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Sexism in the media

Women in the media are catching up with their male counterparts, but there is still a long way to go.

Sexism on television is not exactly a new topic. For years, the BBC has wrestled with claims of ageism and sexism towards their female presenters. Only last month, former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly won her court case against the BBC, who were found guilty of unfairly sacking the 53-year-old from the flagship programme, whilst keeping on 70-year-old John Craven. One need only mention the name Arlene Philips to be aware of the ageism media circus surrounding her untimely sacking from Strictly Come Dancing.

The most recent episode of sexism in broadcasting is threatening to rumble on and on. Ex-Sky Sports commentators Andy Grey and Richard Keys’ sexist “banter” saw their resignations, but their almost immediate hiring to rival radio broadcaster Talksport has caused more than a little controversy. Does this move indicate the green light for all male sport commentators to indulge in the kind of talk that belongs in a pub (for dinosaurs) in a television studio? I’ll admit before I enter full rant-mode that I know very little about football, but I enjoy watching other sports on TV and I think the likes of Clare Balding, Gabby Logan and Sue Barker are more than worthy of their prestigious roles. Balding is effortlessly knowledgeable about all things equine and in the case of Logan, I find it genuinely wonderful that a thirty-something woman can host a flagship football league show on a Saturday afternoon and more than hold her own when always outnumbered by men.

For those unaware of the original incident which caused so much uproar, the comments, which even the most macho of cavemen might see as a little outdated occurred when Grey and Keys began discussing lineswoman Sian Massey, on Saturday January 22nd. Believing their microphones to be switched off, the two men agreed that Massey, and female assistant referees in general, “did not know the offside rule.” Grey could be heard commenting, “What do women know about the offside rule?” before Keys agreed, replying, “Someone better get down there and explain [the offside rule] to her.” The pair then moved on to discuss West Ham vice-chairwoman and Apprentice aide, Karren Brady; Keys commenting: “See the charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism?”. “Yeah, do me a favour, love” stated Grey in response.

Sky Sports promptly sacked the two men. Some critics defended them, suggesting their views had been blown out of proportion, whilst others believed Sky’s decision had been the right one. No one can deny these views aren’t still rife throughout the country, although in my view the point is that these (up until now) well-respected men felt it was okay to make these comments in the very public arena of the television studio. Moreover, when Keys participated in a radio interview (for Talksport, ironically) following his sacking, listeners expected a sincere apology, but oh no, siree. It appeared that Keys still had a mental block when it came to accepting blame, saying “If off-air conversations of television and radio presenters were reported up and down the country there would be no-one left working” and “I am here to say sorry to those people who I need to say sorry to.” No suggestion that he wished to retract the view he put across, then.

Clearly, social blunders and prehistoric views of women are what Talksport seek in their commentators as days after this interview, both Grey and Keys found employment again. Grey said of the appointment: “This is an ideal opportunity to do what we do best, and that’s talk about sport”. Doing what you do best, eh, Andy? Assuming that the sport concerned isn’t women’s beach volleyball, I’m guessing.

It occurred to me while watching a news bulletin on these comments that the world of sports media should surely take a hint from current affairs. When was the last time you saw a news programme that did not feature a female as a presenter or co-presenter? It appears we live in a society where we trust Fiona Bruce to tell us the latest from Afghanistan but we don’t want Sue Barker to comment on the Andy Murray match unless in the illustrious presence of Tim Henman and Andrew Castle.

But then again, I’m a woman. What do I know? I should probably just get back to the kitchen.

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