RTÉ had 60:40 ratio of men to women on air in early pandemic response, research finds

DCU-led project finds Claire Byrne Live and Ireland on Call came closest to parity

Claire Byrne’s television show was one of the best for gender parity. Photograph: Conor McCabe

Claire Byrne’s television show was one of the best for gender parity. Photograph: Conor McCabe


RTÉ television and radio had a gender ratio of 60 per cent male to 40 per cent female in the initial weeks of its pandemic coverage last year, according to a Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) research project set to be launched today.

The television shows Claire Byrne Live and Ireland on Call came closest to gender parity, with women representing 46 per cent of participants on each programme, the research found.

The report studied all programme participants on a number of RTÉ radio and television programmes between March 1st and May 31st, 2020, with the research conducted by Dr Eileen Culloty and Dr Colm Kearns from Dublin City University, with the co-operation of RTÉ’s diversity and inclusion lead, Dr Zbyszek Zalinski.

Women accounted for 36 per cent of expert commentators, though the researchers noted that production teams were not always free to choose a contributor or spokesperson, for example, in the case of Ministers or the heads of organisations.

The study measured gender diversity across RTÉ Radio 1 programmes Brendan O’Connor, The Business and Today with Claire Byrne, and the RTÉ One television programmes Claire Byrne Live, Ireland on Call and The Late Late Show.

It also found that the majority of items (69 per cent) featuring more than one participant included both men and women, while 18 per cent of Covid-19 items introduced a diversity dimension to the discussion of the pandemic.

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes welcomed the publication of the research.

“This was a valuable process at a time when we were adapting to the unprecedent challenges created by the global pandemic. While RTÉ achieved 60:40 male-female representation across all participants on the six programmes selected, we are aware that we must do more to achieve our 50:50 target and we have been putting a range of measures in place to make this happen,” she said.

Ms Forbes said RTÉ had continued to make progress since the research was carried out, citing its recent approach to sports programming. The organisation also established a “diversity in content” group, comprising senior individuals from across RTÉ, to help advance its diversity and inclusion efforts.

A project targeting 50:50 gender balance on air is “already part of the workflow of a number of teams” and will be extended to more teams in the coming months, while an internship scheme aimed at underrepresented groups has been introduced.

Unique opportunity

The researchers said the pandemic had presented a “unique opportunity” to assess where diversity was positioned within RTÉ’s public service role.

“Our research found that RTÉ, as an organisation, has made significant progress in defining and promoting a strategic vision for diversity and that it is taken seriously by RTÉ decision-makers,” Dr Culloty said.

“However, meaningful progress will take time, commitment and funding, as well as collaboration with communities and campaigners who are developing diversity initiatives.”

Finding appropriate ways to monitor and measure diversity and inclusion also “remains a challenge”, she added.

BAI deputy chief executive Celene Craig, welcoming the research, said diversity, equality and inclusion was one of the broadcasting regulator’s key focus areas and the report would provide valuable insight to help inform policy development.