BBC One ageism.

TV You will have seen or heard a story this morning accusing the BBC of ageism yet again, especially on BBC One. The Guardian reports:
"The study, which examined a week's worth of TV output, found that BBC2 had the highest proportion of actors and presenters aged over 50, with 37%, but BBC1 had just 20% of its presenters and cast members aged over 50%, compared with 27% on ITV1. Channel 4 had only 12% of presenters actors aged 50 or over, while Channel Five had none at all.

Overall, the The Older Faces Audit, by market research consultants PCP, found that 22% of presenters and cast members were over 50, compared with 34% of the general population. The study, commissioned by retirement village company Anchor, monitored TV programmes on the five main terrestrial channels from 20 February to 26 February.
Taking into account that no one seems to be taking a metaphoric baseball bat to Channel 4 because it's still considered to be a "youth" service even though it's predominately trying to go toe-to-toe with BBC television much of the time, I haven't really been trained in quantitative research but two elements are likely to skew the results away from favouring BBC One in that week.

From the information available, the survey doesn't include all on-screen contributors from the information provided, just presenters and actors. If you included contributors -- ie, interviewees, guests and contestants on gameshows, the figure would be increased considerably. To just include presenters and actors poorly represents what is being presented on screen. Most of the people being interviewed on Countryfile for example are over fifty but they wouldn't have been added either.

Plus, one week's worth of programmes looks like a very small sample for this kind of survey, since special events can blur the statistics. Looking at the schedule for BBC One that week, In an ordinary week, the usual episodes of Larkrise, Antiques Roadshow, Songs of Praise and New Tricks would have bumped up the numbers, but at the end of February there was also loads of live athletics and the Bafta Awards. How did they deal with that? Did they include all of the people giving and receiving awards because from what I remember it was mostly young people giving older people the "bronze" faces.

But the survey looks spurious anyway because it apparently Five had no presenters or actors on screen for that week, despite the multiple episodes of NCIS with David McCallum who was born in 1933. An import, certainly, but in looking at other reports trying to find a copy of the survey on-line, I've found nothing to say what did or didn't include in that direction. If they did only feature home-grown material then that has to be underlined.

Whilst it's true that older presenters and actors can get a raw deal on television, attempting to prove the point by narrowing the statistics is not the way to go. They can come back to me when they've looked at a few month's worth and a larger sample and properly represent what the viewer is actually seeing on screen.


  1. Anonymous12:04 pm

    Regardless of how these researchers gleaned their sample, the basic premise remains noble.It is interesting that critics of this latest research are keen to present various anomolies that fly in the face of the overwhelming evidence that the media is inherently biased. This is not just a numbers game; it is not simply a tally of how many older people are given screen time. It extends to how they are presented, the manner in which they are portrayed.

    I believe that all channels have an obligation to represent all corners of our population, and to do so in a respectful and responsible manner. Clearly, one does not have to conduct such a large scale survey to establish the fact that the media tends to favour younger actors/presenters. Aligned with ageism, there is the inherent sexism and homophobia which permeates our media. It is certainly not unusual to have our news read by an older male alongside a much younger female; our weather forecast to be delivered by either an older male so called "meteorologist/weather MAN" or else a younger, glamorous, "weather girl". How often is sex between older people celebrated, or at the least presented in a respectful way. Rather, adversely, it is derided and ridiculed, a source of humour for the younger viewer.

    Such blatant bias undoubtedly has adverse implications for viewers who often look to the media for guidance and acceptance. It appears that little has changed over the years and we are no more enlightened, sadly. Women are still considered the second sex, and older ones, unfortunuately are afforded and perceived to have even less value.

    I'm not sure anyone can rightly argue against the promotion of equality in our media. Concentrating on the possible flaws of the research only serves to distract from the validity of the argument for more representation of the population and a reduction in the negative implications of not doing so.

  2. Thank you for the comment.

    In the final paragraph I do say:

    "Whilst it's true that older presenters and actors can get a raw deal on television"

    Nothing of what you say is untrue, anonymous. But the thrust of my argument is that if you're going to back that up with research as Anchor are attempting to do, you have to make sure that the research isn't flawed or showing elements of bias which was my point.

    The way this is being reported is as "BBC fails again" even though the percentages suggest that commercial broadcasters are failing just as much and it doesn't take into account that BBC One shows on average three hours of children's programmes a day which is bound to effect the percentages.

    This research doesn't seem to extend to "how they are presented, the manner in which they are portrayed" because it doesn't include contributors and interviewees which are an important proportion of who appear on-screen and how an age group is presented.