Here is the news – read by a young, attractive female (again)

Posted on 7 May 2012

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 Full study at Newsreaders as eye candy: the hidden agenda of public service broadcasting

Posted on 07 May 2012

Jackie Gregory
WVoN co-editor

Turn on the TV news in Britain or the USA and it is likely to be the same story; a distinguished, grey-haired experienced male broadcaster sitting beside a younger and pulchritudinous female presenter.

It is a programming formula that television companies have been employing for the last three decades at least, and two researchers have found little sign of it changing.

Claire Wolfe, journalism lecturer, and Dr Barbara Mitra, media and cultural studies lecturer, both at the University of Worcester in England, say women still face much greater pressure than men to present an attractive physical appearance.

Their research suggests that where glamour is important, intelligence is depreciated.

It seems that women are still selected on the basis of how they look, and that they also self-select themselves out of jobs if they do not believe they are attractive enough.

In a paper entitled: “Newsreaders as eye candy: the hidden agenda of public broadcasting” published by the Association for Journalism Education, Wolfe and Mitra conclude that this phenomenon is a reflection of the entrenched patriarchal structure in our society.

They write: “The way female newsreaders are presented, supports and reinforces patriarchal norms and specific discourses of gender, despite the advances made by feminism in the 20th and 21st centuries.

“They also reinforce the dominant (male) discourses of beauty which provide limited role models for women.

“The pressure on female newsreaders to look physically attractive and young is part of the wider patriarchal power structures that dominate our society, as well as media organisations.”

During the research they carried out eight interviews with senior broadcast journalists, and 20 interviews with people who watch the news on TV. A total of 167 questionnaires were completed.

One former ITV producer said that women presenters felt under pressure to have Botox, teeth whitening and veneers. She is quoted in the report as saying: “It’s like Stepford Wives, making everyone look bland.”

Another former newsreader said that she was dropped from her role in favour of a younger woman.

Because the culture of youth and beauty is so dominant, others commented that women felt they had to leave a presenting role, or resigned themselves to not getting one, once they hit 50.

A former male BBC editor commented to the researchers: “You may get a woman who goes off because she says she’s made to feel she can go no further. Has she been told this or does she feel this herself?”

Wolfe and Mitra conclude that the because these discourses are so prevalent, women do not feel confident enough to challenge them on their own, and so opt for other alternatives, and what is happening in the news industry is a reflection of norms in society.

“We wonder, therefore, whether we will ever see a woman with grey hair reading the news,” they said.

It is a question that AA Gill and Samantha Brick seemed to answer with a ‘No’ last week.

Gill, a male writer and reviewer, said broadcaster and history academic Mary Beard should be kept away from the cameras because of how she looked.

Samantha Brick, who was at the centre of a Twitter maelstrom last month for saying women hated her because of her beauty, agreed in another article for the Daily Mail entitled ‘Sorry some women ARE too ugly for TV’ .

Beard replied in The Guardian to Gill’s criticism saying: “Throughout Western history there have always been men like Gill who are frightened of smart women who speak their minds, and I guess, as a professor of Classics at Cambridge University, I’m one of them.”

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