Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Guest post from Andy Maciver: "I'll not be signing the pledge"

A rare guest post today. Andy Maciver asked to respond to my Pledge to end all-male panels. Here's what he has to say:

A couple of weeks ago, I was challenged by Kezia Dugdale to refuse to participate in all-male panels on political TV shows following the opening of a pledge by Duncan Hothersall. I am by no means a prolific commentator, but every month or so I’ll pop up on Scotland Tonight or Scotland 2014 to throw in my tuppenceworth. Indeed, I’m doing so tonight.

Most of the TV appearances I have made have been alongside women, as tonight’s will be, and I generally find that those segments provide a better viewer experience than an all-male or indeed all-female panel.

But I’ll not be signing the pledge.

Now, I think that politics and political commentary would benefit hugely from more female involvement. Back in the days of Newsnight Scotland, the tedious, old, male commentariat was relatively unchanging throughout the first decade of this century. It was, in truth, fairly boring; partly because they were all men, and partly because they had no new ideas.

STV’s Scotland Tonight took a different approach, and the BBC’s Scotland 2014, as well as having a better set-up and production, appears to me to have a significantly better gender balance, and a better age balance, amongst its commentators than its predecessor.

I don’t bow to anyone in how much I want the make-up of Scottish politics and the Scottish commentariat to change, with a big part of that change being the increasing influence of women. But I think change is happening already in the media (to a degree) and especially in politics.

Kezia is an outstanding talent. She was the best Unionist performer in the referendum, closely followed by Ruth Davidson. On the other side, Nicola Sturgeon outshone all others. If Labour has any sense left they’ll make Kezia their Deputy Leader, and with Ruth and Nicola as Leaders the three main parties will have women at or near the top. But these individuals are not outstanding because they are women. They are outstanding because they are outstanding.

And, fundamentally, I would consider it condescending and chauvinistic of me if I ‘gave up’ my slot for a woman. Many women I know would be horrified to think that they needed this sort of help from a man to get on TV.

I fully understand that type change will be too slow and too organic for some, and furthermore I know that the ‘merit’ argument does not find universal favour.

But they are not the only reasons I won’t sign the pledge.

Most of the panels I sit on consist of only two people plus a presenter (usually a woman - Sarah Smith - on Scotland 2014 and a woman - Rona Dougall - half the time on Scotland Tonight). A two-person panel, in theory, provides an obvious gender-balance opportunity, but behind the scenes there is often more to it than meets the eye.

Firstly, the broadcasters do not always get their first choice people to appear as commentators. Both shows tend to finalise their agenda late in the afternoon, then find commentators to fill the slots. Last week, Scotland Tonight faced criticism on Twitter because of its all-male panel (John McTernan and Iain Macwhirter) discussing Ed Miliband’s woes. It retorted that it had tried to get a woman commentator but was unsuccessful. What would we have them do? Pull the segment? If John McTernan or Iain Macwhirter had signed the pledge, they may very well have had to do so. It’s unfair on our broadcasters to tie their hands in this way.

Secondly, I have no problem accepting that in some circumstances single-gender panels are acceptable and indeed appropriate. I am aware that the pledge was changed to accommodate this, but I foresee problems in justifying the justification, so to speak. Fundamentally, I would not support shoehorning a man into an all-female panel if he wasn’t able to make as insightful a contribution, so I see little merit in supporting the reverse.

Thirdly, I do have a concern at why we are singling out gender. I don’t see a campaign for ideological balance on panels. Similarly, we do not demand geographical balance, or class balance. We do not demand balance between heterosexuals and homosexuals, nor between whites and ethnic minorities or between Protestants and Catholics. What is so different about men and women?

For what it’s worth, I think debates over this issue are healthy. I think they help to raise the profile of the issue, and for that reason I’m glad that Duncan and others are pushing this. The broadcasters, I’m quite sure, will be aware of it and it will inevitably have an impact on the way they put together their shows.

But I think we are already seeing more female commentators, and women of major political influence, and I think that’s largely happening organically. I prefer organic change to enforced change. So I’m afraid this pledge is not for me. Sorry about that.

You can follow the story of the pledge, from the initial attempt, to the discussion of how to make it more workable, through to the current pledge, which is still open to signatories until the end of the year. Even if Andy isn't going to be one of them. ;-)

1 comment:

  1. Here's my two penn'orth in response to Andy's thoughts:

    First of all, it's certainly true that it isn't always as easy to find women commentators as men, and that poses a problem for broadcasters. That's the whole point. This is meant to make it harder for broadcasters - and for anyone else holding a political panel. It's meant to force a change. All change is difficult.

    This challenge, however, was one of the reasons for the revised pledge wording. The pledge details include this stipulation:

    "If circumstances beyond my control mean I end up on an all-male panel, I will call attention to that fact during the discussion, and make reference to this pledge. If unable to call attention during the panel, I will comment publicly on it as soon as possible afterwards."

    So McTernan and MacWhirter needn't have pulled out had they signed the pledge; they would simply have had to call attention to it - during the segment if possible, or immediately afterwards if not.

    The second objection misses the point. This isn't about shoehorning in someone less able to make an insightful contribution. It's about recognising that men and women are equally able to make insightful contributions, so unless they are equally represented, there must be bias in the system.

    The third argument is just bollocks. Sorry Andy. It's like complaining that Pride marches don't fight against the Act of Settlement. It makes the best the enemy of the good. We cannot avoid doing something about one element of poor representation on the basis that we're not doing it about all of them, because if we did we'd never act against anything.

    Sorry Andy, you've not persuaded me. But thanks for your honest answers. :-)