My Lords, I am delighted to open this debate on the report Women in News and Current Affairs Broadcasting from the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, which I have the honour to chair. I am grateful to the Government, Ofcom and the broadcasters for their various responses to the report. I thank my fellow committee members for their input, and our clerk, Anna Murphy, our second clerk, Nicole Mason, our policy analyst, Helena Peacock, and our special advisers, Professor Lis Howell and Andrew Worthley—and in advance, I thank all those who will be speaking in this debate.
In essence, our report reflected the committee’s concern that progress in achieving the proportionate representation of women in broadcasting was losing momentum. In the population at large, women outnumber men—just. In a high-profile industry such as broadcasting, one would expect to see roughly equal numbers of men and women at all levels, both behind and in front of the camera and the microphone. However, we discovered that this was not the case. Although women make up almost half the BBC’s total workforce, they constitute only 37% of the leadership in network news and 35% of the leadership in global news. The most recent figures published by Ofcom, the regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, showed that this was reflected in the industry more widely. Women make up 43% of the total industry workforce but only 36% of senior managers and 26% of board members. In terms of the expert commentators booked for news and current affairs programmes, men outnumbered women four to one, which we noted was even worse in sports programmes.
Of course, things have moved on a long way from the early years of broadcasting. Caroline Hodgson’s book, “For the Love of Radio 4”, recalls those all-male newsreaders required to wear dinner jackets, with the announcer, Charles Lister, being severely censured in the 1930s for wearing yellow socks. “Woman’s Hour” was first presented by a man, and the experiment of a female announcer, Sheila Borrett, in 1933, generated a mountain of complaints and was abandoned after just three months.
It took another 40 years before a permanent female news reader, Sheila Tracy, was appointed in 1974, and another 40 years before listeners to the “Today” programme were able to hear it fronted for the first time by four women: Mishal Husain, Sarah Montague, Corrie Corfield and Alison Mitchell. Indeed, the BBC told us that recently more than 41% of panellists on “Question Time” have been women.
However, the current position is by no means an entirely positive one. We were disturbed to receive testimony in private and on the record from women who had experienced sexist bullying and been held back by discriminatory behaviour. We did not buy the argument that men were usually better equipped to handle the rough and tumble of the newsroom or were likely to be free of family commitments to take on arduous reporting assignments. On every count, we noted brilliant examples of women performing all those roles with great distinction.
We felt it necessary to single out the BBC, not because we believed it was consistently lagging behind other broadcasters, but because of its special status and its funding by the public at large. We felt that the BBC should be exercising a leadership role in influencing not only the industry of which it is so important a part, but other employers and society as a whole. This led us to our central concern that moves toward the collection and monitoring of data on gender equality—the basis for holding a broadcaster to account—had, in recent years, gone into reverse.
Until 2011, Ofcom kept a close watch on broadcasters’ equality and diversity records through the Broadcast Training and Skills Regulator—later the Broadcast Equality & Training Regulator. In 2013, a draft Public Bodies (Modification of Functions of OFCOM) Order was laid before Parliament. Although it was subsequently withdrawn in 2014 due to views expressed in Parliament, the order sought among other things to remove from Ofcom the duty to promote development opportunities for training and equality of opportunity. As a result of the Government’s stated intention in this regard, and due to financial pressures, Ofcom closed down the BETR.
However, without the facts, transparency on progress or lack of it is hard to measure. The committee was not calling for quotas—for fixed proportions of men and women in each aspect of broadcasting—but we did advocate the setting, not just by the BBC but by all the public service broadcasters, of broad targets with regular analysis of the evidence of success in meeting those targets, and we recommended that the Government should once again ensure that Ofcom requires the necessary data and holds the BBC to account on this.
Eight months have passed since our report was published back in January and I can now report to the House on progress. We were pleased to note from the Government's response in March that they were,
“keen to see more media companies … being more open about how many women they employ and the jobs they do, and we”— the Government—
“have asked Ofcom what more can be done around data transparency for this sector and for Ofcom themselves as an employer and influencer”.
It would be most helpful if the noble Baroness the Minister provided an update on progress over recent months.
It is clear that there have been some significant steps in the direction we proposed by both broadcasters and by Ofcom. I have heard from the BBC of a number of steps it has taken since the publication of our report to address the issues we raised. I was pleased to learn that the BBC now has more women correspondents in Europe than men, and half the BBC news correspondents are female. Changes are also taking place at a local level, and the BBC has reached its goal of 50% of local radio breakfast shows with a female presenter either in a solo capacity or as part of a team. On fairer recruitment, BBC News has announced that it will always have gender-diverse recruitment panels for all jobs, and all hiring managers will have “unconscious bias” training to raise awareness of the potential for bias when making recruitment and promotion decisions. These and other developments are good news, and I hope and expect that the BBC will build on them.
Other broadcasters have also informed us that they are on the case. Earlier this year, Channel 4 launched a 360o Diversity Charter, which includes 30 commitments to improve diversity within the organisation and proactively across the media. It has a number of strands specifically aimed at improving gender balance. For example, it has set a target for a 50:50 gender split of C4 leaders by 2020; the current figure is 44%. ITV told us about its social partnership initiative, through which it works in partnership with independent producers to ensure that they deliver inclusive programming. ITV reports that in pitching and commissioning meetings, its suppliers say that they welcome this collaborative approach aimed at reflecting on-screen the diversity of modern Britain.
Although we had reservations about gender discrimination being regarded as comparable to discrimination on grounds of race, ethnicity or other minority characteristics, we applauded the Creative Diversity Network and the great work it has been doing to set up what is now Project Diamond, a new diversity monitoring initiative covering all the major broadcasters. It plans to launch this later in the year and to publish full equality data quarterly. Ofcom will now be working closely with the Creative Diversity Network and sits on the CDN’s education and training working group. It is also working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission on a diversity and equal opportunity toolkit specifically for broadcasters.
In the light of the steps now being taken by Ofcom, backed by the Government, the Creative Diversity Network, the BBC and other broadcasters, I conclude that the issues raised by your Lordships’ Communications Committee are getting serious attention. The danger that inequalities in the treatment of women in news and current affairs broadcasting will be ignored or sidelined has, at least for the moment, receded. But vigilance is needed, not just by Ofcom and the diversity network, but by everyone in this influential industry. Broadcasters set the tone for behaviour throughout society and we should all be watchful of their progress towards real gender equality, and be appreciative when they do better. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to join this debate and to follow the excellent introduction made by the noble Lord, Lord Best. I refer to my interests as set out in the register, and express my pleasure and indeed honour at having recently become a member of the Communications Committee, which is so ably led by the noble Lord.
The committee’s report is commendable. It covers a lot of excellent ground and the topic is of fundamental importance, yet I will offer what are perhaps a few small hesitations. We need to be clear about precisely what it is we are trying to achieve. Is it equality, equality of opportunity or gender balance? Are we seeking parity of treatment or simply to reflect society? All those phrases are used in the report and all mean slightly different things. But that women are underrepresented in news and current affairs is undeniable. It is far from being the only area where there is a challenge. Women are underrepresented in vast swathes of society—in politics, for instance, and even in this House today.
We cannot simply demand that broadcasters achieve what we have failed to do. For example, the National Union of Journalists offered some pretty forceful evidence to the committee but it is interesting to note that the NUJ has only ever had one female general secretary—its current incumbent, Michelle Stanistreet. While her role might suggest progress, the NUJ’s deputy general secretary is male, as is its president, the two vice-presidents and the general secretary for Ireland. Even for the NUJ it seems like a case of, let us say, work in progress—as it should be for all of us.
Very helpfully, the report highlights the progress that has been made in areas such as equal pay for equal work and in finding an accommodation for those women who choose to devote a large part of their lives to caring responsibilities. More needs to be achieved but let us not turn a blind eye to what has already been achieved.
One area in particular to which I was glad that the committee gave attention was discrimination against older women, particularly as presenters. The case of Miriam O’Reilly raises disturbing questions about the inner workings of the BBC but the BBC is scarcely alone in this. It is folly to blind ourselves to the value of women presenters of a certain age whose looks and voices convey all the wisdom and experience of their years. Being a great newscaster is not simply a matter of getting lip gloss around the words of a teleprompter. Experience and understanding count.
I find disgraceful the practice of the BBC and others in trying to settle complaints about these matters of discrimination through the use of gagging clauses. The BBC has suggested that gagging clauses will no longer feature in new contracts, which is very good. But what about its existing contracts? The use of gagging clauses by a public sector broadcaster in all normal circumstances is simply inexcusable.
However—here I have another little hesitation—while we try to change and improve our world, we have to be conscious of the costs involved. As the report acknowledges, production budgets are being slashed across the board. That is not an excuse to fail to do what ought to be done but we need to know who is going to pay for it and how much. I fear that the report is rather cost-light. We should know more, simply as a matter of good practice, which is in part why I am dubious about the report’s suggestion that broadcasters, before signing contracts with independent production companies, should consider imposing recruitment and promotion obligations on them. That comes close to excessive interference. As the report and the committee has tried to do, how much better it would be for us to ensure that our major broadcasters lead by example.
If I had hesitations, they are as nothing compared to the enthusiasm I had that the committee should have tackled this subject. Finding the right balance and establishing the merits of equality of opportunity will be one of the key battlegrounds in the years ahead, not just in Britain but around the globe. Although we have not completed the effort in these areas and our own shortcomings are perhaps too easy to dwell on, we are still in this country way ahead of most.
Let me try to put this in a context: in the 20th century, we defeated communism not just through military might but because millions of people in eastern Europe wanted what we have—that is, the benefits not only of our free economy but also of our free culture, our free association of ideas and values. That is why they tore down the Berlin Wall with their bare hands. In the 21st century that is how we will defeat many of the new challenges we face. Imagine a world in which our message about equality of opportunity for women reaches every corner. There would be no place in that world for female genital mutilation; there would be no place for communal rape and no place for creeds such as ISIS. The threat of ISIS simply could not survive in a world of gender tolerance and equality of opportunity.
The BBC, along with others, has a vital role to play in that global battle for tolerance. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese leader who was under house arrest for 15 years, has told of how the BBC kept her in touch throughout her struggle. She said:
“Everywhere I have been, the BBC has been with me”.
I am delighted that brave individuals might soon be able to say that in North Korea, too. That effort to establish tolerance and balance, not just in this country but worldwide, will be helped by this report. I thoroughly commend it.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to highlight some of the key recommendations in this wide-ranging report produced by the Select Committee on Communications, on which I serve under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Best. As the report states,
“despite making up 51 per cent of the population and a larger proportion of the TV and radio audience, women are severely underrepresented both on and off air in news and current affairs broadcasting”.
Our committee wanted to find out why this should be the case and what solutions could be found to improve this situation.
In our view, news and current affairs broadcasters have a particular responsibility to reflect society by ensuring a gender balance. This is especially incumbent on the BBC and other public service broadcasters, which receive statutory benefits. I want to highlight one area in particular that poses an obstacle to the progression of female employees in the industry: the demands of the job for those with caring responsibilities, especially mothers.
The committee of course understands that the demands of a fast-paced, responsive and stressful environment in a television or radio newsroom places exceptional pressures on those working in them, but we believe that the broadcast industry should do more to recognise the needs of those with family responsibilities and thus do more to promote flexible working. Evidence from witnesses highlighted the fact that the immediacy of news and current affairs broadcasting meant that caring responsibilities could be an acute problem for broadcast journalists. Notably, Miriam O’Reilly, a BBC employee for 25 years, said:
“In BBC News you have to be available 24/7, including nights. Women wanting to push through cannot contest overnight working, even when their children are very young … you can always say no and find other friendlier patterns, but the risk is that your career gets parked and opportunities to develop dry up”.
Penny Marshall, an award-winning reporter for ITV, echoed this view, saying that the “got to be there, got to do it” atmosphere in the newsroom meant that it could be seen as “unacceptable” to turn down work due to childcare arrangements.
Broadcast managers, in evidence to the committee, acknowledged that this was a problem. The BBC revealed that a recent survey undertaken by its global women in news group found that 85% of members felt that having children or caring responsibilities affected their career prospects. Fran Unsworth, the then deputy director of news and current affairs, said that childcare responsibilities could result in women ruling themselves out of senior roles.
Although our committee acknowledges that efforts are being made by the broadcasters to address this issue—for instance, the BBC has launched a job share register across its news group and ITN said that flexible terms of employment, such as part-time work and more regular hours, had helped women get back into work—there is still an issue to be addressed. As the Government said in their response to our recommendations:
“We firmly believe that inequalities in this sector cannot be solved overnight and a culture change needs to take place which has to be industry led”.
I welcome the Government’s continuation of the work put in place by my right honourable friend Harriet Harman MP in the last Labour Government. This Government, in their response, recognise their duty to help,
“modernise workplace culture so both men and women can better balance work and family life by extending the right for all to request flexible working, as well as introducing a system of shared parental leave, and supporting working families with childcare costs”.
Importantly, the Government have said:
“By extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, we intend to create a cultural change that means that flexible working is standard working practice”.
I think this is especially important as the NUJ told the Committee that in practice the BBC was not sympathetic to women’s childcare arrangements and that many women had faced “bullying” after raising requests for flexible working hours and raising childcare issues. A number of other respondents raised concerns that taking maternity leave or opting for flexible and part-time working arrangements could affect their career prospects. So our key recommendation 8 states:
“Broadcasters should ensure they have in place policies on flexible working practices which encourage women to have fulfilling careers alongside caring responsibilities”.
It is not enough to have policies on paper but, as our recommendation 9 makes clear, in order to address the widespread view that women will be “side-lined” after having children,
“efforts should be made to ensure that women who return from maternity leave receive appropriate training. Employers should also consider using other flexible solutions such as allowing women to choose to continue working on an ad hoc basis during an extended period of maternity leave”.
I welcome the Government’s response to this when they state:
“Employers can provide support for women making that transition back into the workplace. For instance employees can work up to 10 days during their maternity leave without losing maternity pay or benefits, or ending the period of maternity leave. These are called ‘keeping in touch’ days and can be hugely beneficial to both employer and employee”.
Finally, our report calls for practical proposals to help women with children. We say:
“Broadcasters should make every effort to ensure support for childcare arrangements, both culturally and financially. Support mechanisms such as childcare vouchers, childcare advisers, and crèches to accommodate women with young children working unusual hours are examples of good practice”.
Judging by the briefings I received last night from a number of broadcasters, change is already under way, which is most welcome. I hope that our report will shine a light on the attitudes of the news and current affairs industry towards women who are both highly qualified professionals and mothers, and help ensure that long-term and fulfilling careers are made possible.
My Lords, I declare an interest as my daughter has for many years worked in news and current affairs, initially for Channel 4 News and subsequently for BBC “Newsnight”.
Initially, when the committee discussed whether we should produce this report, I was not in favour, not because I did not think that my daughter had been discriminated against but because I felt that the report would not add significantly to the general knowledge of noble Lords or, indeed, of the public. It was difficult to see what recommendations we could make other than simply to ask broadcasters to do better. At an early stage of the evidence, however, it appeared to me that I was wrong in that judgment and that we were right to produce the report. I was wrong for two reasons.
First, it became clear quite early on that the issue is not just about discrimination against women presenters. I had, of course, always been aware of the dominance of male political editors. When I chaired the Liberal Democrats’ daily press conferences in the 2001 and 2005 general elections, the etiquette was that you called the broadcasters for questions in order of seniority. I was quite surprised once in 2001 when Jackie Ashley, political correspondent for the Guardian, intervened and asked me when I would call a woman because the first five people I had called for questions because of seniority were men, as Elinor Goodman, the only woman political editor at the time, at Channel 4, was not there that day. Of course, Jackie did not care that the first person I had called was her husband, Andrew Marr. She regarded this issue as more important, and she had a point.
The evidence we heard demonstrated to the committee that the problem is much more fundamental that simply whether a woman or a man is in a senior job. As the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, indicated, we found clear evidence of bias against older women. Everybody is aware of the high-profile complaints by people such as Anna Ford, Selina Scott and others who felt that they had been “got rid of” because they were too old. Of course, John Humphrys and David Dimbleby carry on. Indeed, when we took evidence, David Dimbleby—well into his 70s—had just been appointed the front person for the BBC coverage of the general election. When I asked a BBC executive why, he said, “Well, of course, he is very well qualified to do this job”, to which I replied, “No doubt he will also be very well qualified in 2020”. It is quite clear that there is prejudice against older women in the BBC. As the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, indicated, we had strong evidence that the BBC particularly has been making settlement agreements to older women when they leave and are compensated and imposing confidentiality agreements so that when the older woman leaves she cannot complain about her treatment. Clearly, the committee was quite right to highlight the iniquity of that practice. We also had significant evidence that the situation for older women in the UK is particularly stark compared with, for example, the United States and Australia. In the United States in particular, there are a number of high-profile older female anchors, far more than we have in the United Kingdom.
Secondly, the clear issue on this point is not just about presenters; we also obtained evidence that women are seriously underrepresented as experts before the camera. Of course, the committee had to accept evidence from broadcasters that they can do nothing about the fact that the Prime Minister is a man and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a man. But the figures regarding experts are stark. As we indicate in our report, City University sampled 38 programmes and found:
“Ten times more men experts than women experts are interviewed about politics, but only twice as many men experts are interviewed about health”.
If you break down those numbers by topic, business was four men to one woman; home news, five men to one woman; foreign news, five men to one woman; entertainment, four men to one woman; sport, six men to one woman; and other topics, seven men to one woman. This is clearly unacceptable.
The other reason I realised I was wrong not to want to do this report is that it is clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, who so ably chaired our committee, has indicated, the broadcasters have significantly responded to the report. The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have all indicated the changes that they have made and are proposing to make in response. Ofcom has indicated its support, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, and confirmed how it will exercise the statutory powers that are available to it. As an antidote to recent criticisms of the House of Lords, this report demonstrates the valuable contribution this House can make to our public life, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, is to be congratulated.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for a very interesting report with a great deal of detail which replays close study. I declare two interests, first, as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and, secondly, as a member of an advisory group for a project on the future of the BBC that Goldsmiths, University of London, is running with some help from the British Academy. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has recently published a congruent report on supporting the television and broadcasting industry to increase diversity, not merely of women but in other respects, including age but also disability. I shall not refer to it since I hope and expect that the noble Lord,
Lord Holmes of Richmond, who has been specifically involved with this part of the commission’s work, will do so better than I could.
We are indebted to the committee for its close focus on a specific area in which diversity and equality matter and, as it says, for noting that this is the one area where the population is divided pretty well 50:50 and it is therefore particularly easy to see significantly deviating patterns. Its recommendation is the right one: the way forward in view of the current situation of women in broadcasting, and specifically in current affairs broadcasting, is not to hanker for quotas but to engage in positive action. I think we all understand the temptation to think about quotas, and that they must be relevant where there is suspicion—let alone evidence—that things are not going well and there is a lack of diversity in certain areas, and where there seems to be some reason to think that some people, or people of some sorts, are not being given a fair chance.
The committee noted two broad ranges of evidence that this was the case in certain sorts of broadcasting: the relative dearth of women, and more specifically of older women, in news and current affairs broadcasting. I wondered whether I should declare a potential interest here. However, I am not sure whether the situation is best described as one of underrepresentation of women, or specifically of older women. The report focuses mainly on employment, not on representation, and in employment our legislation requires equal opportunity and taking proper account of relevant qualifications and experience rather than the equal representation of people from different backgrounds or different groups. When we note a statistical discrepancy in the proportion of people of certain sorts in some line of activity, we may or may not have discovered something that is a cause for concern. It is a red flag rather than conclusive evidence. However, the use of “underrepresentation” is easily misread as suggesting that there must be something amiss when the proportion of persons in some line of activity differs from their proportion in the population at large. What we have is something less than that but still important. There may be reason for concern.
That is why, as the report proposes, the remedy is not positive discrimination, which is unlawful, but other forms of positive action such as making sure that opportunities are specifically drawn to the attention of those who may be getting a tacit message that people from their background will not be appointed—such as providing mentoring to promising candidates from backgrounds that may be missing, and such as ensuring an atmosphere of encouragement and information-sharing that is inclusive. To do this, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, emphasised, data are essential. So that one can tell what is going wrong or right, one needs to know what the actual situation is.
I first met this problem quite early in life when I was a research student in the United States during the days of its civil rights movement. In Memphis—not a small city—all the public employees were white; the city population was half white and half black, and both the white and black populations were fairly homogeneous. It turned out that one of the reasons for this was that all posts were advertised only in media that were read in white communities or by white people and that there was a total failure to advertise to the black community. That seems an admirable example of why positive action—rather than quotas—matters.
People often ask whether positive action is effective enough or fast enough. It can be effective if it is well used. Discussion of the positive measures that may be taken often focus, in my view rather too much, on the idea of a tie-break, by which if the two leading candidates for a post are of equal merit, it is permissible to choose the one with the less represented background. That is very nice, but the measure by itself, if honestly used, is not likely to make a vast dent in the problem. That is because, as anybody who has served on a lot of appointment committees knows very well, it is not very usual to have ties that need breaking. But I think there are other measures of positive action that are more effective.
As has already been mentioned, the most difficult stage in many women’s working lives arises when they have childcare responsibilities. We and many other developed societies have addressed this in part by instituting maternity leave. This is a wonderful change, which those of us who did not have that possibility look on with great envy—how much easier it would have been. But, of course, children need time from their parents long after they are babies, and for many women and men the crunch is drawn out for far longer.
The Royal Society addressed this a few years ago through a scheme that bears some thinking about. It instituted what I think of as “long, thin” research fellowships—that is, one or two days a week but with five years’ security. This is revolutionary because you can arrange other responsibilities around it. It also seems a very good form of positive action because it addresses a problem about which the report says rather little, that of losing skilled manpower—or, in this case, womanpower. Deskilling is a real issue, and if we expect people—women and men—to have working lives of great length, which we now do, we should be thinking about the structures that preserve their skills across periods in which the commitment they can make has to be less than full-time. That seems a very positive reason—and one connected to the long-term productivity of the economy—for taking positive measures very seriously.
We should also address some of the other obvious barriers for those with heavy non-work commitments. For example, in some lines of work, there are still tacit assumptions that certain milestones must be reached by a certain age. It is very notable in professional services: people are thinking about a tacit age when they ask when someone should become a partner in an accountancy firm. That of course bears very differently on women from on men.
We should not focus too much on only the most successful careers and neglect more modest ones. I am convinced that equality for women of middling ambition, talent and commitment should allow them to achieve success that matches that of men with middling ambition, talent and commitment. We think about this too little. We should not concentrate too much on the number of women judges or the number of FTSE board members who are women, important though these demonstrable beacons are. The objective is not positive discrimination. The need is not for quotas but for intelligent positive actions at all stages of our long, and lengthening, working lives.
My Lords, this report has the title Women in News and Current Affairs Broadcasting. It is a very straightforward title, but it understates the importance of the report. Of course, it is about making sure that there are opportunities for women in broadcasting and no barriers. But it is also about the extraordinary impact of television: how it can shape perceptions, change attitudes and provide role models. Role models can be tremendously important to inspire young people and raise their ambitions.
I remember when I was at school, which is now many years ago, parents of friends of mine being astonished when one girl said that she wanted to be a barrister and another that she wanted to be an engineer. After university, when I came to London, I remember a friend who started work on “Panorama”. She said that whenever she phoned up an MP or any organisation, they automatically assumed that she was the secretary calling on behalf of a man.
Today, we live in a very different world. There are role models for women in every sector of society, and in broadcasting there are many female newsreaders, political editors and reporters on radio and television, but why not more? Why are there still so many more older men on our screens than older women?
So I believe this report is of great importance. We were fortunate to have as chairman the noble Lord, Lord Best, who steered the committee with skill and focus, and to have on the committee several members with first-hand knowledge of the broadcasting world. Half of our committee members were women. We also had two excellent special advisers.
The report is detailed, so I want to single out just a few of the points which struck me as we looked at the available evidence—evidence, as has been said already, which was not as clear as we would have liked. The broadcasters need to collect and publish better and clearer data.
What did we discover from the evidence before us? First, there are far fewer women reporters in flagship news than male reporters, and women are given many more of the softer news stories to cover. I was also struck by the fact that, of the experts and commentators interviewed on television and radio, only about one in four were women. To take just two examples of high-profile BBC programmes, men dominated BBC’s “Question Time” and dominated even more the “Today” programme on Radio 4—I am talking about experts as well as broadcasters. I have to say that Britain is not alone in this, and a study into 10 countries across the world showed that men also clearly outnumbered women on television news stories there.
But why is this the case in the UK? There are legal obligations on broadcasters, and the public service broadcasters all have diversity policies, so we began to look at what the barriers to women might be in practice. After all, the majority of journalism students are women. Why do they not get into broadcasting? Is there a bias in recruitment? On this, there were differences of opinion among our witnesses, but it is clear that we need greater transparency so that people can see and be reassured that there is fair and open competition.
As has been said by other noble Lords, what emerged clearly was the difficulty faced by women in having to be available 24/7 or working nights, because of their need to look after young children. Some witnesses were very vociferous about this problem. Others from ITN, Sky News and Channel 4 News were more encouraging, and the BBC told us that it had made changes to help women combine their work and domestic responsibilities.
The next question, which has also been raised today, was: why do there seem to be so many more older men in broadcasting than older women? Have they been pushed aside? Is there a deep-seated cultural bias against them, an informal culture of discrimination? We were really worried about the way that the BBC had in the past included in its settlement agreements so-called gagging clauses.
We in the committee did not get at why that culture exists in the broadcasters. The witnesses were insufficiently forthcoming as to why there are fewer older women. As has been mentioned, we have John Humphrys and David Dimbleby in news and broadcasting and elsewhere we have Maggie Smith and Mary Berry, but why do we not have people of that vintage in current affairs?
There have been improvements and, as has been said, information on certain changes has been sent to all committee members by the broadcasters on what they have been doing since our report was published. We have been told about new appointments—so-called key diversity appointments, internal diversity targets, leadership diversity objectives, diversity guidelines and so on. They are all fine-sounding and no doubt genuine and well intentioned. I do not want to see quotas, and I certainly do not want to see direct intervention by government. I am comfortable with targets and nudging.
Targets and guidelines are fine, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and I hope very much that our committee will at some future date look again at what progress has been made not just in setting objectives but in actually achieving them.
My Lords, I was delighted to serve on the Select Committee for this report but, as the rotation system has thrown me off, I now have to look at the committee from a distance. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for the way in which he steered us through this report and, indeed, others, and how he introduced this debate. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Bakewell, for how she inspired the committee and influenced us into taking this on board as a topic, contributing significantly to discussions from her very informed knowledge.
I think that the report was broadly welcomed, but it would be very difficult for any broadcaster to say that the report was no good or to deny the conclusions—so they listened. One key point that came out of this was that we believed, or I certainly believed, that public service broadcasters have a responsibility to set very high standards and high social norms. That must include how women feature at a management level and at reporter level—in fact, at all levels—in our broadcasting, because that influences our society quite significantly. In the past, I would judge that men were far too dominant. Things are better, but we still have some way to go. I think that that is broadly the conclusion of the report.
I turn to a few specifics, some of which have already been referred to. We have found it difficult to get our teeth into sufficiently accurate records and data of what was going on. One of our recommendations is that broadcasters should keep proper records of their policies in terms of how women feature at all levels. But there needs to be far more transparency in the recruitment processes and in pay and reward. There is still a suggestion that women do not get the same pay as men on quite a lot of levels of broadcasting. All appointments and promotions should be advertised internally and externally, with fair and open competition. One would think that that was a given, yet it is not a given, and we believe that broadcasters should adhere to that.
Then we came across the difficult problem of freelancers. Quite a lot of the jobs in broadcasting are given to freelancers for specific projects. Of course, it is much more difficult to suggest that there should be an open equal opportunities recruitment policy, because it may well be that a freelancer is selected for a particular skill, which may be a unique skill to that person. So it is not so easy. Nevertheless, we felt that Ofcom should use the powers that it has under the Communications Act 2003 to require broadcasters to collect data on age and gender of the freelancers that they employ. It may well be that freelancers are a large proportion of those who are employed, and therefore discrimination can apply there.
After all, we have not yet had a woman as director-general of the BBC and, from memory, apart from a brief period when Channel 5 was headed by Dawn Airey, I believe that no woman has been in the top job of our leading broadcasters—but I hope that someone proves me wrong on that. We found that, as regards the leadership positions in the media and among broadcasters as a whole, very few women reached board level. I think a survey suggested that 26% of board members were women, and at a lower level the number was higher. I got some figures from ITV which suggest—without wishing to quote them all—that ITV is doing a little better than the BBC. However, as we do not have the hard figures, it is hard to pay too much attention to that.
Many years ago the Dimblebys’ father, Richard Dimbleby, was a very noted broadcaster who covered pretty well everything. I remember an imaginary headline that was published in a newspaper: “Dimbleby Ill: Coronation Postponed”. Such was his power. He went on for quite a long time, but his two sons are also excellent broadcasters. I am not against them being in their positions, but there should be women in similar positions and there are not, and that is the nub of it. I do not mind the Dimblebys having a key position—they are very professional—but women of the same age should be in equally senior posts to show that there is equal opportunity across the board.
Discrimination against older women, which I found particularly disturbing and shocking, has already been mentioned. It has been covered in the newspapers, and we have much clear evidence of it. Reference has already been made to the gagging clauses. It is preposterous and shocking that our broadcasters, particularly the BBC, should have gagging clauses that restrict women who have been sacked on the grounds of age from indicating that this is what has happened to them. I can see no other way to describe that except in those terms. One or two women who had been sacked gave us evidence on condition that we did not use their names, while others allowed us to use their names. I believe that the BBC has now stopped that, I hope as a result of our report. However, as somebody said, it applies to new contracts but not to existing ones. These gagging clauses should be expunged from all contracts by the BBC if they apply to other broadcasters.
Then there is the shortage of women experts or commentators. There are plenty of women who are expert in pretty well every field we can think of in the country, yet time and time again people go for the men. It has already been said that 72% of “Question Time” contributors are men over a particular period, and 84% of reporters and guests on the Radio 4 “Today” programme were men. I have never been on “Question Time” but I have appeared on Radio 4; perhaps I should not have done, but there you are.
On the question of caring responsibilities that affect women, I talked at a reception here to one woman broadcaster who said that she had to work very hard to juggle her job with her domestic responsibilities with her children. Of course men could share in those caring responsibilities, but it seems that that is not always the case. However, the broadcasters should have enough flexibility in the way they give job opportunities so that women do not feel that they are side-lined after having children. I think it is better in some countries—perhaps in the States— and it certainly seems to be better in Scandinavia, where giving women better opportunities is part of the culture there.
I hope that our Select Committee report has helped to change attitudes and that things will change as a result of it in the media and in Ofcom. Let us look at it in a few years’ time and see whether we have been successful.
Last night there was a very interesting programme on BBC1. It started at 9 pm—one of the prime slots on broadcast television—and the presenter was Sophie Raworth, whom I know well and is an excellent broadcaster. The programme was very good, and I hope it got a large audience. The subject was, as many noble Lords will know, the celebration of, as of tomorrow, Her Majesty the Queen overtaking Queen Victoria in longevity on the throne. However, as I watched the programme the thought occurred to me:
if we were celebrating the longevity on the throne of two men, would a woman presenter have had that slot on BBC1?
I raise that question for a very specific reason. The report clearly identified—perhaps sensed as well—a sensitivity to the suitability, in the view of producers and executives, of women presenters, and that that was still embedded in the culture of broadcasting. Paragraph 9 of the report talks about “softer” subjects being chosen more predominantly for women reporters. It may not be specifically just a question of “softer” subjects; there may be a subtler cultural judgment. Does the subject being examined require empathy, which is more likely in this case to come from women reporters than from men? If that judgment is there, even somewhat in the background, it is significant.
The report also notes in the summary that there has been considerable progress, and indeed there has. Thinking back to when I joined the BBC Current Affairs Group in the mid-1960s, I do not think that there was a single woman presenter in it, and there was certainly no discussion whatever of the importance of having women presenters in that sort of role. When telephone calls were made from Lime Grove, I do not think that the assumption was always that if it was a woman’s voice it was the secretary to a man, but certainly there was no expectation or realisation that something was not right. So there has been great progress and “gone are the days”, but, as the report makes clear, there are three male reporters on flagship programmes for every one female.
The BBC briefing on the report sent round prior to this debate makes much of seven recent on-air appointments for BBC News. It also reports—I welcome this tremendously—that the BBC now has more women correspondents in Europe than men, including in Paris, Berlin and Moscow. That is indeed significant. However, the BBC is also currently expanding its External Services, including, as is noted, potentially to North Korea. I welcome that, having attempted to draw attention both in this House and elsewhere to the contraction of BBC external broadcasts to Russia at a time when we ought to be communicating much more to Russia, not less. I hope that the initiative with regard to North Korea will be progressed with real determination and that the journalistic skills and the tenacity of women reporters, so powerfully demonstrated by, for example, Kate Adie and others, will be fully utilised in that communication. The point has been made in this debate that one thing that we need to do in communicating with states such as North Korea is to demonstrate that we understand diversity and parity and that we practise what we preach. That is extremely important.
In mentioning Kate Adie, perhaps I may also single out another woman whose journalism and investigative courage has been inspiring and of historic significance. Clare Hollingworth soon celebrates her 104th birthday. As a young woman in the later days of August 1939 she was reporting in Poland and in Katowice on the then German-Polish border. She managed to go from Poland into Germany days before the Nazi invasion and she realised that the valley in Katowice was being hidden by huge canvas sheets. As she went down the road, the wind whipped up some of these sheets and behind them she saw hundreds of tanks and thousands of German soldiers waiting for the signal to invade Poland. She broke the news—she got it back. That is the sort of achievement that Kate Adie would be greatly proud of. It is marvellous that Clare Hollingworth did that and I am proud that two companies with which I am involved—CTN and Burston Marsteller— will be marking her achievement with a major film documentary later this year.
Clare Hollingworth was a trailblazer, and many more have followed, but the message of this debate is that many more are needed. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for both the report and the debate, which is excellent and will be influential. As he pointed out, this is not an academic subject. The gender balance in broadcasting has to reflect the balance in our society. Because broadcasting is such a powerful determinant of societal views, this matter is urgent. We require—society requires and the BBC should enable—parity.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate. In doing so, I declare my interests as set out in the register.
I welcome the report, published under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Best. It is welcome that it has been brought to a debate in your Lordships’ House. The report shines a spotlight on a stubborn stain on our broadcast industry—a stain that has been there for far too long. The report clearly shows a world that is far more like the world of Ron Burgundy than of 2015. It is a world in which women find it difficult at every stage to climb up the difficult career path within news media organisations. It is a world in which women have said that they have had facelifts to ensure that they can have careers beyond the age of 50. As Anne Robinson recently suggested, would a female version of Evan Davis have got the job of hosting “Newsnight”, the flagship BBC programme?
It is a scandal that women are excluded in their careers once they get to a certain age, particularly if they have childcare responsibilities. The comparators with their male contemporaries are clear at every stage of the journey. I was lucky to get involved in broadcasting when I was involved in sport, quite a few years ago. Sport, particularly at that time, illustrated just what a male bastion news broadcasting—particularly in sport—could be.
The broadcasters are keenly aware of this. It is great to see, particularly this year, the plans from the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky demonstrating a clear understanding of the situation that we are in—not least the BBC’s plans and the 360° Diversity Charter from Channel 4. We have great leaders at the top, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hall, at the BBC, and David Abraham and the marvellous Dan Brooke as chief marketing officer at Channel 4, who not only has the great joy of being chief marketing officer but possibly has a greater start in life than most of us by being the eldest son of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville.
The work has been laid out in those plans. They are ambitious, but we have been here before. This is not new ground that we are treading. When I mentioned to my noble friend Lord Grade the issue that we are trying to address around diversity and inclusion in broadcasting, he said that the first time he spoke on the subject was at the Edinburgh Festival in 1974. What message is television and news broadcasting sending to young people, particularly young females, about their potential career prospects in broadcasting? There are so many options available now. If you are a young female and looking at the current situation in news, and indeed across broadcasting as a whole, you may well prefer to ply your talents and creativity in the gaming industry, the burgeoning apps industry and in all the opportunities that the digital economy offers. That is understandable but a tragedy for our broadcast industry.
If one goes higher up, one sees the problem writ large. Look at the boards of our major broadcasters. The question is simply this: where are the women? The BBC executive board has two female executive directors and Channel 4 has one female executive director. That is the extent of female executive directors across the entirety of the British broadcasting family.
It goes wider than that. If we broaden it out to the whole issue of diversity and inclusion, we see similar figures. Last year, of the 62 board members at BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and Ofcom, only one was non-white and none was a disabled person. This is British broadcasting in the 21st century.
Yes, as we have seen from the recent plans announced by the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky, there is great ambition, and it is to be commended. But we are on the first tiny steps of a journey that we need to take. If we consider other industries as comparators, we see that the broadcast industry is not even as diverse as the average of the FTSE 100.
I would recommend to broadcasters two things. The first is to end unpaid internships—they simply perpetuate this situation and do not enable diverse intakes. It is not just about diversity for the sake of it or to do the right thing; it is about the fact that diversity makes economic sense and gives a competitive edge. Secondly, I would recommend that all broadcasters, indies and small production houses pick up the advice that we produced in the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the broadcasting industry, which I was lucky enough to launch in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago. Entitled Thinking Outside the Box, it myth-busts and breaks the lie that it is impossible to have diversity in such a complicated business as the broadcast industry. Yes we can have ring-fenced funds, as we do with nations and regions money; yes we can have targets; yes we can put adverts in a place where diverse communities are likely to see them; yes we can have databases of protected characteristics to enable people to have a fair go at getting a job and a fulfilling career in broadcasting.
I do not want to stand here in five years’ time and have to have another report that highlights this massive lack of diversity in British broadcasting. Our guidance is out there—there is now no excuse. We need to end the constant clone recruitment of people who look the same, sound the same and, crucially, think the same. The task is massive. Everybody in broadcasting needs to get behind it because we have to crack this. We have to break the perception that “TV is not for me”.
We have to break the view that broadcasting is run by a cadre of luvvies—of muffin-munching, cappuccino-sipping, white, middle-class, middle-aged men.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Best for his chairmanship of this Select Committee, which I originally sat on some years ago, and to the committee for a report that the broadcasters have all stated is excellent, well defined and to be supported. That is a rare achievement for a Select Committee report—to have had briefings from different broadcasters affirming what the committee report has said but extending beyond that is rare.
I declare an interest also as the former head of public affairs at the BBC and head of corporate responsibility during the last two charter renewals.
As I stand between previous speakers in this debate and the concluding speeches, I shall not detain the House by going over facts which have been stated clearly in the report and in the speeches so far. However, I have a series of short reflections which come not so much from my period at the BBC and ITV as from my nine years serving as a commissioner for the Commission for Racial Equality, when we looked at similar issues through the lens of understanding how different ethnic minorities have struggled with representation and therefore with equality and fair play. In its brilliance, this report focuses in its conclusions and recommendations on gaining increasing factual data on the number of women in different aspects of broadcasting, particularly news and current affairs, and multiplying, increasing and ensuring that the bridge between representation is most appropriate. What I learned as a commissioner for the Commission for Racial Equality is that what is important is not just the number of black or Asian people who sit in different public institutions or companies but the culture of our public life. This is an area where I felt that the report could have said more and the Government could have responded more appropriately.
All of us have extremely wise women who speak strongly to us, whether we are men or women. The women closest to me, especially legal daughters, remind me of the fact that there are qualities which a more appropriately feminised world—I do not want to use “feminised” meaninglessly—would embrace better and which would allow cultural understanding to be more acute. It was said in a lot of the responses to the global financial crisis that, had the City of London had more women involved in executive decision-making, some of the more rash decisions that were made—some of the more instant rather than intelligent decisions, for which the nation has paid dearly in the past 10 years—would not have taken place. I am told by the close women around me that these cultural realities need to be stressed, not just the facts and figures of representation. They gave me three phrases: that the culture with an increasingly strong female presence should be less rash, not less rational; that it should be more contextual and not have less content; and that it would be more intelligent, not just more intriguing. All that is important in helping us approach a drive towards representation, towards equalisation and towards encouraging in our broadcasting culture—as the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, rightly said in his very strong speech—a change in the representation, view and perspective of what broadcasting brings to the nation as a whole.
I was at the BBC at the point at which—and was partly responsible for it—the famous statement was made by the then director-general, Greg Dyke, that the BBC was “hideously white”. He was attacked heavily for that. What he was really seeking to say was that there was nothing wrong with being white, and nothing great either about being black, Asian or brown, or whatever phrase one wants to use, and that the dominance of extremes does not allow representation to be just or to be open. There is a need to look at our world honestly with this kind of open intelligence that allows us to see the painful horrors of the way the world is, as well as to enjoy its pleasures and its pursuits. That will not be fixed by having just more numbers; it will be fixed by having a different context.
I cannot let the moment go by without commenting on the very intelligent, gripping, captivating speech made yesterday by our noble friend Lord Hall, the director-general of the BBC. He set out in lucid terms some of the new promises that he and his board will wish to make during the period of charter renewal up to the end of 2016 and hope to implement. He also set out the financial constraints that the BBC will struggle with. He said:
“Let me start with the single point I make most often and am keenest to register. The case for the BBC doesn’t rest on ideological arguments, nor on debates between economists. It rests on what we do. We’re here to make great programmes and services. That’s why people like the BBC. That’s why they enjoy it. That’s why they trust it. That’s why they value it. That’s what they pay us to do”.
Of course, I agree and I disagree. The noble Lord is right that the nature, quality and content of BBC programmes are what you expect to come from the licence fee. But big institutions of significant impact in our national life go beyond the actions they undertake; they also have to represent certain values and virtues, positions and propositions. During the last charter review in 2005-06, when I was at the BBC, we had written into the charter’s purposes for the BBC that its function should be to uphold the civilisation and citizenship of the nation. That is not necessarily about the programmes it makes but about the stance it takes, the things that it represents, how it positions itself and the values it holds out to the nation. That is where I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hall, but I also encourage him to go back to representing the values and virtues of the BBC and its place in driving and supporting the civilisation of the country.
The noble Lord goes on to say in his speech that with the great advance of the internet age, one of the wonderful things that myBBC—a new part of the internet BBC—will do is help people broaden their understanding beyond the things that they would naturally watch were they left to choose; they will also receive other things that will benefit their wider understanding.
I hope that this wonderful report from the Select Committee that encourages the right, enhanced numerical approach to advancing women in broadcasting will also advance those values and positions that support a richer nation and a more diverse country.
My Lords, I am not on the speakers list so I will take advantage of the gap to offer a few spontaneous comments on the debate and the report. First, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Best, who chaired the committee, on which I was proud to serve. He did it with enormous discretion and understanding.
Back in 1977 I prevailed on Granada Television to let me chair a programme in which we discussed justice one day, education the next, travel the next and so on. It was a panel programme with four people that I chaired every day. One thing that was not explained about the programme was that every panel was made up exclusively of women. That was in 1977; feminism was running high and I thought the battle was won. Four decades later, I am still wondering whether the battle was won. As the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, said, when we approached the subject, some of us thought, “We have been here before. We have talked about this often”—as indeed we have.
When we started the inquiry, the evidence poured in. Presenters, experts, directors and BBC executives all came with their own point of view. As the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, suggested, people brought their different concepts of what was meant by equality and of the objectives of equality in broadcasting. We let that stand because in a sense it is self-defining when they come to make their critique.
What we found on the whole was interesting. The academics who studied the subject and looked at the data, and the people who addressed classes in media studies, all said that there were lots of women represented in those groups. The broadcasters—particularly the executives—said, “Look around you: there are lots of women in broadcasting. Why are you making so much fuss?”. The academic world knew that there was an issue but the contributing people from the broadcasting world who moved in this soup felt that the battle had already been won. The academics gave us the ammunition to demonstrate to the broadcasting fraternity that the case had not been won.
In the light of what I have heard today, I want to add a caveat. As we heard, lots of evidence came from the past. Over the four decades since I made my Granada programme, there have been reports, investigations, feminist groups and all sorts of other lobbying groups and there is lots of paperwork about good intentions. I am moved by the support that the report has had and particularly delighted that there has been so much positive response from all the broadcasters. I commend the BBC for having taken steps that we can actually see on screen. I congratulate the BBC on the understanding of those women who are foreign correspondents. They are truly outstanding.
However, my warning is that the response made has in one or two cases had practical results that we can see, but what we have heard by and large is the expression of good intentions. There are lots of good intentions written in reports and drawn up in recommendations. They have been pouring out of broadcasting institutions for 30 years. What matters now is sustaining the momentum—the momentum that this report adds to the movement towards greater opportunities. I speak as an older broadcaster. We need to press forward with our intentions and keep noses to the grindstone. Good intentions are one thing, but they will not win the scale of difference that we would like to see. This report is an amazingly important document in that tide of reports that have been drawn up. It must not be neglected. I commend the report.
My Lords, I declare a previous interest in that I was briefly a member of the Communications Committee and therefore I suppose I am disposed to like what it does. In mitigation, I was there for only a short time. But it does a very good job and this debate has exemplified that. We owe a great debt to the Communications Committee for its excellent choice of this topic and to all those who have spoken this afternoon. Having said that, I am bound to say that I did not think the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, got it right. I felt he hit a couple of wrong notes, perhaps harking back to some earlier golden age that he believes would better represent how women should behave. Indeed, as he went on, I thought he had been script writing on the side for Donald Trump and his views about how women should be presented. I may have got him wrong and I am happy to have a further discussion with him, but he was the only one who did not seem to pick up the main points made by this excellent report. I hope that he will reflect, as we all should, on the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Sherbourne and Lord Holmes of Richmond, and pick up on the very powerful case argued by my noble friend Lady Healy.
At any rate, the great majority of those who contributed today also have the authority and presence born of experience. As a result, this shows again, as the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, said, what a significant contribution our Select Committee publications make to the development of public policy.
As we have heard, diversity in broadcasting was in a dire state in recent years. I agree with the Government that the report has played a valuable role not only in gathering evidence and looking at solutions, but in raising awareness of where inequalities still persist in this important part of our creative industries. At this point, I pick up the recent Ofcom and EHRC reports mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, which are excellent contributions to the issues raised in this report. I also agree with the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, that making progress on this agenda will not only support women to fully utilise their skills and increase women’s contribution to the UK economy but can also help to have a lasting impact on future generations of women and to tackle outdated gender stereotypes. As the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, brilliantly exemplified, the report makes one think very widely about how work is organised in advanced societies and makes one ask why things have to be as they are at present.
However, despite some good progress reported in recent responses by the major broadcasters, we have heard that a lot more work still needs to be done. This issue, as the report makes clear, is not just about fairness. It raises fundamental questions about gender relations and employment practices, and about what gets selected for coverage on our screens and on radio, how that is done and what impact it has on those of all ages and backgrounds who consume the output. It is that important.
Some have said that, at heart, what is required is a culture change, and of course the issue is not limited to the broadcasting industries, let alone news and current affairs. But that simply proves that this is a complex issue which requires action at many levels. The good news is that the report provides compelling evidence and is an excellent basis for the action that now needs to be taken by individuals and groups, broadcasters, the Government, regulators and other key stakeholders. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, confirmed in his excellent speech, this report is convincing on what now needs to happen in senior management, on screen, in the technical areas, in the use of experts and freelancers, and in the commissioning of and creative support for the programmes that are made. There is also a read-across to other protected characteristics such as age, minority ethnic representation and GLBTI.
A large number of points have been raised by speakers in this debate and I do not want to cover them all. Rather, I will focus on two areas, one of which is the letter from Ofcom which was received by the committee and has been made available in the Library report, and the other is on the Government’s response. Although I broadly support it, it does leave some gaps.
On the Ofcom recommendations, it was good to note that the Government have written to Ofcom,
“highlighting the long lasting, positive impact transparency can have in relation to women’s economic empowerment”.
But, really, is there not a bit more that the Government could do here? For example, the report makes it clear that currently there are insufficient data on the gender of freelancers and on whether women are adversely affected by the widespread use of freelance contracts in the industry. The report recommends that Ofcom should use its powers under Section 337 of the Communications Act 2003 to require broadcasters to collect data on the age and gender of the freelance workers they employ. I find the Ofcom response, which is important because the legislation is specific on this point, a bit puzzling. When she comes to respond, I wonder whether the Minister could comment on what the regulator is saying. On the one hand, Ofcom agrees that freelancers must be included in any monitoring system in order to have a full picture of diversity in the broadcasting sector. As it has powers under the Act, why do Ministers not insist that it uses them?
It is true that Ofcom has said that it is working with and fully supports the implementation of the Creative Diversity Network’s diversity monitoring system. That is Project Diamond, which has already been referred to and is clearly a good thing. But the project is only in testing at the moment and we will not get the first data from it until early next year. Even more worrying is that I understand that the broadcasters have not yet worked out how and when news and sport will be integrated, so the results will be patchy and will not include the key areas that we want to look at. Is that the case? Does the Minister agree that in understanding the barriers facing women in journalism, we need to ensure that news is included as soon as possible? Perhaps I may suggest to the Minister that she undertakes to impress on the broadcasters the need to get news integrated into the whole system as soon as possible.
Finally on this point, Ofcom has said that it has considered whether carrying out additional monitoring would make a difference above and beyond what Diamond may provide, and is currently of the view that it would not be proportionate for Ofcom to duplicate the work of the CDN. I suggest that this seems a rather more relaxed approach than is warranted by the seriousness of the issue as raised in the debate. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister could say whether she agrees with Ofcom on this point, and if not, whether she will press the regulator at least to have some contingency plans ready if in the end the data are not sufficient. Whatever, I think that there will be a gap, which is to be regretted.
I turn now to the recommendations for the Government set out in the report and their response to them. It is common ground between us all that the Government have the duty to ensure that there is a strong legal framework which promotes equality of opportunity for both men and women. However, I would be grateful for some specific comments from the Minister on the following. First, the Communications Act places duties on Ofcom to promote training and equality of opportunity for providers of TV and radio services. In light of the report, have the Government recently reviewed whether this is sufficient? Ofcom seems to be strong on the training that needs to be available, but not so strong on the equality of opportunity that is required in practice. Will the Government act on this?
Secondly, the licence conditions for Channel 3, Channel 4 and Channel 5 require licensees to promote equality of opportunity between men and women with respect to employment. Can the Minister share with us what discussions took place with these broadcasters when their licences were recently renewed? Did the Government consider whether it was necessary to change the current wording in the light of the report, and if not, why not?
The BBC framework agreement imposes an equality of opportunity duty on the BBC executive board. Will the noble Baroness confirm that this issue will be taken up in the charter discussions currently ongoing? Of course, the BBC, S4C and Channel 4 are required to comply with the public sector equality duty under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. Can the noble Baroness tell us whether any prosecutions have been brought against the BBC, S4C or Channel 4 under this Act?
Finally, the Government’s response mentions the amendments to the small business Bill that will implement Section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 requiring the introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting for larger companies. May I take it that the reason that this point was included in the Government’s response is that the Government intend to include broadcasting companies in these regulations when they come through? It is not clear in the response whether that is the case. It simply refers to the fact that there will be a consultation shortly. Clearly, if the Government believe:
“Greater transparency around the gender pay gap will encourage employers to address the underlying factors and share best practice”, surely they should include the broadcasting bodies in the implementation of Section 78. I look forward to hearing the Minister on that point.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for securing this debate and for his excellent speech and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed. I also take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, and his colleagues on the Select Committee, for the report that they produced in January. It is a timely and comprehensive, and highlights the obstacles that women face in trying to progress in news and current affairs broadcasting, as is often the case in many sectors. The committee’s report rightly said that making progress within this sector is so important because of the huge influence that mass media can have on us all, in particular in shaping the aspirations of future generations. Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, mentioned that.
The report is set against a backdrop that under this Government we have more women in the workplace than ever—the gender pay gap is the lowest it has ever been and has been eliminated altogether for women working full time under the age of 40. The Government consider supporting women to fulfil their potential an absolute priority. When the Government responded to the House of Lords Select Committee, at which Ed Vaizey and Nicky Morgan presented in November, they made it very clear—I emphasise it again—that this is not just an equalities issue, as questioned by my noble friend Lord Dobbs. Increasing the opportunities and participation of women at every level, in every sector and at every age is vital in boosting the UK economy.
There are strong supporting facts to back up this statement, which makes it imperative to increase the efforts to remove the obstacles to women’s progression, not just in the media industry but across all sectors of society. For example, equalising women’s productivity and employment to that of men’s levels has the potential for increased gross domestic product of 35% in the UK. This could be equivalent to an additional £600 billion to our economy. Studies regularly show that higher numbers of female students than male students are studying in higher education in the UK—for 2013-2014, this was 56.1% and 43.9% respectively—yet women represent only 47% of the workforce.
We have come a long way since “Woman’s Hour” was presented by a man, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, told us, and the thought that the coronation might have been postponed because Richard Dimbleby was ill. But, for example, still in the news media only 35% of employees are women. We would like to see more women behind the camera, not just in front of it.
In news media, women are particularly under- represented in certain roles. The Select Committee’s report made that very clear. One example that it quoted is that in flagship news programmes—noble Lords have mentioned this—three male reporters exist for every one female reporter. It is clear that news broadcasters should ensure better gender balance in their wider workforce. In the news and current affairs broadcast sector the “ripple” effect that can be created by not having women in visible senior roles has an impact not only on today’s working women but on future generations, which my noble friend Lord Holmes also mentioned.
The Government believe that it is for the media industry itself, including broadcasters, producers, media organisations and others, to take the lead and to promote equality among its employers. This business-led approach has worked well in the FTSE 100—an approach spearheaded by the noble Lord, Lord Davies. Unprecedented progress has been made in increasing the number of women working at board level in the FTSE 100. In four years those figures have doubled from 12.5% in 2011 to now nearly 26%. We now have no all-male boards in the FTSE 100. This approach was so successful because of the impressive collaboration involving UK businesses, investors, regulators, headhunters, the media and other stakeholders, such as the 30% Club.
We believe that this approach can be applied to all sectors, including broadcast and print media. The Government are working with stakeholders with expertise in this area to establish a firmer base of evidence surrounding this agenda and to look at what further action can be taken by all stakeholders to speed up progress. We wrote to Ofcom highlighting the long-lasting positive impact that transparency can have on women’s economic empowerment—the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned this. We also supported the 30% Club in the development and launch of Women for Media UK, a database of female leaders in business, finance, government and not-for-profit sectors who are available for media comment on key topics of the day. We believe that the database will help increase women’s visibility and voice within broadcasting and demonstrate the huge talent pool of women out there who are qualified and suitable to speak on key issues of the day. The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, mentioned the lack of female experts being utilised in the media. I know that that was one of the key issues raised by the committee.
The Government also have a more direct role here to help to modernise the workplace culture so that men and women can better balance work and family life by extending the right for all to request flexible working, as well as by introducing a system of shared parental leave and supporting working families with childcare costs. The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, mentioned that; I will expand on it later. We also agreed with the committee’s finding that transparency is key to making progress. That is why we will require employers with at least 250 employees to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees. It is why we welcome the Creative Diversity Network building a new diversity monitoring system for broadcasters, which will standardise, benchmark and report on all the main broadcasters’ data on diversity. It is also why we are continuing to encourage all employers, including media companies, to sign up to the Think, Act, Report initiative, which helps them to tackle the underlying causes, such as recruitment, retention, promotion and pay. I urge all media companies to sign up to this initiative.
I turn to my noble friend Lord Holmes’s point on raising girl’s aspirations. Girls are, of course, the future and the next generation in broadcasting. As I mentioned, the topic of this inquiry goes beyond the scope of women of working age today: it talks about the girls who will be the women of tomorrow. The media as a whole plays an important role in perpetuating or challenging cultural and societal norms, so it is important that this industry is more representative of today’s society.
Investment in the future of our girls and young women will not only benefit them directly but also allow us to maximise their economic potential. The Your Life campaign launched in 2014 aims to help the UK find more engineers, more scientists and more computer scientists to compete in the global economic race. However, we need more visible female role models, and the media can help to achieve this. Having visible, positive role models can challenge the gap between the reality of women’s and men’s lives. By transcending gender stereotypes: for example, those that portray women as solely carers or victims, female role models can give women and girls the confidence to overcome the barriers that stop them reaching their full potential.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, raised a number of points, including the fact that significant steps have been made since the committee’s report in January. This is testament not only to the great work of the committee itself but also to how seriously this agenda is now being taken by all stakeholders. He also raised the important influencing role that Ofcom plays. In its final report, the committee recommended that government make it clear to Ofcom that they no longer wish to remove the power Ofcom has to ensure gender equality under Section 337 of the Communications Act 2003, and that Ofcom should not hesitate to use this power. In our response to this report we stated very clearly that we agreed with this. We have no plans currently to remove Ofcom’s duty to promote development opportunities for training and equality of opportunity under the Communications Act. I think that partly answers the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson.
During the last Government, Jo Swinson wrote to the chief executive of Ofcom in February highlighting the long-lasting, positive impact that transparency can have in relation to women’s economic empowerment. My noble friend Lord Sherbourne also raised this point. She asked Ofcom to support and publicise the data monitoring system being developed by the Creative Diversity Network in order to promote more transparency. We also suggested that it support Think, Act, Report. Also at this time ministerial letters were sent to those media companies—11 in all—in the FTSE 350, encouraging them to sign up to TAR and highlighting the importance of transparency. I am pleased to say that Ofcom has signed up to TAR and a number of high-profile media companies have also signed up: SKY, Virgin Media, ITV and Viacom. Ofcom also confirmed that it is working closely with the Creative Diversity Network on Project Diamond, which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, also mentioned.
Ofcom also worked jointly with the EHRC to produce the recent guidance on equality for broadcasters launched on
The noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, talked about the benefits of broad voluntary targets. We agree with the committee that quotas are not appropriate here. It was suggested that the Government ensure that Ofcom holds the BBC to account in regard to any voluntary targets. Within the existing charter period it is still a matter for the BBC Trust to ensure that its public purposes are delivered, that the BBC is held to account, and that its licence-fee payers are represented in terms of their interests and their gender and identity by the BBC. Of course, BBC governance is one of the key issues being examined in the charter review. The Government have been clear about their role here: that is, to set a regulatory framework of law and responsibility for broadcasters, as with all employers and especially public service employers, and ensure that they understand those responsibilities.
The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, asked what the Government were doing about getting their own house in order, which is a very reasonable question. The Government have set a target of 50% more women in public appointments. Very good progress was made from April to September of 2014—44% of new appointments were women—and we expect the new figures to be even better. We have the most diverse Parliament ever with nearly 30% of MPs being women, up from 23% in 2010, and 20.5% of Conservative MPs are women. There are also 10 women now in the Cabinet.
The noble Lords, Lord Dobbs and Lord Razzall, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, talked about ageism in the broadcast media. Other noble Lords may also have talked about this. The Government agree that women of all ages should feature prominently throughout broadcasting. I believe that broadcasters have woken up and should have learned from the mistakes with the Miriam O’Reilly case at “Countryfile”.
We are playing our part to tackle underrepresentation. The Equality Act 2010 protects employees in all businesses from discrimination on a number of grounds, including sex and age. The Government have appointed the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, as the business champion for older women. A recent report about older workers shows the valuable contribution that older women could and can make to further the economy. Companies are not fully utilising their skills and are missing out. The Equality Act 2010 provides legal protection for employees facing discrimination on the ground of age.
My noble friend Lord Dobbs also mentioned a very interesting point about how the media can promote cultural change in terms of respect for women—for example, in highlighting the dreadful practice of FGM. The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, talked about childcare and flexible working. We will double the free hours of childcare for working parents of three to four year-olds from 15 to 30 hours and we will also introduce tax-free childcare which will save around 2 million families up to £2,000 per child annually. I appreciate just what a barrier lack of childcare is to progressing in any profession, as I am sure do other noble Baronesses. We extended flexible working to all from June and introduced shared parental leave from April 2015. The Government are very much committed to creating a modernised and flexible workplace so that all employees can thrive.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, and my noble friend Lord Sherbourne talked about the remedy being positive action, not positive discrimination, and said that good data are essential to identifying the problem. These are very important points. I agree that positive action is key and the Equality Act allows companies to take positive measures to enable employees to take action. I welcome the initiative of the EHRC and Ofcom, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Best, which will help broadcasters take positive action under the Equality Act 2010.
On the second point of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, I welcome the Creative Diversity Network’s initiative, Project Diamond, to which I alluded earlier, which all main broadcasters have committed to share and report their data on diversity on and off screen. That is progress in the right direction.
The noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Stevenson, talked about freelancers. We expect the industry to take the lead here. With freelancers continuing to make up such significant parts of the workforce, it stands to reason that data should be collected to assess whether there is a problem with gender balance in the freelance sector and across the industry more broadly, and, if so, to enable the industry to take the requisite steps to address it.
My noble friend Lord Sherbourne made a very good point about the impact of television, and he talked about the lady ringing up from Lime Grove who was always assumed to be the secretary. When I came into your Lordships’ House I was asked by a noble Lord who will remain nameless, and who has since been for ever ashamed of it, whose secretary I was. My noble friend also made a good point about women being used as “soft” news presenters, never being seen as able to tackle the hard news elements.
It is very good news that Laura Kuenssberg has been appointed the BBC’s political editor. That is very good progress indeed.
My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond talked about the lack of women in media and broadcasting impacting on the reputation of the industry generally. I totally agree. Research undertaken by the Government Equalities Office shows that there is a significant gender pay gap of 11.4% for media professionals, 8.4% for print media and 18.7% for advertising. The gender pay gaps in various sectors will become more apparent when gender pay gap reporting comes into force. I hope that will focus minds towards positive action. He also talked about the really poor diversity generally in British broadcasting. I totally agree with that point. He also mentioned disabled people. Only 3% of BBC staff are disabled and it is similar for other broadcasters. The number of BME people in the media actually declined between 2009 and 2012 to below 6%.
I am aware that time has run out. I hope I have answered most points but if I have not, I will write to noble Lords. Once again, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.
My Lords, I, too, thank all noble Lords who have taken part. I wonder whether Conan Doyle would have raised an eyebrow in noticing in the list of Peers that Watson was followed by Holmes and then by Hastings. Everyone who contributed made positive, welcoming remarks and I am deeply grateful. The Minister summed up a list of points which mirrored exactly the ones I was going to sum up with myself, and I am very grateful to her and to the Government for getting behind this report and helping what has been a remarkable response across the piece from the broadcasters. They have come forward and there are changes afoot that will, I think, make a difference. So perhaps I can confine myself to agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, who said that this report may be one of the ways in which we demonstrate our antidote to all those criticisms of the House of Lords. We seem to have made something of an impression and I am deeply grateful to all my colleagues for their participation in that. I beg to move.