Sexism in television is not exactly a new topic. The BBC has been wrestling for years with claims of ageism and sexism towards some of their best known female presenters. Only last month, former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly won her court case against the BBC who were found guilty of sacking the 53 year old from the flagship programme on grounds of ageism, at the same time as keeping on 70 year old and most definitely male, John Craven. And one need only mention the name Arlene Philips to be aware of the ageism media circus synonymous with her untimely sacking from Strictly Come Dancing.
However, the most recent episode concerning sexism against women in broadcasting is threatening to rumble on and on. Ex Sky Sports commentators Andy Grey and Richard Keys sexist “banter” saw their resignations and then 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’ve an interest in broadcasting of all areas and it is something I aspire to do in the future but I’ll admit before I enter full rant mode that I know very little about football, I do not know the off side rule but, I’m not a lineswoman at an important football match. 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 the prestigious roles they fulfil. Clare, for example is effortlessly knowledgeable about all things equine and so much more, she’s funny, she knows the relevant people to her sport on a person and professional level, the people she is interviewing generally like her and want to talk to her which makes a difference. In the case of Gabby, I find it genuinely wonderful that a thirtysomething attractive blonde woman can host a flagship football league show on a Saturday afternoon and more than hold her own when always outnumbered by men that she shares the set with.
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 dated occurred when Grey and Keys passed comment over 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.” Greys can 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.” Grey concurred. The pair then moved on to discussion of West Ham vice-chairwoman and Apprentice aide, Karren Brady, Keys bringing up the subject, “See the charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism?” “Yeah, do me a favour, love” stated Keys in response.
Subsequently Sky Sports promptly sacked the two men for their comments, some critics and commentators defended them, suggesting their views had been blown grossly out of the proportion, others believed Sky’s decision had been the right one. No one can deny these views still are not rife throughout the country in pubs, bar and livings rooms, although in my view the point is that these (up until now) well respected men in their industry felt it was okay to make these comments in the very public arena of a 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 that his comments were wrong, saying “If off air conversations of television and radio presenters were reported up and down the country there would be no-one left working. You know that as well as I do.” And “I am here to say sorry to those people who I need to say sorry to.” No suggestion that he wishes to retract the view he put across as anything but his own then.
Clearly social blunders and prehistoric views of women are what Talksport ultimately seek in their commentators as days after this interview, both Grey and Keys found employment again, certainly not a strong signal to other male broadcasters that such behaviour is not acceptable. 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 reporting on these comments that the world of sports media should surely take a hint from the current affairs media. 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 undoubtedly illustrious presence of Tim Henman and Andrew Castle.
But then again, I’m a woman. What do I know? I should most probably get back to the kitchen.