Women in News and Current Affairs Broadcasting (Communications Committee Report) — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:50 pm on 8th September 2015.

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Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative 4:50 pm, 8th September 2015

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.