Maria Miller writes to BBC to 'express concern' over John Inverdale's Marion Bartoli comments during Wimbledon

Inverdale remarked that the ladies' champion was 'never going to be a looker'

Media Editor

The BBC Director-General, Tony Hall, has hit back at the Culture Secretary Maria Miller after she put pressure on the broadcaster to take further action over commentator John Inverdale’s sexist comments about the Wimbledon tennis champion Marion Bartoli.

It emerged today that Ms Miller wrote to the Director-General this week expressing her concern over the comments, which provoked more than 700 complaints to the BBC, and requesting updates on “further action that is likely to be taken”.

During coverage of the women’s final, Mr Inverdale suggested that the French player’s “dogged, determined” style of play was related to her appearance. He told viewers: “I just wonder if her dad did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe: ‘Listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be a [Maria] Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5 feet 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that.”

But Lord Hall, while acknowledging that the comments were “totally unacceptable and fell well beneath the standards we expect of our presenters”, responded to the Secretary of State with a robust defence of the BBC’s “proud record” in covering women’s sports.

Ms Miller’s letter demanded that the BBC should take “positive steps” to ensure commentary on “female athletes, and women’s sport generally, are as positive and inclusive as possible”.

In what amounted to a rebuttal of any insinuation of institutional sexism at the BBC, Lord Hall set out the broadcaster’s record in covering the women’s Euro 2013 football championships, and women’s golf, tennis, netball, athletics and cricket. “There is unprecedented coverage of women’s sport across the BBC this summer,” he said. “I would be happy to make sure you are kept updated as we enhance our editorial ambition for women’s sport.”

He also said that BBC staff had received advice on “what constitutes inappropriate behaviour or language” in order to limit the possibility of sexual harassment in the workplace and “to reaffirm the BBC's values around respect”. He finished by saying: “Whilst of course the editorial judgements about what happens on air are a matter which is distinct from issues within the workplace, I hope you will appreciate that this is a matter I take very seriously across the BBC.”

The Culture Secretary’s intervention over Mr Inverdale’s comments comes at a particularly embarrassing time for the BBC because Lord Hall this week took the opportunity to announce his determination to address a gender imbalance in the broadcaster’s on and off-screen staff.

Speaking at the launch of the BBC annual report on Tuesday he said that “improving the gender balance in our programming has been a priority for me since I returned to the BBC”, taking up his new role in April. He said: “I'm keen to see more women in key presenting and backstage roles as we move forward.”

Lord Hall simultaneously announced the appointment of Mishal Husain to the presenting line-up of the Radio 4 Today programme and commented: “I’m particularly pleased that with her appointment there will be another female voice on the programme which I think is really important.”

Ms Miller began her letter by saying she was “writing to express my concern over the comments”. She said: “It is...a matter of some concern to me that any comment on the looks and stature of a female athlete could be made in the context of one of the highlights of the UK’s, and indeed the world’s, sporting calendar. The letter, which reminded the BBC of its obligations to female licence fee payers, was strategically leaked to the Daily Mail.

Although she accepted that Inverdale had apologised on air and in a letter to Ms Bartoli, she made clear that she did not consider that the matter was at a close. She did not explicitly call for the commentator to be sacked or disciplined but suggested further action was necessary from the BBC.

Previously, James Harding, the new BBC head of news, had suggested that Mr Inverdale should take ownership of comments that were “wrong”. He said: “I think he said the wrong thing ... You have got to own your mistakes and apologise for them.”

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?