The tricolor is flying at half mast this afternoon at Government buildings in Dublin as we learn of the sad passing of our former Taoiseach and Leader of Fine Gael, Dr Garrett Fitzgerald.

I have written an 'obituary' style piece for the political website, conservativehome

An insightful National Women’s Council of Ireland conference at the weekend gave me a rare opportunity to reflect for a moment about the industry I have worked with for many years. I was in a room full of journalists, communications professionals and activists talking about the media and for once there wasn’t a man
in sight!

I have to admit that in my former media advisory roles with political parties in Ireland and the UK, I rarely stopped to think about the lack of women in the media. As I ushered my former bosses in and out of television and radio studios the length and breadth of Ireland and the UK, I didn’t dwell on the fact that the programme presenters or reporters dispatched to interview my bosses would more than likely be men. The panel of ‘experts’ they joined on debate style programmes would also be dominated by men. It was the way it was. I perhaps didn’t realise just how bad it was.

Last year, the former Sunday Tribune journalist, Una Mulally wrote an article that gave some startling facts about the lack of women on the air. It showed that 80-90% of Irish radio programmes were presented by men. I
understand that a follow up article is due and it will be interesting to see if there has been any increase in the numbers of women fronting their own radio programmes and that those women that are on the air are not there solely as a ‘sidekick’ to a male presenter. I won’t hold my breath.

Research has also shown that 80- 90% of contributors to Irish programmes are men. Where are all the female ‘experts’?

The Global Media Monitoring Project  gives a snapshot of women in media, with results collected by monitoring the media over one chosen day. It’s clear that women are underrepresented globally and when they are represented, it’s often in traditional  stereotypes. For example, of the women represented in news coverage, just
18% were in relation to politics and government and only one fifth of the overall representation had women as ‘experts’ in these areas. We don’t just need an increase in representation but in the quality of representation.

This under-representation and lack of ‘quality’ representation is not exclusively a broadcasting phenomenon. In an article compiled by two female journalists in the Irish Times last week, twelve male economists gave reaction to Morgan Kelly’s views on the bailout. Where were the women?

A number of journalists at the NWCI conference spoke in particular about their experience of the reluctance of women to take part in a programme. I wasn’t  surprised to hear this.

When appearing on TV and Radio, women are judged first and foremost on how they  look and sound. For example, I regularly follow the Twitter feed on TV3’ Vincent Browne Tonight and RTE’s Front Line programme. Comments made by Tweeting  viewers in reference to women panel members largely focus on their appearance; their voice, what they are wearing, their make-up, hair, even their teeth rather than on or at least before giving an opinion on what they are saying.

People working in PR can and should put forward more women experts to talk about their campaign, business, product or organisation. We need to encourage and support women clients, colleagues and friends to get on the air and get their message across with confidence. And we should be helping journalists and producers source the female experts too. A fantastic initiative is the list of potential female contributors on More women experts should be encouraged to sign up for this.

My views on the lack of women in politics is for another post but while I’m here, I have to ask, where are the new women TDs?

Perhaps the new women TDs are ‘Junior’ spokespeople and not considered ‘Senior’ enough on their brief to go on media programmes. However, if the ‘junior’ female spokesperson continues to be overlooked by the media or is not put forward by party  officials because of the male spokesperson’s ‘seniority’ of position, how do they get
noticed and promoted if they can’t get a break on the air?