News anchors

The front page of The Australian’s media section today features a news article reporting the possible promotion of Chris Bath to become the first solo female news anchor on commercial TV in Australia.

The ABC (non-commercial) already has a number of solo female anchors, but channels 7, 9, 10 and SBS all currently feature either male solos or a male/female double act.

OK, progress being made, good news.

But what bothered me was this quote from Seven’s news director Peter Meakin:

“There’s a school of thought that there is a risk putting a woman on her own, largely because of female viewers not accepting female readers as authority figures.”

Is that true?

The article also appeared on the website where comments are allowed, and some of the comments submitted (71 so far) are equally concerning.

Steve of Brisbane: “A good looking female news reader beats a male news reader any day.”

Yeayeahwhotever of Melbourne: “quite honestly, TV and print news are a dying breed in any case. Too slow to react, too interested in creating sensation and hype. All that being said however, I do find Chris Bath very very tasty.”

RT: “The SBS newsreaders Janice Peterson and Neema Mairata and also Juanita Phillips and Felicity Davey of ABC are very professional and easy on the eye, as is Chris Bath. Good luck to her. I could watch them read the grain and produce market news and still be interested.”

Freda of NSW: “Television is still one of the last bastions of sexism towards women, Chris Bath should have been in the 6pm time-slot at least 2 years ago. She is much more pleasant to look at and listen to than any of the male newsreaders and I am a straight women.”

Jo Bloh: “We get Natalie Barr over here in the mornings and I can tell you I’ve never seen so many men watch the news of the morning, even after night shift!”

OG of Jerramungup: “Chris Bath can read the news at my place personaly any time she likes”

Helen of Queensland: “Love Chris Bath. Good looking and very professional. Just why has Australia still got a thing about gender? It is time Australians grow up. It is 2009 not 1909!!!”

David of Sydney: “My problem is that when Chris Bath reads the news I stop listening, and just look at her very beautiful face”

I have obviously just taken a selection, but I actually didn’t bother showing you the most silly sexist comments obviously left just to get a rise from other readers.

I am utterly intrigued that the appearance of a female news reader (indeed any female in the public sphere) appears to be of equal importance to her ability, yet no mention is made of the aesthetic merits of male news anchors.  To get their jobs these women have had to play the game by the rules – to get a good news job you need to be well presented.  But then once they get that job their unnaturally shiny hair and startlingly white teeth merely reinforce the stereotypes and discrimination that they have had to navigate themselves.  How can we break the cycle?


6 responses to “News anchors

  1. Watch Broadcast News sometimes. While the aesthetic appearance of male newscasters might not be as talked about by the public, it’s been a part of the business since TV took over for radio. It’s just argued via focus groups and PR specialists. This is decidedly a television issue, not a gender one.

  2. Psychologically, human beings like to look at attractive subjects. If the choice is between a news broadcast with a handsome man or an attractive woman versus some yobbo looking bloke with greasy long hair or a wrinkly old woman, besides the curiosity factor, how many people would find the latter more appealing? Given that men tend to become more handsome as they age — even guys who looked rubbish when they were younger — whilst the opposite is broadly attributable to women, it’s no wonder that TV news likes older, handsome men and younger, attractive women as its basic mix.

  3. Rob I do agree somewhat with your comments however while Robert Redford has definitely proved that men can improve with age, Helen Mirren and Elle MacPherson are showing older women can outshine their 25 year old counterparts still.

    Interestingly the BBC got into trouble a few years back when it axed the much loved Moira Stewart from the news…. rumoured to be because of her age:

    But actually while channel Seven (and commercial TV in general)’s actions inspired this post to start with, it was the comments on the site that most disconcerted me. Women, declaring pro-women opinions and still feeling the need to comment on her appearance in the same breath as her ability to do her job.

    Fact is she *isnt* old, and her appearance *isnt* an issue in this, so why was it even raised? It wasnt in the original article. If the discussion was about, say, the youngest man ever to solo anchor the news, his appearance would never come into it.

    I wonder whether Laurie Oaks, Peter Harvey or Jim Waley have ever had their attractiveness discussed when considering their ability to do their job? (and I mean by the public more than behind the doors at the media companies).

  4. I agree with the point that you’re trying to make, but women like Amanpour have already shown that women news reporters can be as good as men in their field without having perfect shiny teeth, but with networks being commercial entities will do anything to get higher TRPs and eyeballs. Even if it means reinforcing stereotypes and being sexist. Case in point, Naked News….

  5. Smacks of Anchorman, one of my favourite films of all time 😉

  6. I came across this blog while doing research for my dissertation on this very subject.

    Indeed, the aesthetic qualities of TV news are often seen to replace content.

    However, despite continuing to talk about how women are objects of desire, sex symbols and there as a pretty face, why don’t we look at the affect this has had on their male colleagues?

    We are seeing more attractive young men, more personable men and dare I say, sensitive men. Gone are the days of the stilted male conveyors of news and instead, I would argue, we have a softer male approach? And why is this? Women? Discuss…

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