NUJ says report marks important step in recognising existence of discrimination against women

ParliamentOfcom should have the power to intervene to ensure women journalists are fairly represented on television and radio, says a report from the House of Lord’s.

The Lords Communications Committee said it was concerned about evidence to its inquiry into women in broadcasting “suggesting that discrimination against women, particularly older women, still exists in the industry”.

The committee recommended that public service broadcasters should “consider adopting a policy which promotes (but does not mandate) the use of positive action in favour of women for all relevant recruitment and promotion opportunities in broadcasting”.

The report singled out the BBC, “because of its special status and its dominance as a provider of news and current affairs”, saying “despite the fact that women make up almost half the BBC’s total workforce, they represent only 37.3% of the leadership in network news and 35.1% of leadership in global news.”

The NUJ welcomed the wide-ranging report, which backed many of the union’s recommendations, saying it marked a very important step in recognising discrimination against women and that it sent a strong message to the industry to “ensure a gender balance in their wider workforce to facilitate coverage of issues which affect both men and women in varied ways”.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “This is a very important and comprehensive report and must be taken very seriously by the government and industry. It contains some very sound recommendations and clearly sets out the problems women journalists face because of discrimination, bullying, recruitment practices and insufficient checks on employment practices. It places the ball very much in Ofcom’s court to ensure data on gender balance and pay is collected officially, so we can see the difference between broadcasters’ recruitment polices on paper and what happens in practice.

“The report contained good practical advice. It recognised the problems women have in juggling a career in broadcasting and their childcare and family duties. It said woman should not be disadvantaged by freelance contracts. It said broadcasters must be more transparent in how they recruit and reward staff and acknowledged the shocking findings of an NUJ survey of members which showed women doing the same job as male colleagues reported being paid less. The peers said where appointments are made by an interview panel, it should be a mixed-gender panel.”

The report took up the NUJ’s suggestion that Ofcom should have a duty to monitor gender representation by broadcasting companies. The peers said: “An industry-wide standard is urgently needed in order to monitor properly the rate of change in the industry. Current monitoring of the gender balance within news and current affairs broadcasting is unsatisfactory.…We therefore recommend that Ofcom uses its power under section 337 of the Communications Act 2003 to require broadcasters, through the Creative Diversity Network or otherwise, to record annually the gender balance within their organisations, in line with an industry-wide standard. This data should include information on rates of pay, age, promotion, and should be categorised by role and genre.” The data should include figures for freelance workers and should be made public.

Lord Best, chair of the committee, said: “We recommend that Ofcom should ensure the collection of all the data needed to monitor progress toward short, medium and long-term targets to ensure a better gender balance. If this hasn’t materialised within a year, we would call on Ofcom to revive the model of a separate entity such as the Broadcast Equality and Training Regulator (BETR) and delegate responsibility for gender equality issues to this body.”

The BETR was established in 2005 as the broadcast industry co-regulatory body for training and skills. One of its roles was to encourage broadcasters to promote equal opportunity in employment and career development; it was closed down in June 2011, with Ofcom taking on some of its responsibilities.

The report said that independent broadcasting companies proving programming for public service broadcasters should sign contracts with obligations relating to recruitment and promotion policies.

The Lords heard from a number of journalists, including Miriam O’Reilly, who won an age discrimination case against the BBC, and concluded: “The number of older women in news and current affairs broadcasting is too low. Evidence we have received suggests there is an informal culture of discrimination against older women within the BBC and other broadcasting organisations. We conclude that this culture is contributing to the lack of women in news and current affairs broadcasting.”

The report  said human resources departments must take responsibility for supporting employees to identify gender-based bullying at work, so that it can be directly addressed and suggested allocating a ‘women’s champion’ to advise women being bullied at work. In practice, it has been union reps who have done this role.


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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