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Broadcasters must do more to encourage women in news and current affairs broadcasting, says Lords

Despite initiatives run by broadcasters, there are still not enough women in news and current affairs broadcasting, says the House of Lords Communications Committee in its report, published today.

The Committee acknowledges that the fast-paced nature and immediacy of news and current affairs poses 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.

Chairman of the Committee, Lord Best, said:

“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.

“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 in order to figure out what needs to be done to address the problem.

“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.”

Other recommendations made by the Committee include:

  • broadcasters should safeguard a gender balance in their wider workforce to enable the coverage of issues which affect both men and women in varied ways;
  • 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;
  • urgent steps should be taken by broadcasters to eradicate any opportunities for gender discrimination and bullying of any kind;
  • 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;
  • 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.

You can watch an embargoed YouTube video of Lord Best talking about the report, its findings and recommendations.

Embargoed copies of the report are available to the media from the Lords Press Office. To request a copy, or bid for an interview with Lord Best, please email or call 020 7219 8550.

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