MP slams BBC 'culture of sexism'

The Government should withhold the licence fee payout to the BBC at the next round of negotiations unless the Corporation does more to tackle sexist discrimination against its women television and radio presenters, a Tory MP has said.

Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) also demanded a parliamentary committee be set up to look at why the BBC had so few female executives, as well as presenters, particularly in prime time slots.

Many talented women presenters were sidelined to weekend slots or hosted shows in the early hours, while there was a disproportionate number of men at the helm of daytime shows when viewing and listening figures were at their peak.

Calling on the Government to end the "culture of sexism", she said she had been told by one famous male presenter at a Christmas party last year that his career would be brought to a premature end if he dared to challenge the issue of sexism at the BBC.

She said too often executives failed to deviate from the "unchallenged format" of pairing a young, blonde female presenter with an ageing male partner.

She also took issue with a remark she said was made by political pundit Andrew Neil after she appeared on his programme. Ms Dorries claimed that after running over from Parliament to College Green for an interview with Mr Neil, whom she described as an "ageing, overweight, orange toupe-wearing has-been", she heard him quip in her earpiece: "Well she looked tired and out of breath there, didn't she?"

The Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said statistics detailing the jobs occupied by women at the BBC were "cause for concern", but insisted the Government could not interfere with the Corporation's efforts to deal with sexism. But he said he would set up a meeting between Ms Dorries, the Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt and the BBC Director-General Mark Thompson to discuss the issue.

His concession came after Ms Dorries said the Government should force the BBC to get its "house in order". Turning to Mr Vaizey in the Commons, she said: "I think you should set up a parliamentary committee to scrutinise the BBC because whatever they are doing at the moment, it is simply wrong. I am not advocating a degrading focus here, I am talking about basic commercial common sense."

Mr Vaizey said the Government should "not interfere with operational or editorial independence" of the BBC but acknowledged that Ms Dorries had "made a valid point".

He added: "It is an issue that one has to keep pressing at. Some people might regard it is as a frivolous issue, some people might regard it as an issue that makes good copy for a parliamentary sketch. But actually you make a valid and fundamental point which is that one does want to hear a balance of voices on the radio and one does want to see a balance of presenters on the television."