16 May 2013

Older women ‘disappear’ from TV screens

New figures show that older women are far less likely to be on television than men, representing fewer than one in five of over-50 TV presenters.

Former television presenters Moira Stewart and Anna Ford.

Women working in television are affected by a “combination of ageism and sexism”, that does not apply to men, according to new figures compiled for Labour’s Older Women’s Commission.

The figures showed that although 53.1 per cent of over 50s in the UK are women, the overwhelming majority of TV presenters who are over 50 are men: 82 per cent.

The results were published ahead of a meeting of all of the UK’s national broadcasters at the House of Commons.

The figures provided by broadcasters show clearly that once female presenters hit 50, their days on-screen are numbered. Harriet Harman

When it comes to off screen, old women are even more likely to drop off the radar: women over 50 account for just 7 per cent of the total TV workforce on and off-screen.

The report was compiled by Harriet Harman, shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, who wrote to the six main UK broadcasters asking them how many older women they employ on screen and behind the camera.

“The figures provided by broadcasters show clearly that once female presenters hit 50, their days on-screen are numbered,” said Ms Harman.

“There is a combination of ageism and sexism that hits women on TV that doesn’t apply to men in the same way.

“It is an encouraging first step that broadcasters have been open in providing these statistics. Their response shows that they all recognise that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed.”

‘Decision forced upon them’

Former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly, who won an employment tribunal against the BBC on the grounds of ageism, said: “These figures raise the obvious questions of where have all the older women gone and why did they go? Was it their choice to leave their jobs or was it a decision forced upon them?

“The broadcasters say they are committed to the fair representation of older women, but the figures don’t bear that out. I’d like to know the reasons why so many talented women have disappeared, while their male counterparts have grown older and still have their jobs.”

Ms Harman said that she will publish these figures annually to monitor progress.

Representatives from the BBC, ITN, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky News will attend the roundtable at the House of Commons on Thursday.