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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 02:13 GMT
Older people 'ignored by TV'
Sir Trevor McDonald
Sir Trevor McDonald: Emerged as viewers' favourite presenter
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By BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas

It is not just policemen who are getting younger. Older people think television presenters are too, according to a survey for Help the Aged and the Independent Television Commission.

They also believe that producers of news and factual programmes on television ignore the views of older people and fail to portray them realistically.

The two organisations are hosting a conference on Tuesday to see what can be done to improve the representation of older people on screen.

Most popular presenters
1. Sir Trevor McDonald
2. Michael Buerk
3. Kate Adie
4. Jeremy Paxman
5. George Alagiah
Source: Help the Aged/ITC survey
It is a topical issue. The present trend in television, according to its critics, is for younger, better-looking presenters and reporters.

'Cute bottoms'

Many older correspondents - men as well as women - are finding it harder to get on the screen.

It is widely seen as a symptom of 'dumbing-down'.

Michael Buerk
Viewers approved of Michael Buerk
The BBC's chief news correspondent Kate Adie was recently quoted on the subject in the Daily Mail: "They want women with cute faces, cute bottoms and nothing else in between."

The paper reported that she had described herself as an "ageing old trout", and said that television bosses were now more concerned about the "shape of your leg" than professional ability.

Ms Adie is one of those speaking at the conference, together with the former editor of ITN Sir David Nicholas and the government minister responsible for equality issues, Barbara Roche.

Over-65s 'ignored'

But it is not just the professionals who are finding age is a barrier to appearing on television.

Survey findings
70% say elderly ignored
5% expect attractive presenters
42% of under-24s want young presenter
Over 55s want 'intelligent' presenters
Viewers feel there is also a shortage of older interviewees in news and factual programmes.

Around 70% of those questioned thought that the views of the over-65s were ignored by programme-makers.

The figure was even higher for the over-75s, while half of those over 55s thought their age group was not portrayed realistically in news and factual programmes.

Yet viewers across all age groups said they would like to see more older people on television, both as presenters and contributors.

And the favourite presenters were knowledgeable and professional veterans such as Sir Trevor McDonald, Michael Buerk and Kate Adie, rather than good-looking youngsters.

Young viewers

Asked for the qualities that made an ideal presenter, almost everyone over the age of 55 plumped for 'knowledgeable', 'believable', 'professional and 'intelligent'.

Only 5% thought that 'physically attractive' was very important, while 26% thought it fairly important.

Younger respondents, between the ages of 16 and 24, did favour younger presenters - 42% wanted a presenter between the ages of 25 and 34.

But most of those asked said they did not mind what age a presenter was.


Tuesday's conference is the culmination of a joint initiative between Help the Aged and the ITC.

It follows a series of 'media awareness' workshops for older people with ITV companies around the country.

The organisers say the focus was to equip older people to make a contribution to factual programmes - and to demonstrate to news editors and producers the rich vein of experience, opinion and authority that is available.

But it seems the programme-makers still have a long way to go.

The BBC's Torin Douglas
"It is not just policemen getting younger"
Who is the UK's best TV news presenter?

Sir Trevor McDonald

Michael Buerk

Kate Adie

Jeremy Paxman

George Alagiah

3052 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

19 Mar 02 | TV and Radio
Adie: TV sidelines older viewers
13 Mar 02 | TV and Radio
TV standards 'falling'
08 Sep 99 | UK
TV ageism on the rise
25 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Pensioners highlight crime concerns
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