Coffee House

It’s not just older women. Where are the BBC’s black female presenters?

16 May 2013

9:37 PM

16 May 2013

9:37 PM

Harriet Harman missed something on this morning’s Radio 4 Today programme. Yes, the paucity older women appearing on British television remains a very relevant one, since the BBC axed Moira Stuart in 2007. Yet at the same time it single-handedly wiped out 100pc of its primetime black (African-Caribbean) female newsreader talent. That hole left by Stuart has never been filled and no-one has ever been able to explain why. Not even former Mark Thompson, the ex-BBC chief, when I asked him face-to-face that same year.

As a teenage swot in Birmingham, I felt proud watching Moira reading the news. She inspired me. After years of faffing, I finally studied journalism in May 2003.  An ITV News traineeship and years in BBC regional news lead me to Sky News. I took the plunge when they asked me to quit my staff job and work for them as a freelance Anchor of the five-hour rolling news programme, World News and Business Report. I wouldn’t have done it, if it wasn’t for Moira. Today, the countless aspiring black female journalists and media professionals, whom I mentor, ask me why there are few people who look like them reading the news or presenting primetime TV shows. In the same way that Mark Thompson didn’t have an answer, Tony Hall probably doesn’t or even their counterparts at ITN, I don’t either.

You might not have noticed any regular black female faces reading the news on national TV. But you only have to switch on the telly and do a ‘face count’. It’s remarkably fast. I only know of three notable regional and timeslot exceptions: Charlene White on ITV London Tonight, my former colleague Gillian Joseph on Sky News (Fridays & Saturday mornings) and Martine Dennis on BBC World News.


Is it really an issue? If we keep parading the same faces across TV screens, Britain will continue to look bland, lop-sided and odd.

Maybe the talent isn’t out there? That’s a misconception. There are skilled, experienced journalists and presenters out there hunting for work. I’ve met hundreds of them. TV execs just need to start considering some of them once in a while.  Positive action isn’t the answer: I’ve never landed a job based on the colour of my skin. I’ve pushed hard for all the opportunities I ever wanted.

Maybe recruiters don’t think black women can pull in the viewers? That we’re just not attractive enough? If the world of glossy fashion mags is anything to go by, then those execs might well be off the mark. In 2008, Condé Nast had to reprint 40,000 more copies of an edition of Italian Vogue – which featured only black models – to meet the unprecedented UK & US demand.

Is is the above sour grapes from a black journalist? I’m afraid I don’t have a hard luck story. I’m now a Senior Producer and Presenter at news website, the International Business Times and also a radio documentary producer, a features writer and an award-winning blogger – so, no, it’s not sour grapes.

Not saying you have to be a model to be on-screen, but one thing is clear: the current situation has got to change, so we don’t lose an entire generation of budding black journalists and presenters because they think this profession doesn’t want them.

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Show comments
  • LewGD

    First question is why Black faces have to be present in any European TV, as newsreaders particularly. At the beginning, instant remedy has been remote control. With rampant Black overrepresentation, only remedy was kicking TV out from the home. Luckily, Internet news offer more control over what and who to watch. My stance on that subject is just the matter of principle in defiance against intentionally orchestrated artificial diversity. Black anchors and newsreaders are normal in Africa, not Europe. The most disturbing is who and why is enforcing such illogical agenda so ardently.

  • Brian Quinn

    There is a distinct lack of Afro Caribbean News Reporters on British TV. In contrast there is a huge surge in Indian news reporters.

  • Gerry Coe

    Unfortunatley black skin does not come over well on tv.Perhaps they don’t get the lighting correct, but it is very difficult to make out features,All you see is a mouthfull of teeth and unnaturally sparkly eyes.

  • Mark M

    There are a lot more red haired people in the UK than South West Asian descendants, yet I barely see any redhead presenters. On the other hand, who do I see presenting on Childrens TV, BBC3, News 24 etc all the time? A huge stream of women of SW Asian background. Most of them are very attractive and good at their job, but it seems to me like BBC are going out of their way to give them more presenting jobs than everyone else.

    If the BBC want to reach “quotas” so that everyone is fairly represented, they are surely now overdoing it with SW Asians? And why do most of the white people on BBC seem to be at least middle class? No wonder the white working class feel as if they are being ignored and unfairly dealt with at the moment.

  • Picquet

    Tokenism. Utterly repellent. Appoint on merit; it’s the only way.

  • marzipanlil

    All I know is this: when I was training to be a teacher, 30 years ago, an Indian girl on my course, jumped at the chance to change her career. She abandoned teaching and joined a training programme at the BBC. It was strictly for people who were from an ethnic minority. “Positive discrimination” has been around for a long time. This article is nonsense.

  • vieuxceps2

    “Where have all the black presenters gone?”-Never mind that,where have all the gingerhaired presenters gone, not to mention the ones with a glasss eye.Why do we not see more of them? Dammit! Why no Chinese?

  • Dogsnob

    What a tired and redundant project you are treating yourself to here, Ms/Miss/Mrs/Mr Cole.

  • thanksdellingpole

    I’ve got my views on immigration, I really have, I’m a firm believer in Culturalism. But I do like Moira Stuart and I think it’s because she doesn’t play the victim and just does her job well.

    We don’t need any more though.

  • George Laird

    Dear All

    I think we should think ourselves lucky we had the good fortune to have Moira Stuart as a presenter.

    Sadly, she was treated badly by the BBC.

    Some other presenters don’t have the gravitas, and I became a fan all over again when she did HIGNFY.

    Moira set a high standard, which isn’t a bad thing, in our wannabe celeb culture.

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird
    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

    ps, she can do comedy as well!

  • paulus

    Actually we want the PM to make a statement of condemnation about this it disgraceful.

  • paulus

    Off comment but I was just reading how the BBC deliberately misrepresented a comment from a mother of a wounded solidier to smear the charity Help for Heroes. To smear a charity, helping the wounded. Something serious has gone amiss with the BBC. An organisation we all love, grew up with and is suppose to represent the British people.

    It can no longer come down to the regulator who are clearly offering no standards, no, we need a Parliamentary enquiry and root out what is wrong: This is so sad, what has gone wrong.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Can someone please tell me why Bloody Sunday, the Stephen Lawrence affair and Hillsborough are Never To Be Forgotten, Ever and yet the scandal and tragedy of Mid-Staffs has already almost sunk without trace? Is it something to do with political sponsorship and responsibility?

    • The Sage

      A very good point.

  • Colonel Mustard

    But what about bald presenters?

    • telemachus

      They are excluded by dint of UKIP membership

      • Colonel Mustard

        Stalking again?

        • telemachus

          If so I would have said they are all in front of their home counties hearth with retriever at their feet contemplating tomorrow’s shoot

  • Reconstruct

    The BBC are seriously over-represented.

  • John_Page

    If there are all these good people jostling for these jobs, then the jobs are overpaid.

    The BBC is spending our money so it should get its talent as cheaply as possible.

    So draw up a long list of people who can do the job perfectly well. Then offer the job at £25k a year, and keep upping the pay rate by £1k a year until someone takes it.

  • Alan Eastwood

    I do believe you may have a point. However, there are some nationalities who are over represented, such as the Irish. Very few, if any, West Country accents are heard. Similarly West Midland, North Eastern, Welsh (outside Wales), Glaswegian and true Mancunian accents are rarely heard. Give the English a chance!

    There is also the point, and I write as a elderly person, where the BBC in particular, inform us of the retirement of news presenters, reporters, disc jockeys etc. Only to hear their voices more often than before on other programmes hosted by these ‘retired’ individuals. They are holding back the obvious talent waiting to be given their opportunity.
    Then the ridiculous policy of employing former sportsmen and women to ‘comment’ on their particular sport and add very little, if anything, to the programme. This policy is holding back talent. Peter Dimmock, Kenneth Wolstenholme and so many other people with a journalist background added far more.

    Finally I believe that the many Universities who offer ‘media’/ ‘journalist’ degree courses have a duty to ensure that graduates are given help towards achieving employment within their chosen career path.


      Add Alan Shearer to that list. The combination of him, Lineker and Hansen is truly awful. Inept to say the least, but what can you expect really? The BBC chose them because they fit in comfortably with their socialist narrative.

      • Mark M

        Oh come on, most of the white people on BBC are middle class. In terms of population, the most under-represented people on the BBC are the white working class (especially redheads like me!).

  • echo34

    I’m seriously concerned about ethnic minorities being underrepresented in the fishing industry or maybe coal-mining or whatever.

    These meee!-meee!-meeedia types are so selfish and insular..

  • starfish

    Special pleading nonsense. As others have said the afro-carib minority is over represented pro rata compared to asian and European minorities . I would have thought such an amazing journo would resent being defined by her ethnicity

  • Joshaw

    You could have fooled me.

  • Fergus Pickering

    I think you must live in London. London is different from the rest of the country. The only person from a ethnic minority in my village is the Sikh who keeps the Post Office and Newsagent. I think he was born he’re an he doesn’t wear the gear Oh, and his wife and his little girl. But apart from them, we’re all hideously white I’m afraid. There are more ethnic minoritities in the adjacent town. But not many more.. I repeat. London is different.

    Poles, I am sure, are underrepresented in the media. But how would we know if they changed their names. Oh, do Jews count as ethnic minority. There are plenty of them.

    • Tom Tom

      Alan Yentob friend of Saatchis from Iraq for example – Rupert Murdoch, David Elstein, Michael Grade…….I doubt you could have ham sandwiches at a BBC party

  • Tom Tom

    Biggest problem with TV is the low quality images on LCD displays and the inferior rendition of detail over CRT. The colour of the employees and talking heads is irrelevant. The quality of output in terms of content is dire, Sky TV is as useless as BBC or ITV. The technical image is inferior and the damage to eyesight with such inferior technology is a good reason to swap TVs for computer monitors at the very least.

    As for the composition of the workforce in broadcast media, it is simply too big. They could run all TV stations with far fewer staff on much lower salaries. They should try Zero-Based Budgeting and break down the empires.

    On a related note, how come the TV companies never mention the “forgotten greenhouse gas” omitted from the Kyoto Protocols ? Could that be because Nitrogen Trifluoride is used to make LCD TV screens ?

  • The Sage

    This is the same kind of moaning we seem to get regularly from black footballers who claim that they are not getting top managerial jobs. Yet, when I last looked (and this situation changes rapidly) only four out of 20 Premier League managers were white English. But do I see and hear complaints about this under-representation? No.
    In fact, this could be even worse as two English managers (at QPR and Reading) are currently being replaced by two (one Italian at Watford and one Scottish at Cardiff) foreigners for next season.

  • James Strong

    On BBC Wales we’ve got: Behnaz Akgar, Sachin Krishnan and Jason Mohammed.
    They’re all pretty good and that’s what’s important, not that they are ‘ethnics’.
    If Marverine Cole wasn’t black it would be easy to think that she’s racist; she’s certainly not colour-blind, is she?
    Oops, sorry. Only white people can be waaycist.

  • David Webb

    Why should there be ANY black broadcasters in Britain? This is Britain, not Nigeria.

  • Wilhelm

    My favourite BBC black newsreader from Ghana, Komla Dumor, note what he’s wearing, the very sharp suit, the silk tie, handkerchief and the retro geek chic 1960s glasses. He’s overly dressed. It’s all bling bling. He’s usually on the grave yard shift at 4am.

    • Tom Tom

      Wilhelm…are you coming in ? or going out ?

  • Wilhelm

    Do a little experiment, turn on your television set and within 3 minutes you’re seeing a black face, whether it’s a newsreader, a weather forecaster, a sports presenter etc etc. The adverts are even worse, everyone has a token black or mixed race in it, that seems the fashion now. You would think the country was 90% Afro Caribbean / mullato and 10% white.

    There’s going to be a token black in Downton Abbey to make it ‘vibrant’ I suppose, that’s another programme I’ve got to put on the very, very long list of shows of not watching.

    • Tom Tom

      No Chinese though, either in drama or anywhere else.

      • Colonel Mustard

        True. And yet they do not tend to complain or wave the discrimination placard.

        • Mark M

          Exactly. They work hard and don’t have a chip on their shoulder. Pity people from one or two other racial backgrounds couldn’t be the same.

  • Wilhelm

    Would the boss of a Nigerian television station, for example, say, ” My goodness, our network is too black, we’ve got to have some Japanese newsreaders !! ”

    No they wouldn’t, that’s why you know multiculturalism is a mental disorder.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    My white/Carib niece thinks this is a pile of whinging tripe.

  • monty61

    All seems a bit chippy. I don’t see any lack of diversity in the faces of presenters. Few more Scots wouldn’t go amiss at almost 10% of the population.

    • rubyduck


      I thought there was a disproportionate number of scots

      • monty61

        Can’t think of any apart from Eddie Mair (who admittedly is pretty cool in lots of ways). But Scots are in a serious minority compared to the rainbow lot we see on our screens night after night who comprise far less than the Scots’ 10 per cent/

        • Daniel Maris

          And Kirsty Wark. James Naughtie. Andrew Marr. Plus you’ve been running the country for the last 20 years. Cameron? Any idea where that name comes from?

        • Fergus Pickering

          Are all Scots gay then? When I lived there it certainly seemed like it. Actually I didn’t know Mair was Scots. On the other hand he’s got the bitter whinge and he htes Boris. Yeah. That’d be Scots.

          • monty61

            Good point though I was actually thinking general presenters rather than political hacks. (Teach me to comment after a bottle of red).

            As for Boris, it’s becoming increasingly plain he’s a charlatan. My wife (politically disinterested) recently said, watching that car crash of an interview he did, that he just wasn’t funny any more and the act had worn off. I agree – the buffoon schtick doesn’t work these days, the mask has slipped and you can see the naked political calculation underneath. Not pretty and he comes across just as unprincipled as any of the Cameroons. The Tories should look elsewhere for a king over the water.

    • Fergus Pickering

      You mean like Andres Marr and Andrew Neil.

      • Joel Blake AGP

        I think the people who have taken this article as one specifically about Ethnic Minorities on our tv screens have missed one thing – the article is focused on the lack of FEMALE BLACK TV PRESENTERS not ethnic minorities as a whole!

        Diversity in the UK is on the increase, has been for years and this is being reflected on our tv screens, although there is still a long way to go before there is true equality in the media….but that is another story…

        If i read it correctly, the clue and focus of this article was actually in the title of the article…

        Can we not have a open debate in the country, on a clearly chosen subject, without losing the focus of the debate itself?

        If this was about ethnic minorities as a CENTRAL piece of the article, I’m sure this would have been articulated well enough for us all.

        • Colonel Mustard

          The real issue is about discrimination against older female TV presenters so where and why does black come into it?

          And I don’t see this vaunted diversity embracing and celebrating right wing views on our tv screens.

  • AnaisAnais

    How has this article escaped from Guardian CiF?

    • The Sage

      That’s what I thought. Not only rubbish, but totally incongruous and who at The Spectator would have chosen to run this stuff?

    • Tom Tom

      Fraser cultivates the Guardian in the hope Ian Katz might get him on Newsnight. The Guardian is the BBC print edition after all

  • anyfool

    Is it not bad enough on here whining on to ourselves about politics without it becoming a talking shop for unemployed West Indian TV presenters whose noses have been pushed out of place by the BBC`s new squeeze the Asian Muslims.

  • Smithersjones2013

    An article by someone who introduces her website by saying:

    Smart, sassy, sexy, edgy, gorgeous – Marverine Cole is a highly
    experienced journalist & presenter with over twenty years
    experience working in the British media industry.

    And modest to boot! Excuse me while I get myself a bucket!

    • Austin Barry

      You missed out the bit of her website which states:

      “A skilled and charismatic Presenter whose versatility knows no bounds, Marverine is brilliant on location or in the studio; working with large audiences, bantering with a co-presenter or anchoring solo; at live OBs or pre-recorded inserts; using with autocue or totally unscripted. Talent like this is unrivalled.”

      Clearly bonkers.

      • The Sage

        And discriminated against, apparently.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Sally Bundock’s makeover really worked. BBC World News is
    available even in some really hardship postings, and over-weight, pulled
    through a hedge backwards female news presenters do let the side down
    invoking such comments as, “I can see why you guys left YUCK”. But Sally really
    got her act together, especially considering the unpromising original material:
    Fill the dents; quick re-spray … It is possible to take these automotive
    analogies too far.
    Jack, Japan Alps

  • Denzil Blair

    A lack of ethnic minority presenters? Have you been watching the BBC recently? Absolutely ridiculous to suggest ethnic minorities are underrepresented on the BBC.


      Agree 100%. This article is scandalous.

      ‘Today, the countless aspiring black female journalists and media professionals, whom I mentor, ask me why there are few people who look like them reading the news or presenting primetime TV shows’

      “Ask me why there are few people ‘who look like them’? come on, who are you mentoring, 3 year olds? Can’t help but think the usage and choice of that term has been implemented deliberately as an act of self-pity.

      • Tom Tom

        Freemasons do “mentoring” too

      • Noa

        Have you always held such egalitarian views Marverine, or have they come to you as you’ve got…er…older?

    • funkinwolf

      Did you read the article? because if you did, you’d notice it was talking about top news anchors on top prime time news channels. You might live in a utopia of equal opportunity, but in reality this is not the case. What you also forget, you’re only seeing those presenting, not back offices and those in managerial positions.

      • Mark M

        South Asian women have used up the minority “quota”. Frankly, if black people were better at presenting than them, there would be more of them on TV. BBC would prefer more of a mix, as they are bending over backwards to please minorities at the moment.

  • D B

    I hadn’t noticed any lack of ethnic minority news readers. Some days they all seem to be.

  • Daniel Maris

    This complaint is a very narrow one. There are plenty of ethnic minority presenters on BBC national news: George Aligayah, Mishal Khan, Clive Myrie and you might add Huw Edwards…

    There are plenty of black news presenters in TV land including on BBC regional news programming.

    The problem here I think is that Black African-Caribbean people don’t realise just how much mass immigration has left them behind. There are lots of other ethnic minorities now: Arab, Somali, French, East European, Thai, Chinese, Latin American who also need to be represented on BBC news teams if you think of it that way. Why shouldn’t they get a look in? It’s amusing to hear oldies like Darcus Howe, Benjamin Zephaniah and all the usual suspects talking as though they are still a significant minority.

    Taken overall, I very much doubt the proportion of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority news presenters is actually lower in the UK than is the equivalent ethnic minority proportion in the general population. There are plenty of opportunities.

    The success of Trevor McDonald suggests that there is no particular reason why black news presenters can’t succeed in the UK media. He had a great voice,and delivery – and a clear liking for British culture – all of which came across on TV.

    • David Lindsay

      Fifty per cent, and still rising, of children in Britain with an Afro-Caribbean parent also have a white parent. But then, all Afro-Caribbeans are part-white, anyway.

      The old West Indian Lobby is, if anything, a victim of its own success, with a huge level of West Indian influence on the food, the music, all sorts of things, and by no means only in London or other urban centres.

      But I am not sure that the grand old men ever really wanted that, or ever really wanted mixed-race grandchildren. Those, though, are what they have got. No one else sees that as problem. Yet I suspect that they do.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …as opposed to you leftists, who prefer those grandchildren be aborted?

    • Wilhelm

      Blacks have a victimhood mentality, so they wont be happy until the whole population of Britain is African, from John O’Groats to Lands End, which I suspect, you’ll no doubt, welcome.

      • telemachus

        And why do you think?
        Suss still operates throughout the UK

        • The Sage

          Yes, and let’s keep that way.
          It reminds me of the old joke.
          What’s the best way to get more ethnic minorities on TV? Increase the frequency of CrimeWatch.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Because most muggers are black, you fool.

        • Colonel Mustard

          As a small ‘c’ conservative I feel victimised by your presence here. I suss that it is deliberate and at the behest of the Labour party to subvert, undermine, disrupt and harass right wing discourse.

      • arnoldo87

        Can’t imagine why they feel they are victims. You’ve only got to read this thread to feel the love for and tolerance of ethnic minorities flooding out.

        • Mark M

          Of course, anyone who has an opinion on race issues is clearly racist.

    • Wilhelm

      You forgot to mention the Mammy character in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, voiced by Lilian Randolph.

      • telemachus

        In the modern Tom and Jerry Tales a redesigned Mammy has appeared, debuting in the short Ho, Ho Horrors and turning up again later on. Though keeping her buxom, overweight build, tough personality, Southern accent and tendency to call Tom “Thomas,” Mammy’s skin tone has changed to white, presumably to avoid any possible controversy. Several photos on a mantel in Ho, Ho Horrors also imply that Mammy now has a family (a man and a boy, also shown only as legs and partial torsos), though they have yet to appear in actual animation. In the short Power Tom the story casts Mammy as a superheroine called Power Gal, though it’s only for this one cartoon.
        In the new shorts, the now-Caucasian Mammy is explicitly called “Mrs. Two-Shoes”.
        I bet you still have your collection of gollywogs

        • The Sage

          Yes, when are Robinson’s going to bring them back? It’s a shame that the company ceased producing these fun characters. I still can’t understand why. As a child, I really used to enjoy collecting them. It was very clever marketing.

          • iamloved

            Golliwogs were toys which generalised the features of a black person into a simple set of exaggerations. An article of stereotype. Hey everyone, this is what blacks look like! Glad to see the back of them.


      Daniel, I quite agree with you about Trevor McDonald, who shares many of his attributes with Moira Stuart.

      But I don’t think the BBC liked what I liked in Moira, notably her modulated, resonant and calm voice. She sounded like an educated middle-class woman unfortunately, so the class-war BBC replaced her with their preferred variety of nasal, high-pitched, girly with just a classless hint of estuary.

      All very sad.

  • White Lightning

    Ever hear her on Chris Evans in the morning? She is unbelievably annoying. All adolescent noises like “wowwee!” and “oohh yaya!” as other people are speaking. The less of her the better.

    • Daniel Maris

      Are you sure that’s not Chris Evans? He’s pretty adolescent himself.

  • telemachus

    Samira Ahmed?