Communications Committee: broadcasters need to ‘do more’ to encourage women into news and current affairs

Sky NewsThe communications committee’s report, Women in news and current affairs broadcasting, suggests broadcasters need to actively do more more lure women into the world of news and current affairs broadcasting.

The House of Lords group said that the BBC in particular has a “greater responsibility” to reflect its audience and despite initiatives run by broadcasters, there are still not enough women in news and current affairs broadcasting.

“Through this inquiry, it has become clear that there are simply not enough women in news and current affairs broadcasting. Although on the surface it appears that women are well represented, the facts tell a different story. We heard, for example, that men interviewed as experts outnumber women 4 to 1 on radio and TV.” – Chairman of the House of Lords Communications Committee, Lord Best

In the report however the Committee says that it acknowledges that the fast-paced nature and immediacy of news and current affairs production brings with it challenges to gender equality, but it believes that not enough is being done to enable more women to work in the genre, especially in senior positions.

“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.”  – Chairman of the House of Lords Communications Committee, Lord Best

Other recommendations made by the Committee include that television companies in the news business such as ITN, Sky and the BBC should safeguard a gender balance in their wider workforce to enable the coverage of issues which affect both men and women in varied ways and that there should be greater transparency around broadcasters’ recruitment and progression processes, and around pay and reward to ensure that, all other factors being equal, women are given the same opportunities and pay as their male colleagues.

The group also said that urgent steps should be taken by broadcasters to eradicate any opportunities for gender discrimination and bullying of any kind. Also broadcasters should have flexible working practice policies which encourage women with caring responsibilities to have fulfilling careers, and ensure that women returning from maternity leave receive appropriate support.

“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 in order to figure out what needs to be done to address the problem.” – Chairman of the House of Lords Communications Committee, Lord Best

The report goes on to say that broadcasters should consider whether obligations relating to recruitment and promotion policies should be incorporated into contracts they sign with independent production companies and because women are more affected by the requirements of freelance work, Ofcom should require broadcasters to collect data on the age and gender of the freelance workers they employ.

“We believe that, as well as broadcasters adopting more helpful and flexible practices, Ofcom should play a greater role in this area. The regulator used to play a key part in influencing broadcasters’ behaviour in this respect; but the Broadcasting Equalities and Training Regulator (BETR) was disbanded in 2011. 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 like the BETR and delegate responsibility for gender equality issues to this body.” – Chairman of the House of Lords Communications Committee, Lord Best

BBC News

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