Sarah Montague: TV news bosses 'fixated with beauty'

Radio 4 Today presenter Sarah Montague has become the latest high-profile journalist to criticise TV news bosses for employing news presenters on the basis of their looks.

Speaking at the Voice of the Listener and Viewer spring conference this afternoon, Montague said she was “mesmerised” by photogenic newsreaders and often asked herself: “How does she twinkle like that?”

She said that when she spoke to school-leavers and young women, she often warned them that if they pursued a career in broadcasting they were unlikely to stay on television beyond the age of 40.

“It’s fairly depressing that I should be giving that advice in 2009,” Montague said. “The odd thing is that I don’t think this is a pressure from society.

“I think that BBC bosses – sorry, television bosses – are somewhat hung up on that advice that came out 30 years ago that television is based 70 per cent on what you see, 20 per cent on what you hear, 10 per cent on the content.

“They’re fixated on that and they think that that 70 per cent must be beautiful. God forbid someone with acne, someone over 40.”

Last September, ITV News host Mark Austin said some of the current crop of young TV newsreaders, or “autocuties”, lacked a proper journalistic background.

Former BBC news host Anna Ford has also spoken out about the way female broadcasters are sidelined as they grow older.

Montague appeared at the VLV conference in London today to host its annual awards ceremony.

BBC youth news strand Newsround was named children’s programme of the year. Editor Sinead Rocks said: “It’s been quite a tough year for Newsround. We had a schedule change which had quite an impact on us.

“Of course whenever anything happens to do with children’s TV it gets played out in the newspapers and it’s talked about in a state-of-the-nation kind of way.

“We have a very passionate and hard-working team who believe very strongly in how important it is to make factual content for children.”

Radio 4 presenter Edward Stourton was given the award for best individual contribution to radio. His colleague, new Today host Evan Davis, won the award for best individual contribution to television.

Radio 4 personal finance series Moneybox was named best radio programme.

Accepting the award, Moneybox presenter Paul Lewis said: “It’s good to win it this year. Because we go out on Saturday we have to bring something different and new. I think Moneybox is sharper and more investigative than it’s ever been.”

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