Co-incidence, serendipity, call it what you will. But sat, listening avidly to some very worthy types hold forth about press regulation yesterday, i was struck by how few women were on the platform. VERY few.
By mid-day, we had had some 13 formal presentations, two chairs – or indeed, chairmen – and a couple of other odd sods (or loosely admin-related blokes) on the mike: it was beginning to grate.
The final session marginally redressed the balance (from abysmal to just plain awful), by including a number of women of legal background: but it was very noticeable…and left me ever so slightly wondering whether this was because the nature of the event (a fairly high-powered one looking at the future of press regulation and featuring the head honcho’s in various related bodies) meant that there just weren’t that many women in the positions we needed to hear from.
Or whether this was a selection thing.
We heard from Lord Hunt, Chair of the Press Complaints Commission – and one can hardly blame the conference organisers for inviting him, since he is possibly the most relevant person to the debate on hand. The fact that other speakers were mostly guys is to do with the fact that the organisations in question had, in their wisdom, decided to elect men to run them.
Not controversial as single decisions: somewhat overwhelming as the tally mounted up.
Too, there WERE some interesting omissions. Helen Goodman, MP, hovered nervously around the back of the room and made a couple of quite important contributions to discussion. As Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, with specific responsibility for media reform, you’d think she would have been worth hearing from!
No sign either of Baroness Buscombe, a former chair of the PCC – though at least we did hear from Eve Salomons, who has served on the PCC’s board.
And while there is little to be done where there is pre-existing bias amongst the key people in a particular debate, there were a fair few missed opportunities to rebalance and include. Particularly when speakers were there as generic representatives of certain roles (correspondent, journalist, etc.).
Not only, but the omission meant that a whole dimension was omitted: the question, which Lord Leveson has approached cautiously, of whether there needs to be new powers to clamp down where the press abuse not just an individual – but an entire minority.
That’s a live and important issue with little chance of being debated if the terms of debate themselves omit all minorities. (The gender balance may have been bad. But that was good by comparison to any and all other minority representation).
So back to that serendipity thing. Coming back from London, i opened a mail from a friend directing me to this petition.
It follows, i suspect, on a recent Guardian piecde on the same subject – a call by German journo’s for at least 30% of exec positions on national papers to be filled by women.
The funny thing is: this sort of solution would be helpful not just in a token “let’s get more women on to Question Time” sort of way. Because one of the biggest criticisms levelled by many – academics and journalists alike – is the way that newsroom culture has been colonised by macho attitudes and a disregard for the personal.
Just possibly a news space in which more voices had a right to be heard, would not be quite the mess that the UK press is today.