Ian Burrell: For every gain women make in this industry, there’s a setback

Media Studies

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The Independent Online

I was at a BBC2 dinner earlier this year attended by some of the brightest female presenting talent on the small screen. Lucy Worsley was there, with the Georgian specialist Amanda Vickery, the Barnsley-born Egyptologist Joann Fletcher and, at the head of the table, Janice Hadlow, channel controller and curator of all these marvellous “history women”.

How sad that, a few months later, Hadlow should be telling the Edinburgh International Television Festival last Thursday about the misogyny that some female presenters face on Twitter. “There is a certain kind of comment that does seem to come women’s way,” she said, “and one of the things we have to do is try to find ways of not letting that make women feel they don’t want to do this – that they actually feel the price is too high for doing it.”

The problems facing women in television was a recurring theme at the festival. The new BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore said she had been talking to her fellow executives about the requirement for “more women” in the business and told the audience: “Industry-wide, we all know we need to do much more ... on screen and off screen.” Throughout the summer, TV sexism has been in the news, most notably when John Inverdale’s crass comments about Wimbledon tennis champion Marion Bartoli raised doubts over whether TV really values women’s sport.

And yet, looking around the television festival, so many delegates were female. It’s a very different gender balance from the newspaper industry’s Society of Editors conference or advertising’s annual bash in Cannes. Apart from perhaps public relations, TV offers the most opportunity for women to progress in their careers.

Hadlow and Moore are running the BBC’s biggest channels. Jay Hunt is in charge of programmes at Channel 4. Sophie Turner-Laing performs a similar role across the Sky channels, and the head of entertainment at ITV is Elaine Bedell, who was also running this year’s festival in Edinburgh.

The main reason that a sense of a glass ceiling persists is that there has still not been a female director-general of the BBC, although Caroline Thomson came within a whisker of it last year. For the sake of the female DGs that we must hope will come in the near future, it’s perhaps a blessing that Ms Thomson did not arrive at the top just in time to be swept away by the unforeseen storm that claimed her rival candidate George Entwistle.

But, on the subject of gender equality, television should be congratulating not excoriating itself. By comparison, the press actually seems to be going backwards on this issue. A short while ago, Sly Bailey was running Trinity Mirror and Rebekah Brooks was head of what is now News UK. Both are now gone. Only three women edit Fleet Street papers (Lisa Markwell of The Independent on Sunday, Sarah Sands of the London Evening Standard and Dawn Neesom of the Daily Star).

The Daily Mail has most success in attracting female readers, but its online “sidebar of shame” is hardly a contribution to women’s struggle for equal rights. The paper’s Femail pages are often suspicious of career women. And whenever there is discussion of a successor to the editor-in-chief Paul Dacre, there is only ever an all-male shortlist.

Fleet Street has much work to do here, even though I understand the exasperation in newsrooms over Harriet Harman’s recent opportunist gesture of demanding statistics on the numbers of women on the staffs of every national title.

Online media, original home of the male geek, is showing signs of progress. Tech City chief Joanna Shields is a British figurehead in a global industry where Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo! president and CEO Marissa Mayer are major female role models. And Britain’s senior media politician, Culture Secretary Maria Miller, is also Minister for Women and Equalities. However, the way she was brushed aside by Oliver Letwin, her political junior, in the Leveson negotiations evoked the protocols of a gentlemen’s club.

Janice Hadlow was right to stick up for Mary Beard and her other women presenters as they face up to the Twitter bigots. But that is not a television problem per se – print writers such as Grace Dent (The Independent), Hadley Freeman (The Guardian) and Catherine Mayer (Time) have suffered similar threats.

Just as it has made great strides in highlighting disability issues (take a bow Channel 4), so television has a strong record in gender equality. It should no longer be a source of shame.

Pippa’s obsession with sport is just not cricket

Pippa Middleton has sent her latest dispatch as contributing editor to Vanity Fair, attempting to explain those wacky Brits to the Americans. Her guide to “watching and loving cricket” features a photo of the “boundary babe” dressed in white and essaying a cover drive.

The magazine highlights a passage of her prose. “From Imran Khan to England’s current captain, Alastair Cook, there is a tradition of the sultry cricketer powering in from the boundary or effortlessly gliding a ball to the boundary, tousled hair blowing in the breeze, his whites signifying a purity of action—oops, I almost forgot myself. Better have a cup of tea.”

Of the nine Pippa articles promoted on the Vanity Fair website, one is about cricket, seven are about tennis and the other is about Pimm’s (and tennis). She chose not to file on one of the other stories of the summer – her sister’s baby in July. “There wasn’t a peep about Pippa’s royal nephew, which might have been on American readers’ minds more than cricket,” said a disappointed New York Post last week.

Not a film likely to win the approval of al-Fayed

Diana, the new feature film about the Princess of Wales with Naomi Watts in the title role, has its premiere in Leicester Square on 5 September. I don’t expect Mohamed al-Fayed to be there, but he has been anxious to see how the film portrays his son Dodi. Mr al‑Fayed’s devoted PR man Michael Cole has been pursuing the producers Ecosse Films (Mrs Brown, Nowhere Boy), requesting a private screening. But to no avail. Film critics have not even been allowed sight of the movie (except Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail).

The former owner of Fulham FC – who has long argued that his son was murdered in the Paris car crash – will surely hate the film, and not just as a grieving father. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and based on a book by former BBC producer Kate Snell, it’s the story of Diana’s love affair with the heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. The Princess is shown deploying celebrity photographer Jason Fraser and using Dodi as a pawn to make the heart surgeon jealous.

Dodi, played by Cas Anvar, gets only a couple of lines.