UK Politics

Tory MP Nadine Dorries urges reform of 'sexist' BBC

A Conservative MP has urged the government to help end a culture of "sexism and ageism" at the BBC.

Nadine Dorries said there was a lack of female faces on TV and recommended setting up a parliamentary committee to look into the issue.

This could improve the quality of programming, she told the Commons.

Culture minister Ed Vaizey said the government would not interfere with the BBC's editorial independence but added Ms Dorries had made a "valid point".

A BBC spokeswoman said there was "always more we can do to improve gender balance and it is an issue we take seriously".

Ms Dorries, the MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, brought a Commons debate, saying she had been "shocked" at the level of sexism within broadcasting.

'Woeful'

Some programming made her "cringe", she said, adding: "It would appear that in the minds of TV bosses, the viewing public only enjoy watching ageing male hosts accompanied by young blonde females.

"I shall list some of the names: Forsyth and Daly, of Strictly Come Dancing; Chiles and Bleakley; Schofield and Willoughby; and Cowell and Holden. Even on sensible Countdown, we find Stelling and Riley. 'Elderly male, young female' is an unchallenged formula."

She demanded that a parliamentary committee be set up to look at why the BBC had so few female executives, as well as presenters, particularly in prime-time slots.

Ms Dorries also said: "It is not just that women's representation on radio and TV is woeful, but that sexism and ageism are combined, and at their worst, in current affairs and politics.

"Only one in 10 women working in television are aged over 50. As the number of people that TV employs shrinks, the biggest losers are women, by two to one."

She added: "MPs are also loath to challenge the BBC, for fear that they will no longer be invited to make their points on television or BBC programmes - and I will probably be living proof that they are right. However, such considerations are cowardly."

'Balance'

In response, Mr Vaizey promised to set up a meeting between Ms Dorries, the Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt and the BBC director-general Mark Thompson to discuss the issue.

He added: "It is an issue that one has to keep pressing at. Some people might regard it is as a frivolous issue. Some people might regard it as an issue that makes good copy for a parliamentary sketch.

"But actually you make a valid and fundamental point which is that one does want to hear a balance of voices on the radio and one does want to see a balance of presenters on the television.

"One doesn't want to set quotas. One doesn't want to set diktats, but one does want to maintain a dialogue and one does want to maintain pressure."

A BBC spokeswoman said: "Women of all ages feature prominently throughout the BBC's schedules on radio and television. There is of course always more we can do to improve gender balance and it is an issue we take seriously."

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