Here is the news: it's a boy's job

Observations on television

''I just can't think of a woman today who has the political hinterland of a Dimbleby or the gravitas. And to be the face and voice of a general election, you need both." The senior TV executive who told me this last week - he shall remain nameless - was unfortunately voicing an unpalatable truth. The fact is that, in British television, there is not a single woman with the political clout to hold down the BBC's election coverage, nor that of Sky or ITV. A century after women got the vote, they have not progressed enough to be seen as equals in commentating on democracy. Men still rule British TV, OK?

Well, no, not OK, actually. Why are virtually all the major news and political slots occupied by men? Is it that they are just better at the job of hard news? Is it an institutional bias against women? Or do we not take female presenters seriously when it comes to the big events?

The last suggestion is the one we would like to dismiss, but at least two other senior television executives have said exactly that to me - off the record, of course. It seems that in the UK, unlike in the US, we want strong women in the news, but in their place, and their place is not up front presenting it.

Do we, the public, really put greater faith in men? Part of the problem is the "beauty and the beast" mentality (with apologies to all handsome male presenters). From dawn to dusk, TV executives are still opting for the boy-meets-girl presenter combination: enter Dermot Murnaghan and Natasha Kaplinsky, the former on the back of a serious journalistic career, the latter on the strength of her dazzling cha-cha and equally blinding ambition.

If young female presenters are chosen for their lip gloss and dancing ability, who will be surprised when, in 20 years' time, there are no contenders for the heavyweight hard-news jobs?

There is now a real stable of first-rate female presenters, who need nurturing and could be our next generation of Frosts and Dimblebys and Sissonses: the BBC's Sian Williams, Jane Hill, Fi Glover, Sarah Montague, Daisy Sampson, Martha Kearney, Carolyn Quinn, Emily Maitlis; Channel 4's Samira Ahmed and Bridgid Nzekwu; ITV's Mary Nightingale and Nina Hossain; Sky's Anna Botting, Juliette Foster and Paula Middlehurst; and Channel 5's Kirsty Young (although she is rather in a class of her own). Yes, I have been critical of some of them in these pages in the past: that is partly due to it being even more frustrating when a good woman gets it wrong.

There will be an enormous change of the face of hard news and political coverage in the next decade. After the departure of the magnificent David Frost, time will come when the brilliant Dimbleby brothers will have to relinquish Question Time, Any Questions? and the Sunday slot, and even the formidable Jeremy Paxman will have to hang up his political meat cleaver.

Let's hope that when the day arrives, it will not just be jobs for the boys.

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