Can We Really Trust the BBC to Bring us Real Experts?

The BBC recently used male “experts” to discuss breast cancer and teenage pregnancy. Just read this article courtesy of the Guardian.  So, they asked women who had breast cancer, survivors, people who had been through treatment, women who had advised on treatment? Sort of, for anecdotal evidence. The report on breast cancer being discussed was on distress and impact. On whom? Women! Yet a man was interviewed about it? For the teenage pregnancy piece it asked a young woman who had a child when a teenager, a mother of a pregnant teenager, a woman at least? Nope. A man. So of course they had great insight. NOT.  Caroline Criado-Perez writes a really interesting article here about the BBC’s messages it gives out on experience and expertise.

Stop making excuses BBC
BBC makes excuses for not having female experts. Ludicrous

How on EARTH can a man know what it is like to be a woman? Never mind one with breast cancer. How on EARTH can a man put himself in the position of a teenage girl never mind one who is pregnant? Any sensible man asked to do that would laugh in the questioner’s face and say “Don’t be so ridiculous”.  Now, I am a great believer in the arts and the use of drama to teach just about anything (and that’s another worry for anyone who cares about education taking the arts out of the Ebacc) and so believe role play is very important in getting people to empathise and all that. But seriously, that’s not what is going on here is it?! The opinion is being asked for by a so called expert in the field. It isn’t a lesson aimed at people sharing and learning from each other and seeing other people’s points of views is it?!

I don’t think there is any discussion to be had! It is quite simple. If you want an expert in a certain field, particularly one that requires experience and/or ability to empathise you don’t ask someone unable to do that however much knowledge they may have. It is insulting to all concerned.  It is quite ludicrous for the BBC to say that they were unable to find women. Criado-Perez and her co-founder, Catherine Smith founded The Women ‘s Room UK a site for women to register as experts for the media. Within 48 hours they had 40 people register. So the BBC couldn’t even put out a single Tweet? Rubbish. Why couldn’t they do that? Laziness? Stupidity? Apathy?  It’s not rocket science (bet they’d get a man to speak on that though!) Get me in that BBC on the Board I’d soon sort them all out I can tell you!

But seriously, it’s like my saying (point 8) that if you are a company selling to children/young people/families and you aren’t involving them in feedback and development then you are missing a trick and what about the people you don’t know you aren’t getting feedback from? (point 7) Similarly “Points of View” and focus groups have their limitations. The BBC needs to get ahead and involve its viewers more. The customers. If only the BBC was more innovative involving their customers! Is that too scary a thought for them? Perhaps we the customers know best and the BBC Powers That Be might be surprised by how much expert advice it gets.

I asked the question on a LinkedIn Q & A and someone thought that my saying that you need a female to answer questions on how a female feels about having breast cancer or be a female to understand being pregnant as a teenager made me prejudiced and offensive. I like to think of myself as unprejudiced and well I can certainly be offensive but I don’t believe that this point of view is either of those things!

What do you think are the reasons for such a shortage of female experts on the BBC?

So, if you are a woman or know a woman who is an expert in her field get them to register on The Women’s Room UK

May 2014 update. Well, given that I have appeared on the BBC a few times now regarding complaining and consumer rights I’m not sure whether that is an improvement or not?!

September 2018 update. Well certainly my media appearances have increased, and there may be more women on television but wow that gender gap huh?

By Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist
Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

14 replies on “Can We Really Trust the BBC to Bring us Real Experts?”

Hmmm, this is another reason I don’t watch TV. The BBC are completely out of touch with half the population and clearly don’t give a damn that they are. And don’t get me started on how they cover up sexual harassment and abuse of their female staff and underage viewers… It’s time for new leadership at the Beeb so this rubbish doesn’t happen anymore.

Has someone told them it’s 2012 yet?

Yes well like I said, get me in there I’ll sort ’em out! Who wants to come with me?!

If you want to know what it’s like in a coal mine, ask a miner!
I detest “experts” too!
Although I acknowledge that some people are knowledgeable in their fields, why do the powers that be think that I want to hear what they think? I don’t like to watch sport on TV anyway but why oh why do we have the interviews with has-beens and never-beens? Why, during the Royal Wedding, Jubillee, etc did we have all those “stars” telling us what was going on. I can see for myself thanks very much!
I used to work for a very large public body and they never asked the workers what was needed to improve the services we offered. How on earth did they think that “managers” could possibly know what it was like to sit at a desk getting abused by members of the public on a daily basis? How could they improve a service which they knew nothing about?

Yep! As for your last point yes – similar to my points about companies who sell to children, young people and families but don’t get feedback from them or if they do uncreatively so meaningless!

I for one do not agree with the view that you have to be a pregnant teenage girl to understand a pregnant teenage girl and what they are going through – if you followed this logic through to its conclusion then the schools would be full of children teaching children and criminals looking after prisons as they are the only ones that ‘understand’ them.

Qualified doctors do not have to suffer all the illnesses and injuries they treat to be able to understand how to fix them, Phycologists do not suffer mental illness in order to treat an ill
Patient. The logic in the argument is flawed.

Your article smacks of feminism. I am a man but I have no problem if I am ill being treated by
a female doctor. Your argument works both ways and in the end it does no service to womens

Hi Richard. Perhpas I could clarify a few things.

1) I was slightly lazy perhaps in my piece linking to more detail rather than detailing it myself! However, I did not say you had to be female or pregnant as a teenage girl to understand them. (Although I am sure you would agree you could not fully empathise) The programme to which I refer in which the BBC used a male “expert” was Dr Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College. To quote from WeekWoman’s blog post “Now, there is no disputing that Seldon is indeed an expert. He is, in fact, “an authority on contemporary British history”, having written or edited “over 25 books on contemporary history, politics and education”. Impressive stuff. The thing is, nowhere does his expansive biography mention any expertise whatsoever in contraception, pregnancy or teenage girls. What it does mention is that Seldon “appears regularly on television and radio and in the press”. He has a name, he has a voice, he is a “him”; Seldon is therefore worth listening to.” Where is his experience and knowledge about teenage pregnancy and contraception? He spoke about the special relationship between parent and child. (The programme was about the number of contraceptive injections for girls under 16 without parent consent). he spoke nothing of young people in deprived areas, those abused, gender power relations, girl gangs or those in care homes. Because, as I am sure he would freely admit, he has no knowledge or experience in these areas. Perhaps another man would, maybe another argument.
2) You refer to my argument being flawed in that doctors do not have to have all the illnesses to treat them. I wholeheartedly agree. I was not arguing against that at all. You say that you have no problem being treated by a female doctor. I did not say women would not want to be treated by a man. Let me make myself clearer at the risk of writing a reply longer than the blog post! The programme was about how women felt on hearing that they had cancer etc. Feelings. Therefore to truly empathise surely you have had to have gone through it to be an expert. A man cannot understand just what a woman with breast cancer FEELS. I consider someone who has had 10 years expereince working in the field and has had a masectomy herself an expert, I hope you agree. I will therefore allow this expert to rest my case for me. My mother was a masectomy and breast cancer nurse and had breast cancer. When she was a nurse the “expert” consultants and surgeons ALL, over 10 years without fail called HER in to counsel women who had been told they had breast cancer. She was brought in to to talk with the women about what they were likely to go through emotionally. The male experts did all the surgery and advice etc. but when it came down to empathy and feelings it needed a woman who had gone through it and was experienced medically. It would be extremely arrogant to say that a man can do this. Male experts in the area called in a female. Once a patient even had a go at my mother who was talking to her about what she would feel saying how would she understand? My mother showed her her masectomy. Then she calmed down and was helped through the experience by my mother. She didn’t even want to be helped by a woman until she saw REAL experience. How do you think she would have reacted if a man was telling her?! I rest my case.
My mother would also like to add that she knew how to nurse men through cancer but when it came to counselling etc she knew who to go to to bring in a man. She wouldn’t dream of saying that she would understand how a man would feel about having certain cancers although she was an experienced expert in her field.
Hope that clarifies my post and that you got this far 😉
3) You say “feminism” like it’s a bad thing. Is it?

… and therefore couldn’t possibly be an expert in the area…. Thanks you for your comments!

Thank you for your further comment – I believe that your point has already been answered by others and myself above.

If you followed Richard’s argument, you don’t need to be treated for an illness by a doctor at all, just by some one that has seen ‘Doctors’.
Possibly while they were sitting in a hospital waiting room.
Someone like that will have an opinion on medical matters, an informed one even.
My personal opinion, however, would be to go with the *most* expert opinion possible.
If I was seeking an expert on breast cancer or teenage pregnancy, then I would favour a female expert in the field rather than a male one. It most definitely is a gender based decision. Women have breasts. And they get pregnant. I believe men usually don’t have breasts, or get pregnant.
Additionally, when conducting primary research in the field, which I feel is expected from a really good expert, a female researcher is more likely to be effective when interviewing female subjects.

Of course gender discrimination happens to males… overwhelmingly to their advantage.

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