BBC Breakfast faces 'sexism' calls over Dan Walker's 'camera left' sofa position

Walker is presenting from the spot previously occupied by Bill Turnbull, which is often seeen as signalling seniority

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The Independent Online

The arrival of Dan Walker at BBC Breakfast has prompted questions about an apparent pecking order based on where the presenters sit.

Walker, 38, who began work at the BBC’s Salford studios last month, is presenting from the left of the sofa, in the spot occupied by his predecessor Bill Turnbull. Within the television industry this “camera left” spot is often seen as signalling seniority in a presenter pairing.

The seating plan caused some viewers to speak out in support of Walker’s more experienced presenting partner, Louise Minchin, 47, who has been a regular presenter on the BBC1 programme for a decade. Minchin has also worked on BBC1’s The One Show and has been a presenter on the BBC News Channel since 2003.

“I was annoyed to see ‘new boy’ Dan Walker seated on the left, in Bill Turnbull’s own place, while far more experienced news presenter Louise Minchin remained in the ‘number two’ position on the right,” complained Adele Clarke, from Cheshire, in a letter to Radio Times

“How long will it take the BBC (and most other news stations) to catch up with the rest of us in the 21st century? Be brave – try seating a woman on the left and see how the world will keep turning.” 

Within television it is said that because people read from left to right, the more senior presenter of a programme should sit “camera left”.

On BBC Breakfast’s website, Walker has the pre-eminent top-left position in the presenting roster, in defiance of alphabetic order. Walker also presents the BBC1 Saturday show Football Focus and formerly hosted an afternoon show for BBC Radio 5 Live.

David Butcher, deputy TV editor at Radio Times, said: “I think there’s a tradition that camera left is the ‘senior’ slot and our letter writer felt it was wrong and sexist to put newcomer Dan Walker in that place rather than Louise Minchin. Then again, sexism is hardly unknown in TV news studios.”

But the BBC argued that its positioning of its presenters was no indication of importance. “There is no seniority in terms of who sits where on the BBC Breakfast sofa. It’s all about judging which is the best camera angle for the presenters,” said a spokesperson.

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In many of the BBC’s sofa-based productions – such as The Graham Norton Show – the hosts are positioned “camera left” and the guests on the right. And on ITV’s Good Morning Britain Piers Morgan sits to the right of Susanna Reid – but it is the guests who occupy the “camera left” position. Adrian Chiles mostly sat “camera left” alongside Christine Bleakley in hosting The One Show and ITV’s Daybreak.

The BBC will be anxious to dispel any suggestion that it is undermining the position of women in front of the camera. The Corporation staged an event in November called “Is News Failing Women?” It was commissioned after findings that 66 per cent of the BBC’s global audience of 283 million people is male. Research by Professor Lis Howell of City University in London has found that male reporters assigned to cover stories in broadcast news outnumber females by three to one.