For months now, I’ve been tweeting – relentlessly, probably to the great tedium of many – about BBC Newsnight Scotland‘s failure to ensure some gender balance on its nightly programmes. It only has one female presenter in Isobel Fraser, who incidentally is its best presenter, for her subtly beguiling way of snaring her prey. Just as Anne McKenzie used to do rather effectively too.
Occasionally, content is populated by female journalists, but recently here too, the likes of Julie Peacock and Catriona Renton appear to have been wiped off the Newsnight slate.
But it is on the matter of pointy heids and commentators that #newsnicht (its twitter hashtag for the uninitiated) fails the gender test. Night after night, week after week, we are treated to the sight of the same men – exclusively white, mainly middle aged – giving the nation (or the political anoraks who can be bothered to stay up til 11pm) the benefit of their wisdom.
Don’t get me wrong: some of them have interesting things to say. But are all the psephologists male (John Curtice, Jim Mitchell)? Is Professor Richard Kerley the only person in the country who can analyse local government/public sector stuff? Professor David Bell and John McLaren the only economics commentators? On business, Bill Jamieson and Alf Young are regularly trotted out. Political and media commentators too are nearly always men – Iain McWhirter, Gerry Hassan, Ewan Crawford, and only occasionally, do the likes of Lorraine Davidson and Joyce McMillan get to grace our screen with a bon mot or two. The political parties are little better – often, too often, they will put one of their blokes up for interview rather than a woman MSP or MP.
To be fair, some of the men, like Gerry Hassan, think it is as reprehensible as I do. But tonight (Wednesday) I reached the end of my tether.
First, we had a report on the latest unemployment figures – Gordon Brewer presenting, David Bell commenting. Then a piece on the state of retailing put together by David Allison, that included an excoriating piece to camera by Glasgow City Council leader, Gordon Mathieson, followed by a panel discussion that included the afore-mentioned David Bell, an academic for the Centre for the Study in Retailing – yes, really – and refreshingly, an unknown in the director of one of Glasgow’s credit unions, who happened also to be a man.
It would appear that these big, meaty issues could not have coped with the presence or views of a woman, despite all the evidence showing that women are being particularly hard hit by unemployment, and women being just as likely to be hard hit by having less money to spend this Christmas. Indeed, at the risk of feeding into another wellworn stereotype but one at least based on years of experience in my own family and observing other households, I’d hazard a guess that actually a woman or two might have had something more meaningful to contribute on what they are doing to stretch household finances and what purchases they are putting off, as well as how they are worrying/saving/spinning gold out of straw to ensure the family enjoys a decent Christmas, or as decent as can be afforded.
But no. Women are only ever invited along to give their views on womanly stuff. Like social care. Or weans. And occasionally – but not often, mind – education.
What I don’t comprehend is how Newsnight Scotland cannot see that it is missing a trick. Commentators and contributors from a wide range of backgrounds, circumstances and different communities and genders would add to the quality of the programme. The perspective would be illuminating – real debate, lively exchanges, passionate views. And not the ever-decreasing circles of wisdom that are served up at the moment. Diversity might even attract a bigger audience; now there’s a thought.
No wonder women weep. Here is the country’s public broadcaster, paid equally in licence fees by men and women, displaying a lack of gender mindfulness that frankly, edges towards institutional sexism. And it’s no excuse to point the finger southwards and suggest that the parent Newsnight is little better.
On Wednesday, a large number of women declared a boycott of all male policy panels, think tank events and seminars. Well done them. I’ll be joining them, though I have to say for years, I have already been avoiding conferences and events with casts made up predominantly of men.
So, Newsnight Scotland, consider yourself boycotted. I will no longer be watching. Instead, I’ll be tuning into your new rival over at STV, Scotland Tonight, which has shown a remarkable ability in a very short space of time to attract non-usual suspects – including women – to offer their opinion, experience and knowledge on topical issues of the day. And guess what? It’s interesting.
Unless of course, you manage to change your ways. Go on surprise us. Break the ingrained habits of twelve years and start including more women more frequently. And if it’s good enough for men, why not – as Gerry Hassan suggested – occasionally offer programmes with women presenters, women journalists and all women commentary?
Or is the real issue that you simply do not rate women. Are you somewhat unsubtly suggesting with the current dearth of women studio guests that Scotland doesn’t have enough talented and articulate women, up to the task?
I disagree. I know lots who would do a great job. Feel free to email me for details.
UPDATE (18 Nov 2011) Well that was the shortest boycott on record methinks. Last night, #newsnicht had a woman on, discussing weighty legal matters on the highly technical area of evidence. Woo hoo! Delighted that they asked the very wonderul @randmhousekpr on. Keep it up Newsnight Scotland. And if you don’t, then be warned. There is a gender audit of current affairs programmes being undertaken, just as soon as the Left has sorted out who is doing it and if it’s okay to have a man involved. It was ever thus.