BBC accused of misogyny over breakfast show 'seating bias'
Have you ever wondered why male TV presenters always sit or stand on the left and females on the right? Nope, me neither. At least not until this week, when new "BBC Breakfast" presenter Dan Walker caused quite a furore by taking a seat on the right-hand side of the sofa.
Despite being new to the show, Walker was seated in the so-called "power position" on the viewer's left-hand side of the sofa — leaving his co-host, Louise Minchin, on the right. Immediately people started protesting that this wasn't fair, because Minchin, a veteran presenter, has 10 years' more experience than Walker.
As long as the seed has been planted, it starts to raise questions. Why does Good Morning Britain's Piers Morgan always sit on the left and Susanna Reid on the right?
The same could be asked of Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on This Morning — but wait, they've gone and foxed us all this week and switched sides.
Phil and Holly's seat swap isn't permanent, however, and only came about due to the media fuss over Walker assuming his "power position" on another channel.
It's definitely got us thinking — is there some kind of seating bias going on in the world of prime time television?
"On nearly all breakfast TV sofas, the male presenter sits on the left hand side of the sofa," said Marie Claire. "This is the 'dominant' spot, owing to the fact that when we watch television our eyes naturally pan left to right, as we would read a page, automatically giving the man the highest position of authority."
One TV presenter — Miriam O’Reilly, who was sacked from BBC's Countryfile and subsequently won an ageism case against the corporation — calls out the positioning of male and female presenters as another sign of sexism in the industry.
"It’s just deep-rooted misogyny in newsrooms, where editors think a man somehow has more authority," she told The Guardian, "and, of course, the people who make these decisions tend to be men themselves.
"I’ve worked on enough news and current affairs programmes to know that men are seen by editors as having the 'gravitas' to lead a show," she continued. "Sadly women on breakfast news programmes, particularly, have the role of the bit of fluff by his side. They are there to smile, laugh, giggle or tease — and to show legs and cleavage."
The Independent backs up the view that breakfast TV sofa placement says a lot about industry sexism: "Camera left is perceived as the more senior position, because people read left to right. And so, when it comes to presenter duos, you’ll always find a man — usually older — sitting to the left of a woman."
If "camera left" in broadcasting really is considered the more senior position, then there's no doubt that Minchin has been snubbed (and, arguably, Willoughby, Reid, Alex Jones on The One Show and a whole host of other female TV presenters, both here and in other countries, have a case for playing musical chairs).
One programme maker said there tended to be a perception that the more senior presenter sat on the left, stating: "It’s not about gender, but it may be about seniority. The presenter on the left is referred to as number one and the presenter on the right is number two."
Clearly, though, this argument doesn't apply to Walker and Minchin, so what's the explanation from the Beeb?
BBC bosses insist that no such "seating bias" exists, and that the seating arrangements for male and female presenters is merely a coincidence. In a statement, the BBC said: "There is no seniority in terms of who sits where on the BBC Breakfast sofa. It’s all about judging which is the best camera angle for the presenters."
Clear as mud, then.