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Media: Talk of the Trade: Lady Howe targets sexist broadcasts

'I'VE ALWAYS described myself as a feminist. My husband describes me as a gut feminist rather than a nut feminist.' Thus Lady Howe introduced herself last week as the new chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council, following Lord Rees-Mogg. Her chairmanship will see the council widening its remit to comment on the portrayal of women on television and radio, as well as on sex and violence.

Lady Howe's arrival coincides with a new draft code to take in political correctness. Colin Shaw, the council's chief executive, said that some language was beyond the pale, and the council would have to decide 'what the extremes were'. In future, viewers would be able to complain about sexist language as well as sex and violence.

He added that the word 'spastic', which used to be a term of abuse in schools, had over the past few years become unacceptable. When it was pointed out that a former minister, Alan Clark, used the term in his diaries, he replied: 'I rest my case.'

Lady Howe, former deputy chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said she was upset that television coverage during the general election campaign had ignored women's issues such as child care; a curious perception, since the agenda during a campaign is surely determined not by television producers but by the political parties. How often did John Major mention child care from his famous soapbox?

Lady Howe went on to say she did worry about excessive violence and explicit sex on television, and although no causal link between television violence and real-life violence had been proved, 'most of us have a suspicion that there is a link'.

She said she had a television in the bedroom and liked to watch Open University programmes before she went to sleep; here again, no causal link has been proved.