Men hogging the limelight at 'Question Time'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Question Time audiences, the BBC programme never fails to say, are representative of the population at large. How come, then, that the man wearing the green jumper is far more likely to be asked to put his question to the panel than the woman in the pink blouse?

Question Time audiences, the BBC programme never fails to say, are representative of the population at large. How come, then, that the man wearing the green jumper is far more likely to be asked to put his question to the panel than the woman in the pink blouse?

The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality between the sexes, has today published the results of an analysis into the number of "ordinary" women on television news and in quiz programmes. Only 26 per cent of the questions on one Question Time, it noticed, were put by women.

"Looking around the audience, there were slightly fewer women than men overall, but there appeared to be a good many female hands waving for attention," said Mary-Ann Stephenson, the director of Fawcett. "When, in an earlier study, we looked at the representation of experts, politicians and celebrities on television, we found that the politicians blamed the broadcasters for not asking for female spokespeople, and the broadcasters blamed the politicians for not putting them forward."

By looking at "ordinary people" the researchers hoped to cut through this cycle of blame. However, according to Nick Pisani, the editor of Question Time, things are not that simple. "It's unfortunate that five times as many men as women apply to be on the programme," he said. "So we try to invite as many women as possible."

He says the host, David Dimbleby, tells the audience before each show that he wants to take half the questions from women.

The Fawcett study was a snapshot of television during one week in June and included just one episode of Question Time, which, says Mr Pisani, was not typical. But he does acknowledge that, despite decades of debate over female representation on his show, audience questions in recent shows are from roughly 60 per cent men, 40 per cent women.

Women fare similarly poorly in vox pops on regional news programmes. During the study period, only 36 per cent of interviews with members of the public were with women, on subjects that fitted age-old stereotypes. The author of the report, a media academic, Karen Ross, noted: "One of the most striking aspects of this snapshot analysis is how often women are asked to comment in stories about loss and about crime, where they have been or are fearful of becoming victims."

Quiz shows did better: 42 per cent of contestants were women, although Channel 4's Fifteen to One had only four women to every 11 men.

The Fawcett Society now plans to issue its 3,000 members with telephone numbers of complaint lines to all the major broadcasters and television watchdogs. "Are you bored with the lack of women on news discussion panels?" it will ask. If so, phone these lines.