#WFImediawatch - Week One

In the first of many Media Watch blogs, Gillian Martin and Kirsty Strickland give you the run-down of this week's political TV, and how well they've done with women's representation. (Spoiler: not so good...)


Last year we all became media and political commentators. It was thrilling to be part of and it showed the power that the ordinary person, when they feel informed and interested in what's going on can have on the way their country is going.  Citizen blogging, which for a time looked like it had had its day, was reinvigorated and citizen broadcasting went into overdrive. Rather than turning to the television, radio or newspapers for our information, people went online and trusted the unsalaried yet motivated commentator.  Never mind the political class, and the journalists who shared their university halls of residencies- we wanted to hear what folk like us thought. As trite as that phrase is now beginning to sound from overuse, we became the media. To a large extent traditional broadcasting and news has yet to catch up with this phenomenon. One of the reasons the citizen journalist and broadcaster was so successful is they reflected the populace. And that leads us on to the whole point of #WFImediawatch.  

Women for Independence is a political feminist group. As everyone knows we swung into action initially to provide a campaign group for women, lead by women and to appeal to women voters for the independence referendum. Now that the referendum has passed we see part of our job as being to address the things that we see as holding women back in Scottish political life. And one of those things is our mainstream media. Just like many independence supporting folk felt disconnected from the mainstream media for a myriad of reasons to do with representation, many women feel a disconnect with its political output. And part of that reason is we don't see ourselves being given much in the way of critical space within it.

 At WFI's second AGM in March it was raised that political commentators on television were overwhelmingly male. Our media teems with women journalists and presenters but the punditry, opinion and commentary often lacks any substantial female representation. About 10 minutes after this was mentioned one of our foremost Scottish political commentators, Lesley Riddoch, took to the floor. She said we could no longer just grudgingly accept this, it was time for us to hold the media to account. She suggested we issue them a challenge and proposed a motion that we ask that our political programmes always have at least one woman commentator or panellist on every show. Not an equal number, but just one woman. 

Last Sunday at our first new WFI committee meeting Gillian Martin (@misssym) offered to lead an initiative to monitor just how well the broadcast media are doing in getting female political opinion and highlight the good and the bad in terms of female representation. She also enlisted the help of Kirsty Strickland who is fastidious in monitoring the numbers on her Twitter account @Mrsjackdaniels. They been watching and listening to as much as they can all week and here's what they found.

Let's look first at those broadcasts who have pretty much managed to get a good balance. BBC2's  Scotland 2015 started this week with their economy debate and had an a equal gender balanced panel of politicians. In fact, all week they had female representation except for one night where they had two male commentators commenting after Willie Rennie's leader's interview.

Similarly, over on BBC Radio Scotland we monitored the Morning Show, this week with Louise White standing in for Kaye Adams. In all instances where politics was on the agenda we had an even spread of women and male commentators. As for the gender balance of callers, well that's up to us listeners, isn't it? We note that on Friday's show Louise White actually appealed to have more female callers making their views known on the TV debate on Thursday night which they duly did. Let's not let it come to it that a presenter has to appeal for women callers- get on the phone to these shows and get your voice heard.

A welcome addition to the plethora of political programmes is The Agenda on ITV. We'll be monitoring it more closely as we go forward but they deserve a mention for their midweek broadcast in which Nicola Sturgeon appeared along with Elaine C Smith, The Times's Phillip Collins and Christopher Meyer. Not only was the programme gender balanced, the interviews were conducted in such a way as to allow the participants to speak fully without hectoring and interruption whilst still being subjected to probing questions. I'm sure that most viewers would agree that this made a refreshing change from some of the broadcasts we've seen recently.

Now onto those which don't get such a glowing report.

We'll leave the BBC Sunday Politics Scotland show alone for a week as they had a leaders' debate rather than their standard interview and commentary format and a lot has been written about the style of chairing and the aggression of the debate already elsewhere. The UK networked BBC Sunday Politics Show, however, had a female to male panellist ratio of 1 to 4 and had no female political interviewees.

 We were also monitoring the BBC Daily Politics show and the contributions made. They broke down like this:

  • 13th April: 6 men and 0 women
  • 14th April: 4 men and 5 women 
  • 15th April:  9 men 0 women 
  • 16th April:  12 men 1 women

We also watched Scotland Tonight all week, pencil in hand, but the pencil hardly needed to touch the paper for we had no instances of a female panellist, commentator or interview to note down until Thursday night when Ruth Davidson was interviewed and Kate Devlin was one of the debate commentators in a panel of three. A helpful correspondent pointed out that there had been a female presenter every night but we're not here to make comment on the staff rota of ScotNight and the fact that John McKay's got his holiday form in quick and bagsied the Easter holiday off. We're looking at opinion, interview and commentary and editorial decisions on who to invite on the programme.  So in summary, on three nights out of four no female commentator or interviewee appeared and so Scotland Tonight gets the wooden spoon this week on #WFImediawatch and their jotter is resplendent with the red pen teacher's scrawl of "Must do better". Which we are confident they will (see what we did there...psychology!)

A quick note about the lack of female politicians interviewed after Thursday's BBC 1 Live Opposition Leaders' Debate in the so called "Spin Room". Out of eight politicians interviewed for their reaction on the debate only one was female (Jean Lambeth of the Green Party) Work is also needing done by the political parties to ensure a bit of gender balance on who they put forward to these shows.

On a similar note we'd also like to mention BBC 5 Live's Victoria Derbyshire Show. This is a new daily politics show on in the morning and it started the week with a debate on the economy where there were 7 representatives from the parties being asked questions by an audience and all of them were male (link here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05qfvnq) . Kirsty contacted the show to ask why. They said they do try for gender balance, and had a slight difficulty in  that they are often at the mercy of the parties in terms of the guests supplied.  Since Monday, though, we have noticed that every subsequent programme this week had decent female representation. And it seems that the show's producers are being proactive. In unconnected correspondence Gillian and other SNP supporting women have been contacted by the show this week to ask if they would like to appear in the run up to the General Election.

So that's this week's #WFImediawatch. We'll be looking at these and more shows next week and reporting back. We do however need a hand as there's a lot to cover. If any Women for Indy members or friends would like to help with this project please get in touch. We are particularly keen on those who are up early to monitor morning radio. If you can help email us at [email protected] and mark your email Media Watch and we'll get back to you. However, you can also tweet your observations using the hashtag #WFImediawatch and we'll include your thoughts and gather your information as we go.

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