Women still stereotyped on small screen: Maggie Brown reports on a survey which reveals continuing inequality suffered by women on television

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MOST of the women who appear on television are well educated, young, of medium to high social status, and are under 40 years of age, according to research carried out by the Broadcasting Standards Council.

It also found that the BBC and ITV continue to sideline women in stereotyped roles, with far fewer women than men presenting or appearing in factual programmes. Heavyweight news and current afffairs were dominated by men, and most needed change. On news programmes, 82 per cent of those speaking were men, compared with 70 per cent across a range of programmes in a sample week.

Where women were fronting news programmes and weather reports, they were very attractive, and, for weather reports, were always young. In comparison, the men who dominated news programmes were older. Eccentric male weather presenters were tolerated.

Lady Howe, who chairs the BSC, said yesterday: 'Hopefully broadcasters will notice, and do more to change the stereotyping of women. There is evidence that the portrayal of women is changing, but there are still far more men than women.'

Other areas of imbalance show that in factual programmes the ratio of men to women was 2:1, in light entertainment 7:3, sport 11:1, fiction 3:2 and children's programmes 1:1.

The main area of complaint from women about types of programming was the amount of sport offered by the four main channels, particularly at the weekends. The type and amount of viewing varied widely according to social class. Women in the top social groups of AB (managerial and professional) regarded television as one of many options for entertainment. They were inclined to control their children's viewing and expressed concern about the values conveyed in youth programming.

For other social groups television played an important role: for single young women (18 to 24) it was a time-filler or relaxation. In homes with children it was often left on as background and company. Watching lunchtime soap operas was regarded as a reward.

Many of these women were heavy consumers of soap operas such as EastEnders and Coronation Street, with some watching as many as five a day. Older women (50 to 65) relied on television to keep them company, but wanted information about the world as well as entertainment.

Younger women were most likely to complain about the images of women in commercials, but female viewers also pointed to the more prominent roles being given to women in a range of programmes, except quiz shows.

Broadcasting Standards Council: Perspectives of Women in Broadcasting.