David Dimbleby was quoted in the Guardian earlier this week saying that “television must re-examine its ageist and sexist culture and make the necessary changes”. The feature served as a reminder about the lack of older (read 50 years plus) women who have presenting roles on prime-time television in the UK.
Dimbleby argued that the television industry has, for a very long time, viewed young women as being central to attracting viewers and paramount for increasing audience figures. He was quoted as saying:
“There is a section among television executives who are always being hammered – quite wrongly in my view – to get the biggest possible audience, and [they are told] attractive young women will bring in a bigger audience than less attractive, older women – to say nothing of less attractive older men, like me”
He pointed out that a “cultural shift” within the industry was needed to avoid this “crazy loss of talent”. Well said David who himself is an older television presenter at 74 years of age.
We know that addressing this issue is important because it involves questions about equality – when characteristics and experience are shared, why shouldn’t older female presenters get the same chances as older male presenters? Why perpetuate the supposed gender imbalance? But there is another side to this argument that should be highlighted. It is also about representing diversity on our screens.
Television is one of the main forms of communication in the UK. It reaches the masses very easily as almost everyone has got a television in their homes. If our children only see older men in key presenting roles it will affect their ideas about older people and about gender.
In my view it is very important to send the right messages to our children, as well as to tackle the “double jeopardy” of ageism and sexism (Simone de Beauvoir) that many women face as they get older. Media does matter, and it matters a lot. That’s why it’s so important to continue the fight against the ageist and sexist attitudes we find in the media.