Page last updated at 00:13 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

BBC One 'should have more over-50s,' report says

Moira Stuart
Moira Stuart reads the news on Chris Evans's Radio 2 breakfast show

A leading provider of housing and care for the elderly has accused the BBC of not having enough older people in its programmes, compared to rival ITV.

The Anchor Trust has commissioned an "older faces audit" that claims only 20% of presenters and actors on BBC One are aged over 50.

This compares to 27% on ITV1, based on figures collated during one week.

The BBC said it did not believe that the study provided an accurate reflection of its output.

The claims follow the ageism row about Strictly Come Dancing's Arlene Phillips being replaced by singer Alesha Dixon.

It also follows the recent return of veteran newsreaders Moira Stuart and Julia Somerville to BBC airwaves.

Torin Douglas
Torin Douglas, Media correspondent

Today's figures add more fuel to the debate over ageism and sexism on TV, which has led the BBC to hire several women newsreaders over the age of 50 for its News Channel. But you may wonder what this has to do with a care home company. The cynical answer would be "publicity".

In the PR business, surveys are regularly used as a promotional device. But this does not mean the findings should be ignored. It is noteworthy that the researchers found that just 20% of the presenters and actors on BBC One were over 50, compared with 34% of the population as a whole.

For a publicly-funded mass-audience channel, that is worth keeping under review. But there is another reservation. One week's TV - however well the research is conducted - may not be typical of the year as a whole. Different seasons, drama offerings, storylines, and newsreader rotas can all influence the findings. Other surveys of on-screen diversity have taken several weeks from different times of the year, to counter that effect.

Anchor's audit found that 28% of "faces" on the BBC One's news and current affairs programmes were over 50, compared to ITV1's 31%.

The figures were compiled after monitoring the five major terrestrial TV channels between 20 and 27 February, 24 hours a day.

They did not include imported programmes, repeats, films, regional programmes or shows that did not have a presenter visible on screen.

Research company PCP based its data on around 1,500 "observations" of 500 people on TV during the week in question whose date of birth could be confirmed.

As a result, "faces" who appeared more than once during that week - GMTV presenter Lorraine Kelly, for example - would constitute more than one "observation".

Anchor's chief executive Jane Ashcroft said that it was "scandalous" that the over-50s were not represented "more fairly" on TV.

"Rather than condemning older presenters and actors to the scrap heap, it is time for television executives to embrace the wealth of talent and experience they may offer."

A BBC spokesman said the corporation welcomed any research into its output and was pleased that the report identified BBC Two as having the highest representation of older people in UK broadcast media.

However, he went on, "we do not believe a one-week sample study is an accurate reflection of the BBC's output throughout the year.

"The reality is that we have a very wide range of artists on the BBC, including presenters and actors such as Sheila Hancock, Arlene Phillips, Sir David Attenborough and Julia Somerville, as well as other new faces who we hope will be with us for years to come."

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