Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
On 27 May, the Conservative MP for Shrewsbury Daniel Kawczynski took to Twitter with his opinion of Emily Maitlis’ Newsnight monologue on Dominic Cummings’ infamous trip to Durham during lockdown. Stating that he found the BBC broadcaster “to be extraordinarily aggressive, unnecessarily rude, biased & confrontational to the point of intimidation”, Kawczynski revealed the double standard in British journalism which holds female reporters to a far higher standard than their male colleagues.
On Newsnight, Maitlis commented that Cummings had “broken the rules” of lockdown and that “the country can see that, and it’s shocked the government cannot”. These comments were condemned by the BBC for “not meet[ing] our standards of due impartiality”. However, male journalists who have spoken about Cummings’ actions have not been met with anywhere near the same level of scrutiny.
Take Piers Morgan for example, who stated on Good Morning Britain on 1st June that “Dominic Cummings is a liar who broke the rules. We know it, everybody knows it”. On their respective programmes, Maitlis and Morgan made the same comments on the Cummings scandal: his actions broke the lockdown rules and the country is aware of this. However, though Morgan’s comments were far harsher than Maitlis’, she was the one who was reprimanded.
In a rare insightful moment, Morgan himself acknowledged this on GMB, as well as the double standard which shields him from facing the same repercussions as Maitlis, saying that “the BBC may shut down Emily Maitlis for saying it but they’re not gonna shut us down. Or me!” This is symptomatic of the culture in British journalism which allows a man to ‘say it like it is’ whilst permitting a woman to be dragged on Twitter by Members of Parliament for doing the same. Though, this is no new phenomenon.
The list of commentators who have made sexist comments and derided female journalists is too long to be reproduced in full here. Though, some notable examples include Andrew Neil, who in a since-deleted tweet from 13th November 2018 called Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr a “mad cat woman.” Similarly, in an article for The Telegraph entitled ‘The BBC can no longer claim to be impartial’ (which curiously references only female journalists as those guilty of impartiality), Douglas Murray criticises Maitlis and Naga Munchetty for being “strident” and opinionated; descriptions which are all too often levelled at successful women.
Although we now have several high-profile female news broadcasters, this does not mean that British journalism has rid itself of sexism. It is easy for companies like the BBC to say that they an equal opportunities employer when they have Maitlis, Munchetty and others regularly fronting their programmes.
However, it is not in their numbers of female employees but in their treatment of these women that these employers’ true colours show. For true equality in the industry to be achieved, women must not only be paid the same and have access to the same positions as men, but also must be treated the same and be held to the same, not higher, standards than men. Removing the sexist double standard in criticism of female journalists would be a good place to start.