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Veronica Walsh asks if Irish current affairs media programs discriminate against women

So, we know there is a gender imbalance across Irish society. And it was brought home to us in screaming technicolour last week when Joan Burton was publicly humiliated and passed over for the cabinet finance brief that many believe was hers by right. Which got us all thinking and talking… though it’s dying down as an issue now, and we’ll go back to acceptance and same old same old. Before we do – I’d like to share a little exchange that Sara Burke had with Eamon Dunphy on Dunphy’s Sunday morning current affairs show yesterday.

The panel that morning was made up of Eamon, Philip O’Connor, Alan Dukes, Emmet Oliver, and the lone woman Sara Burke. although I suppose we were lucky to have even her, as it is not unheard of for this show not to feature even one woman on the panel. I’ll set the scene…. some way into the show the conversation turns to the pieces by Diarmaid Ferriter, Mick Clifford and Shane Ross in the Sunday newspapers – all suggesting that Burton was shafted. Eamon agrees and says it appears to be discriminatory – and Sara says she is ‘incensed’ at it etc – only Alan Dukes dismisses it as nonsense (quelle surprise! Oh what is it about him that makes me speak French?!). So, okay, grand… chat chat chat, blah blah blah…. THEN, after Eamon declares that “such discrimination weakens our democracy”, Sara puts it up to him that he himself discriminates against women and only features occasional ‘token women’ on his show. Good woman yourself, Sara!

So, what did he say? Um. I’m not sure. Here’s the exchange verbatim:

Sara Burke: “Eamon, the issue of gender equality isn’t confined to Dáil Éireann, it’s across society, it’s in this studio…”

Eamon Dunphy: “Let me tell you Sara, I go… and have done as a journalist… to inordinate lengths in the teams that I construct as a radio… ‘cause I’m the boss, I run the thing, I’m the editor of the program…  in terms of getting guests, in terms of getting people and promoting women, eh, it is a problem when you go…”

Sara interrupts: “there’s often weeks when there’s no women on your panel and…”

Dunphy cuts her off: “There are weeks when, well, I’ll tell you why…”

Sara cuts him off: “There’s often just the token one, as I am today…”

Dunphy answers: “No, no you’re not. I’ll tell you why… that is… and I’ll be unequivocal about it, the qualification for being in this radio studio on a Sunday morning with me is intelligence. And honesty, probity. I won’t have spoofers, I won’t have token people, and I won’t have spinners in the studio. And in all the times. we’ve got 52 and a half percent more listeners than we had when we started because of that principal, and I think it should apply everywhere… no tokenism at all! We’ll take an ad-break now, and we’ll come back and talk some more….”

(to listen back go here - 31 minutes in….)

The programme returned from an ad break, and he read out a couple of texts then moved on to talk about something else, abandoning the discussion.

But I’d like us to look at it again. Do we agree with Sara? Why do we accept that this is just how it is? What do we think of Dunphy’s reply? What’s he on about? It’s a pity he didn’t expand on his “it is a problem when you go….”. It’s a shame he never addressed the main question of why he appears to discriminate against women on his panel, instead waffling into a defence of his show against the idea he’d allow tokenism, and then escaping to a break and a change of subject.

l searched for data on the panels for the last few months from the programme’s twitter timeline at @thedunphyshow, and lay it out starkly (see list below). There was no woman last week. There was no woman on the double election special panels the week before. In the preceding weeks there was either no woman or one woman on a panel of four men.

So what do you think? Discrimination? Is it any better on other prime time current affairs shows on radio and TV? Is it time we said enough is enough, and demanded some kind of gender balance be applied in the media pundit world?

(Hey! You media producer people struggling to ‘promote women’ as Eamo put it, check out Margaret E. Ward’s list of potential female contributors to Irish media right here :)

Veronica Walsh is the organiser of the Dublin Current Affairs Group & MD of www.CBTandFeelingGood.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @VCurrentAffairs.

LIST OF PUNDIT PANELS ON THE DUNPHY SHOW FOR THE LAST FEW MONTHS ( women in bold):

March 13th: Joining Eamon on the panel today are : Alan Dukes, Emmet Oliver, Sara Burke and Philip O’ Connor.

March 6th: Joining Eamon on the panel today are Dan O’ Brien, Constantin Gurdgiev, Shane Ross and Ed Molloy.

February 27th: Joining Eamon on the panle form 11-1 are Pat Leahy, Eddie Hobbs, Cormac Lucey and Ger Colleran. The Political panel up first on The Dunphy Show: Pat Rabbitte, Leo Varadker, Shane Ross and Psephologist Adrian Kavanagh.

February 20th: Joining Eamon on the panel today: Donal Donovan, Constantin Gurdgiev, Dearbhail McDonald and John Waters.

February 13th: Joining Eamon on the panel today are Sean Kelly, David Humphreys, Chris Luke and John Allen.

February 6th: Joining Eamon on the panel today is Alistair Campbell, Cormac Lucey, Jim Power and Noirin Hegarty.

January 30th: Joining Eamon on the panel this morning are Eamon Ryan, Orla Tinsley, Constantin Gurdgiev and Pearse Doherty.

January 23rd: Joining Eamon on the panel this morning are Damien Kiberd, Pat Leahy, Siobhan O’Connell and Senator Shane Ross.

January 16th: Joining Eamon on the panel this morning are Jill Kerby, Dearbhail McDonald, Ger Colleran and Brian Lucey.

January 19th: Sunday panel: James Reilly FG, Paul Somerville Markets Analyst, Pat Leahy, Lindsey Earner Byrne UCD.

Got the picture? Good. Mail your complaints to: thedunphyshow@newstalk.ie

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Dear Anti Roomers and Readers,

I propose that we begin our own broadcasting awards for outstanding services rendered to the industry by many of our beloved household names.

The Ron Burgundy Broadcasting Awards would look to recognise and commend radio, print, TV and new media broadcasters and journalists who have given an outstanding performance in the following categories:

The Veronica Corningstone Award: for intrepid female reporting despite the odds.

Most Ron-Like Quote: for the broadcaster who says something that most sounds like something Ron Burgundy would say (probably to do with the size of womens brains or their ability to enjoy sex (bizarrely, Mr Fry would currently be in the running).

Broadcaster most like Ron Burgundy Overall (we may have to slightly alter this after a couple of years if Tom McGurk keeps waltzing off with 1st place).

Most Failed Attempt to be unlike Ron Burgundy: for the broadcaster who tries unsuccessfully to talk to/ about women (Shortlisted would have to be Ryan-“girls-women-I-don’t-know what you call em” Tubridy’s infamous item a few years back on how women shouldn’t be hiring home help and, of course, Ray Darcy for his pitiful attempt to talk about the positive side of breastfeeding).

Biggest Attempt to Set Equality Back: I don’t wish to pre-empt the voting or the many worthy nominations which are bound to flood in but I can say the team at Joe.ie should watch this space.

All writers and readers nominations are welcome.

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While Irish daytime radio may be a boys’ club, one station across the water has been showcasing female presenters in high profile slots. Sadly, for a while it looked like the glorious BBC 6 Music was to be closed as part of cost-cutting moves. But – hurrah! – today it was announced that the station is saved (for now, at least), and with it the job of one of the station’s brightest stars, Lauren Laverne.

I’ve been a fan of  Laverne since she was in Kenickie, the indie-pop band who wrote smart, sparky songs and gave some of the most entertaining interviews around back in the mid-90s. Laverne and her fellow teen girl band-mates were hilarious, intelligent and hugely likeable, and Laverne has retained all of these qualities in her subsequent role as a TV and radio presenter. And she’s a reminder of how good it is to see – and hear –  a female presenter who isn’t just the sensible sidekick or the bland dollybird. She’s a smart, genuinely funny woman who is passionate about music and books and lots of other stuff. She seems like One of Us, and that’s why so many female listeners and viewers love her so.

And she’s managed to enjoy a career in what’s still a boy’s world without having to be one-of-the-boys. Today’s quality music magazines tend to assume readers are male, but Laverne knows that women care about music too. She knows that lots of her listeners are women, and many are, like her, mothers (other stations, if their recommendations on Mother’s Day are anything to go by, seem to assume what once women have children they’re suddenly only interested in MOR and sloppy ballads). Laverne gets a lot of mails and tweets from women who are listening while on maternity leave, and sometimes encourages listeners who are at home with their kids to send in reports of how their babies are reacting to the music on the station, the results of which are usually hilarious.

And in fairness, she’s not the only 6 Music presenter to reach out to female listeners – although some of the media coverage of 6 Music implied it was indeed a station for men who read The Word Magazine, 6Music is never blokey and never assumes its audience is all men (unlike, well, The Word Magazine, which is genuinely good but which I would like a lot more if it didn’t constantly assume the reader was, basically, my dad. Who does read it, as it happens). Throughout the station both male and female presenters – and it has a lot of the latter, with the daytime schedule completely dominated by Laverne and Nemone –  tend to assume that both men and women love good music. As indeed we do. In fact, for me and many other 30-somethings, 6Music has replaced the music magazines we loved in our youth as an intelligent filter of good new music. Thanks to the excellent taste of its presenters and producers, it’s a wonderful way to discover new bands. And thanks to entertaining, enthusiastic presenters like Laverne, Shaun Keaveny, Adam Buxton, Jarvis Cocker and Craig Charles, it’s always a joy to listen to.

So congratulations, Ms Laverne, and everyone at 6 Music. You deserve it.

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Last week heard Ray Darcy stumbling over what to call a newborn while he attempted to talk about attitudes to breastfeeding. It’s admirable that the former Rose of Tralee host chose to use his radio platform to promote tolerance of breast feeding women.

However, his partner and on air sidekick, the fabulous Jenny Kelly, gave birth to their first child a few years ago.

She took part in a HSE campaign to promote breastfeeding a few years back. Yet now she sat silent in the studio while Ray spoke, presumably, for her and other breastfeeding women.

Then comes the announcement that John Murray will be taking the Tubridy slot on RTE Radio1. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Ryan Tubridy  spoke for women or even had empathy with women. However, since Marian Finucane’s long running reign over the slot, and considering the general demographic of listeners at that time of the morning (majority of whom are women, though more men are doing some childcare), it seems sensible to appeal to women at that time.

It seems radio bosses ( the head of Radio 1 is a woman), are content to let the men do the talking to us and for us.

John Murray is an excellent broadcaster, a thoroughly decent person and a smart man. He isn’t a woman.

While we don’t have a woman, or two women, hosting a show we are missing out on proper debates across a range of subjects, not just those that are traditionally viewed as “women’s issues”. We are missing the point of view of Irish women on all the most important elements of our society, from politics and policies to communication and relationships.

While men dominate the airwaves of our national stations we are silently dampening the future of any women who might have made good broadcasters. We are keeping half our population cowed and quiet by exhibiting the theory that only men can have true gravitas or knowledge to host a radio show. It is only the topics that men find interesting that are the important ones. It follows then, that it is only men’s opinions which carry true weight.

Why do our female heads of radio continue to propagate this myth?

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Blame it on my dad, who basically brought up his four daughters to have the cultural tastes of someone who was a small boy in the 1950s, but I have a weakness for retro radio.

The Carey family spend a typical evening together during my 1980s childhood

Yes, along with William Brown, Jennings and our family hero Nigel Molesworth , I grew up enjoying the delights of Hancock’s Half Hour (which I still love), the Goons (meh) and Round the Horne (bits of it haven’t aged well, but I can’t resist Julian and Sandy). Basically, if it was available in Charleville Mall library in the North Strand in the ’50s or aired on the BBC Light Programme, it was part of my childhood.

This is probably why I’m now such a big fan of BBC Radio 4 and, in particular, radio drama. I’m addicted to the Archers, I can’t resist Charles Parris’s adventures and mere words can’t describe my love for recent comedies like Fags, Mags and Bags and Bleak Expectations, which show that what you can’t see is often much funnier than what you can. But I particularly love the old radio programmes often repeated by Radio 4’s digital sister BBC 7.

It was there, several years ago, that I discovered the glorious Paul Temple, mystery novelist and amateur sleuth, and his lovely journalist wife Steve. Yes, Steve. I can’t remember why she’s called Steve, but she is, so there you go. Paul, whose radio adventures were hugely popular from the 1930s to the ’50s, is urbane and prone to expressing any surprise by exclaiming “By Timothy!” in a dashing sort of way. Steve is prone to using her “woman’s intuition” to solve the crimes. Sometimes she’s actually right. Paul and Steve basically spend their time jetting around the place having a fine old time (he never seems to do any actual novel-writing and she never seems to do any journalism work), but every so often Paul’s Scotland Yard chum Sir Graham Forbes turns up at the house to ask for Paul’s help in solving some fiendish crime and another six part series will commence.

These crimes never make perfect sense – there are a lot of red herrings and people turning out to be blackmailers and then getting murdered –  but they’re very exciting, with dead bodies turning up at least once per episode (“By Timothy, Steve, it’s Harry Marx! And….he’s dead !”). If I had seen as many murdered corpses as Paul and Steve, often left by the murderer in the back of our heroes’ nippy little sports car, I’d be in therapy for years. Or I’d at least buy a new car.

Anyway, because Paul and Steve are such talented sleuths, criminals are always trying to kill them, often by luring them into deadly traps over the telephone. Someone will basically ring up Steve and pretend to be Paul (or vice versa) and tell them to come to the Calypso Club in Soho or a yacht club in Portsmouth or something. This happens so often that eventually Paul and Steve develop code words to ensure they’re talking to their real spouse and not an evil criminal holding a hanky over the phone receiver and talking in a funny voice. The one who has been telephoned will ask “Where’s Charlie fishing?” and if the other doesn’t answer “In the Thames” they’ll know it’s a fiendish mastermind. Charlie, by the way, is Paul and Steve’s devoted servant whom they basically treat as a slave. He never seems to get any time off, he has to stay up all night waiting for them to come in from their crime-solving jaunts and he frequently ends up getting bashed over the head by the aforementioned evil criminals whenever they break into Paul and Steve’s flat, as they regularly do. Poor Charlie. I hope he voted Labour in the 1945 election. At the least the NHS would look after his various injuries.

Anyway, Paul and Steve always find the blackmailer/evil crime lord/corrupt night-club owner and bring him or her to justice. Then it’s back to their luxury flat for a drink with Sir Graham and some jolly banter, usually including Steve’s claims that her intuition saved the day (One episode actually ended with Paul crying “By Timothy, Sir Graham, women are extraordinary!”, which even made the BBC7 continuity announcer laugh). Every series seems to involve Steve doing some investigating by buying elegant hats (several of the victims or perpetrators of crime seem to work in the fashion and retail business). As you can tell, the whole thing is totally brilliant, and I salute creator Francis Durbridge and the various actors who have played Paul and Steve over the years.

I also salute the BBC, because since 2006, they’ve been broadcasting brand new productions of old Paul Temple series whose original recordings were lost long ago.  Using the original scripts and vintage microphones and  sound effects, they’ve managed to produce something which sounds absolutely and utterly authentic. Part of the joy of the new series is hearing the actors perfectly reproduce the mannerisms and style of vintage radio acting – I actually don’t know how they do it without sounding like they’re in a comedy sketch, but they do. And the result is pure bliss. The current series, Paul Temple and Steve, originally aired in 1947, but the new version is now airing every Friday on Radio 4. Of course you can hear it online here. Don’t worry about missing the first few episodes – there’s a fantastic summary at the beginning of the most recent one. So if you’re in the mood for some (very) old school crime,  Paul, Steve and the hapless Sir Graham are even more entertaining than Poirot. Though not, of course, as wonderful as my beloved Lord Peter Wimsey (whom I praised in last year’s post on fictional crushes). But then, who is?

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I love men. From the time I was a little girl – in a co-educational Catholic school in New York – I learned the boys were the ones who presented me with the REAL competition on the soccer pitch, in the football card trading stakes, in political and current affairs discussions and later, in the workplace. I have always worked in male-dominated fields (Wall Street and business journalism) and enjoyed good support from (most of) my overwhelmingly male bosses.

Dating – and moving up the business ladder – was a different story altogether. Many American men don’t want a girl with a brain (no matter how tiny) and ambition. Some Irish guys still physically shrink away from me when I’m friendly, assuming I’m making a pass at them. (I’m not. I’m married to a great guy.) Others finds the bolshie Yank an amusing distraction.  To some men, a woman with strong opinions and the willingness to voice them is, well, incredibly distasteful.

They believe in the “Women know your limits” school of thought parodied here by the brilliant Harry Enfield on the BBC:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS37SNYjg8w 

A UK Independent article this week, pointed out by RTE broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan on Twitter @MiriamOCal, also decries the “noise” created by women on television. It claims the new “boss-class” of women makes men feel bad. The author, Amol Rajan, claims many women on tv are bossy, bullying, preachy and patronising. Read it here and weep:

Too much interference on our televisions
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/too-much-interference-on-our-televisions-2012099.html

There’s also a myth, taken as fact, in Irish broadcasting that women’s voices are grating/ irritating to the listener. I have not been able to find any research that backs this up. The research I did find says women’s voices are more musical and complex. So, why is Irish journalism such a male-dominated profession?

Una Mullally wrote an interesting piece on the gender imbalance in radio in the Sunday Tribune in May 2010 and found that ” Eighty percent of RTé Radio One’s regular programmes are male-led and 80% of 2fm’s programmes are male-led. Newstalk has 10 weekday programmes, none of which are presented solely by women, although Claire Byrne co-presents Breakfast. The weekend schedule is a little more female friendly, with three of the 11 programmes presented by women. Overall, 84% of content is presented by men. On its weekday shows, Today FM has just one daily female presenter, Alison Curtis. The station has 16 weekend shows and just three are presented by women. Overall, 90% of its programmes are presented by men. Over on 4FM, just one of that station’s 25 programmes is presented by a woman.” Article here: http://www.tribune.ie/magazine/article/2010/may/02/final-edition-radio-gaga-where-are-all-the-women-o/)

In the print media, the draining away of women from the business and (some) news desks is shocking. It wasn’t always this way. The Irish Times and Sunday Times business desks were fairly equal gender-wise when I worked on the desks (1996-2006).  At the moment, the Sunday Business Post seems to buck the trend with a higher ratio of female to male by-lines in the paper.   

Why has this happened? Are women less skilled as “hard news” journalists or do they opt out of journalism to have children? Or, as Carrie Bradshaw might say… “Could the real reason women’s voices are not more widely heard in the media be because women should not have opinions?”

What do you think? @margareteward

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Marian Finucane’s weekend radio show is something I try not to miss. Yesterday she interviewed Melanie Verwoerd, partner of the late Gerry Ryan, who spoke movingly about their relationship and his death. It reminded me for many reasons, not least because of her honesty and the palpable rawness of how she is feeling, of a recent interview that Stephen Gately’s husband gave on The Late Late Show. Both interviews included details of finding dead loved ones, of the moment of realising that they had passed away. This is extremely private information, and Finucane and Ryan Tubridy are certainly not at fault for asking. It’s clear that both presenters were aware of the sensitivities, perhaps even been reluctant to ask, but knew that we live in times when the public demand they ask scrupulous details about the most private acts. There’s an almost gruesome curiosity here, but should these moments be up for very public discussion? Maybe, but I don’t need to know about which room someone breathed their last breath in or how they were curled up vulnerably on a couch. It’s disrespectful to the dead who aren’t here to sanction talk of their last minutes, and nothing but harrowing for their loved ones to recount.

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