#newsnicht fails the gender test

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.


11 thoughts on “#newsnicht fails the gender test

  1. “I think you are missing the bigger picture here. The problem is more than the fact that short list that you wrote is all male. The problem is that that short list exists!”

    Completely agree. I think that the “short list” of experts (and by the way this problem is not confined to political programming, anyone who hears BBC Scotland’s “sporting” output must be bored by the regular pundits) excludes a wide variety of backgrounds who would be valid to give a proper opinion. White old well paid journalists are not, in my opinion, the best people to voice an opinion on the economy – and that is the real problem. Most of the talking heads employed on Newsnicht are from a demographic that is completely out of touch, not just with mainstream scottish opinion but with the MacBlogosphere.

    Funnily enough I remember a post on the late lamented Planet Politics about where the Scottish equivilant to Iain Dale would come from. I commented that this was unlikely because of the Scottish Media’s enathima to bloggers (Gerry Hassan excepted, except I don’t consider him a true blogger). My own opinion is that BBC Scotland are quite happy to have a clique of white male well paid experts – after all the riff raff might tell the truth about how useless our leaders are. We can’t have that can we?

    On a tangent, the same criteria is in place when picking who sits on our government bodies. White, well off expertienced people feel ready to apply. Working class people, forget it. Which is why it is a source of irritation both on my and my partners behalf that she, at 40, is the youngest board member of some of the bodies she sits on.

  2. I share your concern. I sometimes think that womwan in political situations are less easy to control and therefore less likely to stick to the agenda which has been put in front of them.
    I have noticed Isobel Fraser go off on one when she finds the responses she is getting insulting her intelligence and I rather wish we saw a lot more of her.
    (And I still entertain the hope that there is an honest woman tring to fight its way out of Lorraine Davidson)
    I have another bone to pick however
    I am increasingly concerned at the way assault of our right to express ourselves in under attack by the BBC.

    OnOnline BBC only Brian Taylor’s blog on BBC Scotland online has had the opportunity to comment removed.
    It is still welcomed on
    -the main UK politics page,
    -on BBC Wales politics
    -and BBC Northern Ireland politics.
    This coincides with a concerted campaign targeting “cybernats”. That’s us ,folks That’s those of us who dominate all the political and current affair blogs and online newspapers operating about Scotland.
    We dominate because we are probably the only serious and radical political cause which is still functioning in the UK and we dominate because the others have nothing to say.
    And we dominate because we are winning
    So a fiction is being constructed about “nasty cybernats” – when in fact the comments are in the vast majority of cases informative, respectful and well constructed and very little of anything nasty is ever said and even anything that is bears no resemblance whatsoever to the torrent of anti Scottish invective and abuse which roars into the BBC home page politics blogs (and virtually every other media blog)whenever Scotland is mentioned.
    But comment has been removed from BBC Scotland online political pages nevertheless.
    There was a period until fairly recently when such was the level of “moderating” on Taylor’s blog that it was almost impossible to get anything of substance published but we stuck at.
    So this didn’t work.
    So comment now has been totally removed

    Suspiciously recently I suddenly started , through my Facebook page, to receive a stream of offensive, violent and very lewd comment from a number of persons I had never heard off purporting to be Celtic supporters supporting Alex Salmond and the SNP.
    These I cut off, but I immediately thought – aye,aye there’s a plot afoot here.
    I may be right. When will I see some of these comments instanced as stuff from nasty cybernats?

    But what concerns me even more that this censorship has passed without hardly any comment whatsoever.

  3. Totally agree that the gender balance on many BBC current affairs programmes, not just Newsnicht, is appalling. How many times have you seen me bang on about Question Time, for example? Also yesterday on Politics Scotland, the panel was all male.

    A boycott is way too silent, though. I think that women in the audience, if there is one, should start calling out organisers for having all male panels, embarrassing them.

    If no audience we should complain to the broadcaster each and every time it happens.

  4. I think you are missing the bigger picture here. The problem is more than the fact that short list that you wrote is all male. The problem is that that short list exists! Why do newsnicht insist on having such a small pool of the same old faces night after night? Adding more Lorraine Davidson to the mix simply will not sokve the problem. I do however agree with your comments about Scotland Tonight.

    • Hi Neil, I don’t think I am. I think there are two distinct issues – the very small pool of commentators allowed on Newsnicht AND the lack of women contributors/commentators. Separate but also linked! But I agree that the pool is far too small.

  5. Great post Kate & I’ve retweeted it too. I know you can name female experts & so can I! The previous comment that the BBC produces more programmer for a female audience shows significant gender bias in itself. Are we talking cookery, lifestyle, gardening programmer that the wee woman watches?? Do we not have political views? Are we not passionate about how our country is run? Do we not run a business? Understand economics? Crime? You do not know if we are because our voice is not being heard! Caroline

    • Thanks Caroline! You said it all with regard to the last comment, though why it is incumbent upon women firstly to name women who should be on such programmes when the BBC pays researchers to do this is bemusing and secondly implicit in the assertion that it should be who is best qualified to be on is the belief that women must not be best qualified to be on.

      • “though why it is incumbent upon women firstly to name women who should be on such programmes when the BBC pays researchers to do this is bemusing”

        That’s dismally weak and you know it is. Firstly, the BBC’s researchers are not paid to pursue a feminist agenda – their job is to find SOMEONE qualified to comment on the subject at hand, not to find someone who also fits specific criteria defined by someone else’s agenda. By your logic they’re also obliged to locate a black psephologist, and a gay one, and a disabled one, and it sounds pretty ridiculous when you put it like that, doesn’t it?

        Secondly, the above notwithstanding, you don’t know that they HAVEN’T done that. Maybe they all burst a blood vessel trying to find a female psephologist, but failed. Maybe there are none. You could, of course, easily prove that supposition wrong, by naming some, but inexplicably you don’t. If you – who cares deeply about the issue – can’t be bothered, why should they, when it’s not their job any more than it’s yours?

        “implicit in the assertion that it should be who is best qualified to be on is the belief that women must not be best qualified to be on”

        That’s spurious and frankly offensive drivel, for the reasons noted above. I’m in absolutely no way asserting that women are somehow inherently unqualified to be psephologists (or expert in whatever other field NNS is discussing on any given night). I’m saying you’ve provided no evidence that there are any who are, by failing to identify any who could replace Curtice. If you know of any, I’m right behind you, and will happily sign any petition to get them on.

    • “The previous comment that the BBC produces more programmer for a female audience shows significant gender bias in itself.”

      Sigh. Not if it’s true it doesn’t. It’s a demographic fact, not an assertion, that – for example – EastEnders and Strictly Come Dancing (the Beeb’s most popular shows) have far bigger female than male audiences. (Not that this is unique to the BBC by any means – ITV’s biggest shows follow the exact same pattern, with the X-Factor, Coronation St and Emmerdale at the top of the rankings, alongside that male must-see Downton Abbey. Channel 4? Cookery and furniture arranging. Channel 5? Big Brother and Neighbours.)


      None of that suggests that women aren’t interested in politics, nor is it the case that absolutely no men watch these shows. (Though in however many years it’s been running I’ve never met a straight man who watches Strictly.) But it does suggest that anyone claiming British TV is gender-biased *in favour of men* is talking through their hole.


  6. “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.”

    Och, this is rubbish. Firstly because hour for hour I bet you’d find the BBC makes far more programmes for a predominantly female audience base than male, and secondly because Newsnight shouldn’t be displaying “gender mindfulness” at all. It should have whoever is best qualified to discuss the subject on, no matter which sex they are. It’s telling that you bemoan the lack of women on tonight’s show, but that you don’t do it by naming the women who should have replaced some or all of the panellists. If you don’t know who they are, in all your gender mindfulness, how should NNS? I’m as sick of the sight of Curtice as anyone, but I don’t know of ANY female Scottish psephologists, let alone good ones, so why not name us some and we can all write some letters demanding they appear?

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