Alice Jones: Why can't the BBC treat women as normal people

IMHO: This week the nation's favourite broadcaster, ironically nicknamed Auntie, took a deep breath, rolled up its shirtsleeves and had a go at tackling "women's issues"
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The Independent Online

If the BBC was a relative, it would be an annoying, slightly awkward uncle who never married, doesn't quite know how to talk to women and, when he does, always manages to say precisely the wrong thing. This week the nation's favourite broadcaster, ironically nicknamed Auntie, took a deep breath, rolled up its shirtsleeves and had a go at tackling "women's issues".

Newsnight dedicated almost an entire edition to the PIP breast implants scandal, with mixed results. Jeremy Paxman prodded some silicon chicken fillets, riskily toyed with the word "tits", quizzed Katie Price, aka Jordan with a baffled sneer, and failed to control an angry group of surgery victims, preferring to sit back and let them talk, hysterically, over one another with a faraway "la la la, this isn't really happening" look in his eyes. You could practically see him puff out his cheeks and re-engage once the debate moved on to Syria and Russia – at which point, naturally, the pundits were all male.

Also this week, Mark Thompson, the BBC Director General, admitted there were too few older women on television, just a fortnight after he had denied that there was a problem with the gender balance on its flagship current affair show Today. "There are manifestly too few older women broadcasting on the BBC", he wrote in a lengthy mea culpa in the Daily Mail. "Especially in iconic roles and on iconic topical programmes". Come back, Arlene and Anneka, all is forgiven.

While it's true that women – still a rare phenomenon in prominent media roles , worthy of their own Attenborough series – are in no position to look these brief gifts of attention in the mouth, neither female specials nor recruitment drives for silver vixens are the way forward. It is only when women are treated are normal, average pundits – not as novelties to be prodded or wheeled out for special occasions – treated, in fact, like men and invited to talk irrespective of the size of their breasts or the greyness of their hair, that the balance will be set. Of course, if there were any women sufficiently high up at Auntie to have a voice, they could have told Thompson that themselves.

* The late Saparmurat Niyazov, aka the former President of Turkmenistan, went to heroic lengths to establish his personality cult. He named schools, airports, towns and months after himself and famously built a 50ft gold statue in his own image which revolved so that its face was always bathed in sunlight. Bizarre. That could never happen here ... or could it? As a London dweller I've been troubled of late by the gradual morphing of the capital into Boristown. First came the Boris Bikes, then the proposed Thames estuary airport, Boris Island. And this week the authorities unveiled their new information booths, called BorisPods.

In fact, BoJo was christened Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson but Alex Bikes or de PfeffelPods don't have quite the same ring. Always a shrewd political operator, Johnson is no doubt aware that swapping his name could well be the smartest move he ever made. It won't be long before we see him on Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth, gilded moptop and baggy suit glinting in the midday sun.

* Despite the miming, the stumble and some suspiciously Dad-like dancing, Madonna's half-time performance at the Superbowl was a triumph that confirmed that the Queen of Pop is, like Elizabeth II, still clinging to her throne.

I fear, though, she may have lost her crown off-stage. M.I.A., the rapper who performed with Madonna, has had her backstage rider leaked to the press. Among two pages of requests for "Throat Coat tea", absinthe, "European" cheese, dried blueberries and a small tray of hummus and pitta bread is a specification for three twentysomething female extras who can "groove to the music" while wearing "full covered burkas". Has Her Madgesty ever managed a request at once so queenily provocative and tricky to fulfil?