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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:06 pm on 8th September 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Bakewell Baroness Bakewell Labour 5:06 pm, 8th September 2015

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.