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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.

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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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