In recent times, the BBC has made great efforts to bridge the gender divide. It has increased the number of women on screen, upped the pay of female presenters and produced drama and documentaries about women’s lives. The only problem? Men are feeling left out.
Research carried out by the corporation found that more than a quarter of men feel that the BBC “no longer reflects people like me”. The figure is 28 per cent, up from 23 per cent last year. For women, it has remained static at 20 per cent.
Asked if the BBC is effective in its mission to inform, educate and entertain, 82 per cent of women agreed but only 75 per cent of men.
The figures were contained in the broadcaster’s annual report, which noted: “By gender, men gave positive but lower effectiveness scores than women.”
It added: “There are differences in the consumption and impact of the BBC comparing between audience groups that we are seeking to narrow, and perceptions that we are focused on improving.”
A glance at the annual report illustrates where that perception may arise.
The report’s cover celebrates the success of Line of Duty – the most-watched drama of the past year – with a picture that features only its female stars, Vicky McClure and Kelly Macdonald.
Radio 4’s Today programme is represented by a picture of Mishal Husain and Martha Kearney (Nick Robinson and Justin Webb are nowhere to be seen). The figures for BBC Sounds are illustrated with a picture of Lauren Laverne, and a summary of the BBC’s football coverage is accompanied by an image of Alex Scott.
The figures for BBC Sounds are illustrated with a picture of Lauren Laverne
The focus on women began in 2017, when details of the BBC’s highest-earners were published for the first time and the absence of women from the top tier was noted. There followed two high-profile equal pay cases, with Carrie Gracie and Samira Ahmed both receiving substantial payouts.
Since then, the BBC’s 50:50 Project has increased the number of women contributors on shows ranging from BBC Breakfast to The One Show, Songs of Praise and coverage of the Glastonbury Festival.
The rise in women on-screen has proved popular with the younger audience that the BBC is so keen to attract. Among 16-34-year-olds, 40 per cent said they derived greater enjoyment from BBC content as a result of seeing and hearing more women.
BBC Three, the youth channel returning to television after an absence of several years, is particularly female-focused.
In a consultation document submitted this year, BBC Three cited four documentaries as highlights of its schedule. All were presented by women, including films about coercive control and colourism. One of the channel’s most heavily-promoted shows is Angels of the North, a fly-on-the-wall series set in a Gateshead hair salon.
Some of the key drama launches of the past year have been female-focused, including I May Destroy You and the Pursuit of Love, along with new comedy series Starstruck and returning show Motherland.
However, the BBC has not abandoned male-centred shows. Time, BBC One’s recent and acclaimed prison drama, featured two male leads in Stephen Graham and Sean Bean.
Sean Bean and Stephen Graham feature in the highly-acclaimed new drama Time
Forthcoming dramas include The Responder, starring Martin Freeman as a police officer working the night shift in Liverpool, and This Is Going To Hurt, starring Ben Whishaw as a junior doctor.
BBC Three has also commissioned Bricking It, about a group of bricklayers.
Men are not the only group with declining levels of affection for the BBC.
The annual report found that effectiveness ratings are lower than average amongst the disabled, those from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background, people in the North of England and the working class.
The proportion of under-16s using the BBC each week has fallen from 81 per cent last year to 77 per cent in 2020-21.
The under-sixes were singled out in the report as an area of particular concern, as Netflix, YouTube and Disney+ compete for their attention.
A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC is the most used media brand with 90 per cent of adults coming to us on average per week. In the last year we have delivered on our public service mission to inform, educate and entertain with record numbers in TV, radio and online.
“We know there is more to do and we are committed to providing brilliant value and a great service for all audiences.”