#WFImediawatch: An Interview with Libby Brooks

For this week's Media Watch, Gillian Martin interviewed Libby Brooks, Guardian Scotland reporter on gender (in)equality in both print and broadcast media. 

This week on Media Watch we've an interview with Guardian Scotland reporter, Libby Brooks. Libby has been one of the few journalists writing for a UK national newspaper to cover the work of Women for Independence. We caught up with her as she flew back from reporting on all things Carmichael in Shetland (see her report here).  

We asked for her perspective on gender balance in the Scottish media and also gave her a fairy godmother wish.

Gillian Martin (GM): You've mentioned before that you really noticed how male dominated political journalism is in Scotland when you became The Guardian's Scotland reporter. Why do you think this is? And how do you think this could change?

Libby Brooks (LB): I've mentioned specifically that the Holyrood lobby is male-dominated, although there are terrific women writing from there and elsewhere on Scottish politics like Lindsey Mackie, Katrine Bussey as well as women leading the flagship nightly politics shows for STV and the Beeb.

I'd say there's also a difference in male-domination by numbers and by sensibility. Whilst there are still more men to women in the lobby I think there's a strong argument that the sensibility is changing much faster, as this generation of younger men like David Clegg, Alan Roden, Keiron Andrews, Andy Philip and so on step up.

I think as with all representation issues it's a mixture of factors: are women journalists encouraged to write about politics, do the people doing the hiring care about gender, what's the institutional gender balance like? 

GM: We've noticed a quite stark gender imbalance that when it comes to female political commentators and interviewees on television and radio. Programme producers have said that they are at the mercy of whoever the political parties put up for interview but female politicians and commentators have also complained about being sidelined. What are your thoughts?

LB: I always feel really terrible when especially Scotland Tonight is criticised for this because they ask me regularly and I usually say "No," because it's too last-minute. I do think that television and radio are becoming much more aware of the need for balanced panels. I think there's inevitably a time lag as more women get into more senior political positions and feel confident enough to appear on these shows.

I also think that it takes a particular type of personality to do these shows. For a long time in London I refused to do telly and radio because I found it too exposing and didn't want a Twitter discussion about whether my bra strap was showing or if I was fuck-able. These are examples of things that have happened to female colleagues at the Guardian in London. But I bit the bullet up here, although I still find it quite nerve-wracking. Obviously the sexist comments are related to my gender but I don't think that my personality type is (if you know what I mean!)

GM: One of the aims of WFI Media Watch is to put pressure on the parties and  the media to even things up a bit as we believe if women and girls see themselves represented it will encourage them to engage more with politics. Is it that simple?

LB: Well, not entirely as my last reply about personality indicates. I suppose that media training early on in my career could have helped me get over my nerves – I wonder if that's something for WFI to think about? Plus, I'm well aware that it's much easier for a nice middle class woman like me to get on the telly than someone with a stronger accent, say. 

GM: Certain parties have introduced mechanisms to try and gender balance in candidate selection, most recently the SNP. Do you see this as having an impact on the Scottish political scene? Or is it counterproductive?

LB: I'll be interested to see how that new SNP policy pans out. Thus far, from research that my colleague Severin Carrell has done over the years, it looks like it is the Labour party that has been most consistent about encouraging women's representation through policies like this. Again, I think it's worth noting that these mechanisms can end up favouring middle class women over working class ones and we need to be certain that we're not simply recreating the old boys' network with old girls. 

GM: We're giving you a magic wand. You can wave it and change one thing about political journalism and broadcasting in Scotland. What is it and why?

LB: Don't let me make a fool of myself here Gillian, but I'm right in saying there's never been a woman editor of a newspaper in Scotland has there? Aside from Lesley when she was editor of the Scotswoman for the day! Anyway, if so...I'd like to see a woman editing a Scottish newspaper. Not because I think that a single appointment like that would necessarily usher in huge changes or that one woman at the top could or would even want to make a big difference, but for the symbolism of it.

Follow Libby Brooks on Twitter @libby_brooks 


Addendum: Thanks to everyone on Twitter who has got in touch and reminded Libby and Gillian that Joan McAlpine was in fact the editor of the Sunday Times Scotland and deputy editor of The Herald. Thanks to David Leask from the Herald who has also reminded us that Rebecca Hardy edited the Scotsman for a short period as did Mo Simpson at the Evening Express. 

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