Wanted: burdz for Newsnight Scotland

Anyone who watches Newsnight Scotland – or #newsnicht as it is fondly referred to on Twitter – may have noticed that there is usually a dearth of burdz (or women to give us our Sunday title_ on the programme.

Aside, that is, from the regular presence of Isobel Fraser as a presenter, who does a very fine job of subtly using her lilting tones to skewer politicians and others with laser like accuracy.  Her style is way different from the bombastic one of co-presenter Gordon Brewer, who has spent years modelling himself on Jeremy Paxman and largely failing to land a blow.

The issue is particularly acute when the programme arranges one of its talking head panels, to comment on and discuss a topical issue or featured news piece.  Whenever a topical political issue is front and central – which is often – commentators such as John Curtice, Gerry Hassan, John McTernan, Bill Jamieson, Euan Crawford and Iain McWhirter are assembled, either in the studio or by feed from Edinburgh/Dundee/London/Aberdeen to contribute their views.  Which is not to denigrate nor belittle the contribution they all make, for they are all fine people for such activity.  I’d just prefer if room could be found – not occasionally, but regularly – for women commentators too.

Throughout the recent Scottish election and now as we embark on the fourth Scottish Parliamentary session, it would appear that only men are deemed intelligent enough and suitably articulate and erudite to offer the nation an opinion on the weighty matter of the day.  I am scratching my memory cells to try to recall which, if any, women have appeared on such a panel in recent months and only one comes to mind:  Joyce McMillan.

The latest example was on Monday night when BBC Scotland had secured exclusive access to analysis into the Scottish election results.  It was a very important programme examining voter attitudes and shifts in voter behaviour in the May election.

The news piece was compiled and introduced by Kenneth Macdonald, it featured interviews with report authors, Professor James Mitchell, Dr Rob Johns and Dr Chris Carman.  These latter two authors were also on the panel, along with Euan Crawford, and John McTernan from London.  If it had been a Brewer night rather than a Fraser one, we would have had a male clean sweep.

Well, the burd is mightily fed up with this state of affairs and at the prompting of others who feel similarly, is inviting views on the issue.  Does it bother you?  I’m guessing the regular male commenters on this here blog who get annoyed whenever I try to raise gender imbalance issues will say no but I live to be pleasantly surprised!  It would be good to hear others’ views as well though.

And if you are bothered, what do you think we should do about it?  Petition the BBC? Send emails of protest every time it happens?  Make a complaint to the Equality and Human Rights Commission that BBC Scotland is in breach of its equality duty – or would that frivolise the seriousness of such powers?

Most importantly of all, which women would you like to see grace the screens of Newsnight Scotland to discuss and debate the weighty – and sometimes not so – political, economic and topical issues of the day?

Oh and here is probably the divisive one – does it matter that in the main, only men are invited to talk about Things That Matter on Scotland’s flagship serious news programme?  Would having more women on panels mean different things are said or views are given?  Or is it just about ensuring that the over 50% of the population who might have a view on such things are appropriately represented, whether or not their opinion differs?

Post your thoughts on the comment thread below, email them to burdzeyeview@hotmail.co.uk or tweet them to @burdzeyeview.  I will add them as updates to this here blogpiece over the next few days.

And if I have totally misjudged the “mood of the nation” on this one and no one cares enough to share their thoughts?  Well, I’ll don my pinny and the next blogpost will be on baking.  You have been warned….




18 thoughts on “Wanted: burdz for Newsnight Scotland

  1. Kate Higgins, Nicola McEwen, Alice Brown, Sheena Wellington. Whatever happened to Lorraine Mann? Probably back in the morning with a few more!

    • Liking all but the first! Definitely Nicola and what indeed has happened to Lorraine Mann? And your good self? You’d be great – you could be foreign correspondent!

      • Oooh no, but you can stick me on Newsnight Review any time!

      • Why not yourself? Although morre women on Newsnight would be interesting I have to ask where are the women complaining that they are not allowed/invited on? Perhaps those, like yourself, who would be good dont actually want to go on.

  2. Time for you to stop complaining and get on the programme youself Burd, you would do a great job!

  3. What I wonder is if women want to go on these shows? Commentators, I think, tend to be very well known to the producers as someone who is able to drop everything can join the discussion live at 11pm at night. Some will have agents/reps to manage their appearances. They, despite whatever they actually say, are proven reliable talking heads.

    Do we know if the female talking heads have agents/reps, want to come on live TV at 11pm at nights. Have they been in touch with the show to offer themselves up? Have they had the media training to do TV work?

    In all seriousness, have you offered yourself? You are a very articulate blogger with a political background. You have opinions on a wide range of topics. You could comment on many issues.

  4. They could put John McTernan in a frock although he would probably wriggle about even more – now there’s a mental picture that’ll keep you awake at night.

    I’m not sure what some of the “expert” talking heads actually contribute. It always sounds to me more partisan than insightful. Why not get real people in (of any gender)? How good would it be if they turned to someone and asked their views on some political or constitutional nuance and the reply was “I don’t really care – it has nothing to do with my life and the real world.”

    I agree with the comments on Gordon Brewer but would add that his final eyebrows-up “That’ll teach them” look to camera (after missing the main points in a grumpy and hectoring manner) really irritates me.

    Lesley Riddoch and Margo MacDonald are always worth listening to.

  5. Anything that sees less John McTernan on my TV gets the thumbs up from me. Although chances are they would just replace him with Lorraine Davidson, who they often have on The Politics Show and who, like John, acts more like she’s still a Labour spin doctor rather than a professional journalist.

    I’m not sure Monday night’s piece is the right one to choose to make your point, though. The authors of the report were male, so that’s beyond Newsnicht’s control. And I would certainly rather have Kenneth McDonald doing the report than (former Labour councillor) Catriona Renton. I would have had no problem with the pro-SNP and pro-Labour panellists being female though, especially as this would have helped the cause to have McTernanless TV.

    Can you think of any prominent female non-affiliated political experts that the BBC could call upon, though? How many female professors of politics are there in Scotland? How many female politcial journalists are there in Scotland? (One less to call upon now that Joan is an MSP – no idea why she wasn’t a regular on the programme before.) It is certainly part of a more general problem that BBC Scotland has, namely relying on the same few “experts” all the time. They should try and vary things a bit, and that would certainly provide an opportunity to ditch some rubbish males for some better females.

    They could do worse than make Isobel the permanent anchor. But that’s because she’s better at her job than Gordon, not because she’s female.

    • There’s Nicola McEwan, an excellent psephologist at Edinburgh University. There are others in and around the world of politics/public affairs – Jeane Freeman for one. I have no problem with there being a spectrum of viewpoints across parties and none, would just like a wider range of viewpoints though from all quarters. There are some fabulous female academic researchers on social policy in the CRFR who are quite brilliant in their fields and could easily provide comment on a range of issues that come up on Newsnight. The Scotsman has at least one female business journalist these days to replace the likes of Bill Jamieson.

      I think the issue is, as someone else, pointed out in a comment that they go to whoever is on speed dial on their phones. They don’t look very hard.

  6. I agree. Nothing makes me run from the room faster than the prospect of yet another interminable discussion about the economy with Bill Jamieson, Alf Young and John McLaren – Scotland’s international men of misery.

    It’s not just the gender issue though. It’s the fact it always seems to be a case of ’round up the usual suspects’ – in which I’d include Joyce MacMillan, Lorraine Davidson and Carol Craig almost as much as I’d include Gerry Hassan or John Curtice. There’s a real lack of imagination about who to bring in, which leads to the same procession of gargoyles and received wisdom merchants clogging up our bandwidth each evening.

    As for new faces, to get the ball rolling, how about having Katherine Garret-Cox, Chief Exec of Dundee-based fund managers Alliance Trust, next time there’s an economy debate? You know, someone who actually invests people’s money every day, rather than just writes about those who do…

    • Excellent idea! And agree wholeheartedly with need for shift away from usual suspects to a much broader range of commentators.

  7. Agree completely!
    The only other female ‘talking head’ I can think of who pops up occasionally is Lesley Riddoch. And its part of a wider problem- not enough women in politics or talking about politics and then the ones who are there being passed over for more ‘credible’ (i.e. male) colleagues.
    My experience is now out of date, but I was very struck by the all-male nature of the Scottish Parliament press pack a few years ago. I’m not imagining there’s been a sudden big intake of female political journalists to change things! This gender imbalance can’t help but create gender imbalanced reporting, reinforcing a male norm in political life in general.

    p.s. remember- if you can make a cake, you make a bomb!

    • Ha – the way my cakes turn out, they’d probably make better bombs!

      And agree. The press pack is still overwhelmingly male. In fact I don’t think there is a single female political journalist in Scotland right now. And it does influence how they report things. Over at Better Nation, I surmised that this was one of the reasons Tricia Marwick was getting criticism after two weeks in the job – something the male POs never got.

      We don’t see nearly enough of Lesley Riddoch on our TV screens these days frankly.

  8. You make a very sound point, and one which as a male had not really occured to me. You are right about Isobel Fraser, she is a far more effective interviewer than most of her male counterparts. There’s no shortage of star turns amongst female Scottish politicians – from the highly impressive and established Nicola Sturgeon to Labour rising star Jenny Marra (a talented family, the Marras). We should see greater numbers of our women politicians.

    I’m on less sure ground with the commenteriat and ‘expert witnesses’ side of things. The latter tend to be rather scruffy middle aged male professors of one ology or another – there must be female ologists out there? The commenteriat seem to be a mainly male self-selecting group of people with a history of getting predictions spectacularly wrong. Again, there must be other journalists out here, some of whom are female and better informed. Laura Kuernssberg Is a beacon of hope – bright, Scottish and female – surely she’s not unique?

    • Fab comment and apologies Richard for taking so long to give it the green light – no reason other than not been in front of a laptop/Pc all day. I do hope Laura is not unique – she is very good. Women politicians is slightly less within Newsnight Scotland’s team’s control – it’s often down to the parties whom they put up for any such activity. But they are not too bad at choosing women to go on – Linda Fabiani has been on quite a bit and is good, as are most of the LAbour women MSPs, even though I know those looking at this through a party political prism will disagree.

      See Richard’s comment above – what we need is a much broader range of commentators, especially women, but from more diverse backgrounds and influences.

  9. This is interesting but in my view only half right. The underlying problem is that Scottish broadcasters (to a far greater degree than their London counterparts) rely on a very small pool of commentators. Imagine if there was a cap on the number of times that Newsnight Scotland were allowed to use John McTernan or Iain McWhirter, they would be forced to go out and find other (and possibly different) viewpoints. I am not sure that adding three women to the very small pool that you identified above is much of a service to the viewers of these programmes. What they need is a complete change of outlook, to think more about who they might have on to talk about something and not to hit the speed dial buttons on their phones. If you had a broad and varied range of different people being asked to contribute their opinions then hopefully that much wider pool would properly reflect the gender make-up of Scotland.

    I am also horrified at the suggestion that a statuatory agency such as the EHRC would have anything to do with the editorial decision making of a television programme. At the end of the day both The Burd and I have views on how they should do things differently but it is the programme producers who make the decisions and that is how it must be in a free society.

    Finally, you forgot Lorraine Davidson from your list!

    • Is the BBC not a public body then? If so, it is covered by the law on equality which provides for a duty on all public bodies to demonstrate how they will tackle discrimination and promote equality. BBC cannot be exempt because it makes news frankly.

      And I did forget Lorraine – I have to say I think she has mellowed and improved with age and more distance from her Labour role. And she is still around – does a lot for 5 Live and occasionally on Politics Now over at STV. But I wonder if she is a bit more limited in her late night TV appearances by one of the issues that no doubt affects other potential women, that of being primary child carer and therefore unable to be in a TV studio that late at night.

      • I am genuinely horrified by your response. Of course the BBC as a body should practice equal opportunities in its employment and contracting-out procedures but that anybody but a programme editor should decide what is on the actual programme is a major infringement of the basic tenants of a free media. I think there is a big difference between us as readers, listeners and viewers passing opinion on what is presented to us and a government agency setting quotas for guests on television programmes.

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