'Simply not enough' women in news and current affairs, House of Lords committee finds

There are "simply not enough" women in news and current affairs broadcasting, according to the peer who led a House of Lords investigation into the issue.

Lord Best, who chairs the House of Lords Communications Committee, said broadcasters have to do more to increase the number of women on screen.

The committee, whose members include broadcaster and journalist Joan Bakewell, heard evidence from witnesses including Cathy Newman (pictured) from Channel 4 News and Miriam O'Reilly, who won an employment tribunal against the BBC when she was rejected for a role on a revamped prime-time version of Countryfile.

Lord Best said: "Through this inquiry, it has become clear that there are simply not enough women in news and current affairs broadcasting.

"Although on the surface it appears that women are well represented, the facts tell a different story. We heard, for example, that men interviewed as experts outnumber women four to one on radio and TV.

"Despite the fact that women make up just over half the population, they are under-represented, both as staff and as experts, in news and current affairs broadcasting.

"And although we recognise the fact that the nature of the sector means that there are additional barriers to women – for example, the fast-paced nature of news which can mean anti-social hours, and freelance work that can make it harder for women with caring responsibilities – the situation is simply not good enough."

He said broadcasters had to make "a special effort" and said the special status of the BBC meant it, "in particular", had to do more.

Among the committee's recommendations are "more flexible" working practices and "greater transparency" about recruitment.

Reacting to the report, Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said it should be "taken very seriously by the Government and inustry".

She said: "It contains some very sound recommendations and clearly sets out the problems women journalists face because of discrimination, bullying, recruitment practices and insufficient checks on employment practices.

"It places the ball very much in Ofcom's court to ensure data on gender balance and pay is collected officially, so we can see the difference between broadcasters' recruitment polices on paper and what happens in practice."

She added: "The report contained good practical advice. It recognised the problems women have in juggling a career in broadcasting and their childcare and family duties.

"It said woman should not be disadvantaged by freelance contracts. It said broadcasters must be more transparent in how they recruit and reward staff and acknowledged the shocking findings of an NUJ survey of members which showed women doing the same job as male colleagues reported being paid less.

"The peers said where appointments are made by an interview panel, it should be a mixed-gender panel."

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