Top news programmes failing to put women on air

Top news programmes failing to put women on air

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BBC News at Ten has the worst ratio of male to female experts (Credit: BBC/Jeff Overs)

Male experts on top news and current affairs programmes still outnumber women by a significant margin.

However, research by Professor Lis Howell of City, University of London, shows that average ratios of male to female experts have improved over the past two years to 2.2:1.

Yet in some quarters, the drive to increase the number of expert women on specific television news programmes has stalled – and in some cases, numbers have actually worsened.

The findings are the result of a study conducted by the university, and the full results have been announced today at City’s Women on Air conference.

Howell’s research began in 2013 where she identified a ratio of nearly five men to every woman, by 2016 that had shifted to nearly 3:1.

However progress has ceased for some programmes. Although the study has shown an overall improvement, with a rise of 29% in the number of women experts since the last survey in 2016, most of the change happened in 2017, with little progress being made in 2018.

The study found that BBC News at Ten had actually fielded fewer female experts in the period 2017/18, than in the first year (2016/17). Although the BBC noted that the programme scores well in its presenter ratios.

Two programmes did show significant progress in 2017/18. Channel 4 News saw a 20% improvement year on year, and Sky News demonstrated an 11% increase in the number of women experts. From ITV News, Head of Communications Laura Brander tweeted that ITV News at Ten has improved 31% since 2015/16 when considering women experts on the programme.

Professor Howell told i news, “The two biggest programmes still have a lower number of female experts than the level of female expertise in society, which is around 2.5:1. ITV News at Ten has a ratio of 2.5:1 and BBC News at Ten has a ratio of 3:1.”

“With the exception of Channel 5, no broadcaster can claim parity or near parity across the three categories we surveyed – experts, reporters and presenters.”

Channel 5 boasted the strongest ratio of men to women experts, at 1.5:1.

Earlier this year, the BBC announced that it would be seeking as 50:50 split of male and female expert voices across its airwaves in news, current affairs and a range of topical programmes by April 2019.

BBC Director of News, Fran Unsworth noted, "We are starting to see a real transformation across the BBC. But we want to go further and faster. That’s why, the BBC is now setting the challenge of all programmes - on both radio and TV - that use expert contributors, to meet a 50/50 split of contributors by April 2019."

BBC programmes including The Andrew Marr Show, and Radio 4's File on 4, have seen a more than 10% rise in the number of female contributors and reporters since they began measuring their gender balance. 

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Male experts on top news and current affairs programmes still outnumber women by a significant margin.