Guest Post: Lis Howell asked former student Barney Weston What It Was Like to Be a Monitor

Barney Weston is now a podcast producer for Extinction Rebellion among other things!

“Counting the gender of experts appearing on broadcast news programmes was a bit of a whirlwind experience, emotionally, whilst I was studying towards my MA in Broadcast Journalism at City, University of London. Having first arrived on the course – in the midst of the BBC’s confirmed & published gender pay gap – I was shocked to find a pretty undiverse set of coursemates. Yes, there were more women than men, but there wasn’t much of anything else. So, when Professor Lis Howell stood up in front of our class on day one, and invited applications to work with her, watching broadcast news programmes and counting the gender of experts, I was really keen to get involved.

Monitoring can be tedious – most of the time you’re watching news that is days old. That kind of thing doesn’t age well! (Although in the age of Brexit – it was fun looking back at the that part of the saga, as things got more and more dramatic.) However, what did remain throughout this progression of broadcast news programmes was a consistent imbalance between the gender of experts, as well as on screen programme staff. On Channel 4 News, I got tired of Jon Snow and Gary Gibbon jostling for the first few minutes of the programme, before launching into a lengthy package featuring more male politicians and experts. On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, I got tired of Justin Webb and John Humphrys switching between male experts.

But you know what? I got used to it. I got used to a consistent imbalance between the amount of men and women appearing in the programme. Only a few times did this really stand out to me. Here’s an example;

On Friday the 19th of October 2018, Channel 4 News featured 1 female expert. She spoke for 12 seconds. (Her male counterparts had 13 minutes and 22 seconds of airtime).

This female was one of 6 women that appeared in the entire programme (including on screen staff and all interviewees). There were 24 men.

The day before, there had been 2 female experts, in comparison with 14 male experts.

Of course, there is an argument that the media can’t do anything if the PM is a man, or if the CEO of a certain company is a man. They would be the best people to speak to – and the media shouldn’t have to limit itself if the best interviewee is a man.

Ok, fair enough. But then what about the men who aren’t in those positions of power, who still get an interview? During that Channel 4 News broadcast on Friday the 19th of October 2018 for example, Eiad Alhaji (a male) was interviewed as a friend of Khashoggi. Did Khashoggi have exclusively male friends? Of course not – and yes, although Channel 4 News is a daily programme, and Eiad might have been the only one of Khashoggi’s male friends the team could find (let’s not get into the gender imbalance in newsrooms off screen), these excuses add up, and ultimately – they add up into 1 female expert speaking for 12 seconds during an hour long programme, whereas her male counterparts get to speak for 13 minutes and 22 seconds. What kind of message does that send to young women, regardless of their profession? Let’s be clear – in an age of ‘fake news’ and trust in the media at an all time low – there is no excuse.

Looking back on my experience at university, I am proud that I was able to make a difference, in terms of encouraging a step towards gender balance on screen. (Professor Lis Howell deserves the credit.) However, I was only one of a few people doing that work – whilst studying towards an MA in Broadcast Journalism at one of the industry’s most respected institutions. I would hope that it wouldn’t take much to get my fellow alumni to do that same work in their workplace now.”

Lis Howell

Emeritus Professor Lis Howell is a major award-winning journalist and broadcasting executive who has worked for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Sky News, and is the director of the Expert Women Project.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Lis Howell
    Lis Howell

    thank yu barney – so perceptive

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