as possible have increased. It takes time to both identify
and nurture new female talent."
158. We were interested to learn that the publicity
and notoriety which may result from television and radio appearances
can deter women in greater numbers than it does men. City University's
study showed that, "71 per cent [of women] said lack of self-confidence
and fear of criticism deterred them from appearing as experts."
159. There have been several recent incidents
of online abuse of female presenters and experts. Fran Unsworth
explained that, "There is a level of abuse sometimes that
people get when they put themselves forward. Not everybody is
up for this and all credit to the ones who have stood up to it,
such as Mary Beard, who defended herself and raised it as
Voluntary initiatives to address
160. There are no mandatory obligations imposed
on the broadcasters related to the gender balance of experts.
We received evidence about a number of voluntary initiatives.
161. The BBC Academy ran training days for female
experts in 2013 in London, Salford, Glasgow and Cardiff. The result
of these training days was that 164 women joined the BBC Expert
Women database. 73 of those women have gone on to make about 347
appearances (195 on radio and 152 on television).
We are not aware of any plans to repeat the initiative.
162. The BBC also ran the '100 Women' project
which was a season of special reports, programmes and discussion
held throughout October 2013. It culminated in a global conference
where 100 women from around the world assembled at New Broadcasting
House in London to discuss some of the crucial issues facing women
163. ITV is a member and current Chair of the
CDN. It said it has "Regional Diversity Panels to strengthen
links with the communities we serve, along with a Diversity Champion
in each region".
164. Broadcast Magazine ran an Expert Women campaign
which encouraged the TV and radio industry to sign a pledge to
increase the number of female experts interviewed on screen.
165. The broadcasters were concerned about the
impact any mandatory measures might have on editorial independence.
In discussing the possibility of quotas, John Hardie of ITN said
that, "we also are mindful of the importance of the
freedom of journalistic expression. We want to make sure
the editor is putting on television exactly the contributors they
believe will tell the story and do the news best that day."
Fran Unsworth of the BBC echoed this, "It is best if one
sticks to the idea that we are going to give the audience the
person who explains their point of view in the best possible way."
Nonetheless, she stated that the BBC had adopted voluntary measures.
166. Sky, uniquely amongst the broadcasters,
had "set an internal target to have 35 per cent of female
guest experts represented on screen."
This increased the number of contributors from 22 per cent pre-2012
to over 35 per cent. The BBC Trust were in favour of targets as
a "managerial tool" but not as a "governance tool".
167. Respondents discussed agencies and directories
which sought to encourage broadcasters to use more female experts,
in particular 'The Women's Room', a database for expert women.
Dr Carter concluded that this database had been unsuccessful
because companies were unaware of it.
168. Some broadcasters told us that they did
not use agencies or directories.
Channel 5 said that, "Our news programme has contact with
a wide range of experts, many of them women, and does not feel
the need to go to a specialist agency."
ITV did refer to The Women's Room, but only as "a useful
169. We recognise the problems of using mandatory
quotas. Given the dangers quotas could pose to editorial content,
we do not recommend the use of mandatory quotas for female experts
in broadcast news and current affairs at this time. If no progress
is made in this regard the issue of quotas should be revisited.
Broadcasters should create internal databases to ensure they have
enough female experts represented in news and current affairs
programmes. Where internal databases prove inadequate, they should
be supplemented by external databases.
Portrayal of women in broadcast
news and current affairs
170. Evidence from a number of witnesses suggested
that, when women are featured on news and current affairs programmes,
it is often in a way which perpetuates stereotypes. ITN told us
that on Channel 5 News, female experts dominated topics such as
education, parenting and health.
The Government's evidence backed this up, citing a study of 10
countries (including the UK) which showed that female sources
tended only to appear in longer news items and were preferred
for "soft" news topics such as family, lifestyle and
171. The figures relating to political news were
particularly stark. City University discovered "Ten times
more men experts than women experts are interviewed about politics,
but only twice as many men experts are interviewed about health,
in 38 programmes sampled."
Box 3 shows the data from this study categorised by topic.
172. Dr Carter cited a study
which found that women are often portrayed as, "victim, wife,
mother, daughter, or sister of a famous man, so not in their own
right for their own accomplishments." She suggested that
the under-representation of women contributed to a negative portrayal
of women in the media: "women's under representation at senior
professional and management levels has an impact on what is reported
in the news and how it is reportedin ways that typically
marginalise women's voices in the news."
173. The Government agreed with Dr Carter's
view, saying that unbalanced gender portrayals can perpetuate
cultural norms about what society expects of men and women. In
its evidence it referred to a recent All Party Parliamentary Group
(APPG) on Women in Parliament which found that the negative way
in which female parliamentarians are represented in the media
was a significant barrier to increasing the number of female candidates.
174. We do not consider an increase in the
number of women featured in news and current affairs broadcasting
enough. Broadcasters have a responsibility to ensure that women
receive parity of treatment.
175. The BBC told us that it had recently started
monitoring female portrayal and representation on its Wales
Today programme with the aim of ensuring that audiences are
more fairly reflected.
176. We commend the Wales Today scheme
to monitor female portrayal and would like to see it rolled out