Incoming BBC news director promises action for more on-air female journalists


Ian Burrell@iburrell
Wednesday 22 May 2013 17:49
James Harding, incoming Director of News at the BBC
James Harding, incoming Director of News at the BBC

James Harding, the incoming Director of News at the BBC, has admitted his discomfort at the lack of women broadcasters on the BBC's bulletins and has promised to address the issue as a priority.

In an internal address to BBC staff, Mr Harding, the former editor of The Times, said that, as a newcomer to the BBC, he had been struck by the lack of female journalists in on-air roles. "I think that as an outsider there is clearly an issue about the number of female broadcasters - the number of broadcasters on air - that is one thing you do notice - and we're going to have do something determined about that," he said.

Mr Harding was answering questions from BBC Radio 4 presenter Justin Webb at the organisation's annual BBC News Festival event, where the organisation seeks to find ways to improve its news output. Asked by Webb if he could improve the representation of women on BBC news programmes, Harding responded: "We're going to have to do it…as a viewer and listener you're aware of it. And you think to yourself 'Hang on, the BBC can do better than that.' And we can." Asked if it was a priority issue, he said "I'm saying it's something important to do".

Tony Hall, who arrived at the BBC as Director-General at the start of last month(April), is already under pressure to make changes to rectify a gender imbalance across the organisation. The lack of female television presenters over the age of 50 has been highlighted in the news media this month. The BBC has also faced criticism over a shortfall of women interviewees in stories broadcast on its news programmes.

His fellow peer, Maurice Glasman, the founder of the Blue Labour political tendency and an adviser to party leader David Miliband, has called for licence fee payers and BBC staff to be allowed to elect members of the organisation's governing body, the BBC Trust.

In a speech to BBC journalists at New Broadcasting House in London, Lord Glasman said that allowing the BBC's employees and audiences to have a say in who governed the corporation would help to increase public trust. "The reality is that no one holds the BBC management to real account," said the peer of Lord Patten's BBC Trust, which is sometimes criticised for being a cheerleader for the BBC executive as well as its governing body.

"There can be no common good with management unless there is real power-sharing," said Lord Glasman. "Instead of being appointed solely by government fiat, the BBC Trust should be a third elected by licence-fee payers, with a further third of its members elected by the BBC workforce, whether journalists, caterers, production and technical staff or cleaners. In addition, the staff should elect one third of the BBC Executive."

The peer's proposal was welcomed by the National Union of Journalists at the BBC. David Campanale, NUJ spokesman, said: "For too long, the BBC's non-executive directors have been drawn largely from industry and the City, while the views of the workforce are not represented at board level. The lack of 'say' perhaps accounts for the relational disconnection between staff and the upper tiers of BBC management."

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