News Analysis

Thursday 28 August 2014

Chris O'Donoghue: Women On Air focusing on wrong area – the real problem is age in media

Published 02/10/2013 | 05:00

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Miriam O'Callaghan and Claire Byrne are two great presenters

I received a note from someone, claiming to be involved in the 'Women On Air' group, teasing out the fact that I had acted as MC at a recent 'Women in Business' charity event, which was sponsored by my employer.

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I am a man, so hosting this event was absurd, claimed the memo. I can only presume the writer applies her strict views to others too, so Grainne Seoige will have received a note telling her she should have been at home baking instead of hosting this year's 'Up For The Match'.

Miriam O'Callaghan must have been told she does not have testicles and should not have given considerable profile to the 'Blue September' campaign on male cancer.

Of course they didn't, but the writer was not really angry at me personally but at Newstalk for having so many male presenters. I co-host a programme and for the last month have been doing that with Ivan Yates, for most of the last 12-months I co-hosted with Norah Casey, who is starting a new programme shortly.

In recent weeks some of the commentary around women on air has really annoyed me because it is so simplistic and counterproductive to what its stated goal is. A much more meaningful exercise would be to look at women in media and the age profile of those in media.

In my experience there are two types of power and influence, hard and soft. Soft power and influence are much more effective. So if we apply hard power to this debate, then Newstalk, Today FM and RTE would be obliged to have a 50:50 gender split in their line-ups.

That, angry note writer, would actually be absurd and superficial. Media, just like politics, law, education and business, needs to tackle a much bigger legacy – which is the soft power and influence of being male dominated for so long and not just window-dress with women on air.

One of my two producers at the moment is a woman and across our 7am-7pm schedule the split of producers is 3:3 women to men. My female producer is in her job for the only reason that should be valid, because she is a killer at that job. Similarly, another colleague is travelling to Syria this week for the third time to cover one of the most important stories on the planet.

She happens to be a woman but that is irrelevant, she is the best person in our ranks for this assignment. These are just a couple of examples but they are why I believe 'women on air' needs to move to a 'women in media' stance.

I mentioned age because I think it is ignored and is as big a factor as gender in the opinions we hear from our media. The combined age of the 7am-7pm RTE Radio 1 schedule unveiled in August is 629 years, while at Newstalk it is 306 years.

A comfortable cushion of funding means there are more presenters at RTE 7am-7pm, but I am the only presenter on either station who is younger than 30 (I'm 29) and if it wasn't for Claire Byrne, no one on the schedule Radio 1 unveiled would be below 40.

With age, of course, comes experience and skill so I am not suggesting that Pat Kenny and Sean O'Rourke be taken out the back and shot; they are responsible for a lot of strong journalism. At the same time an age mix is as important as a gender mix. After all it is my generation that is dealing with the major issues in Irish society, it is my generation that is penniless and pensionless and it is my generation that is too young to give up, but unsure of what to work toward.

My point is there are many people in media, both women and men, that could do the job I do (many would be better). They would be much more representative of the Ireland we live in and this is the goal editors should be working toward, not window-dressing. The problem is the grip of the aul lads and aul wans on air.

Chris O'Donoghue is a presenter on Newstalk.

Irish Independent

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