Women and older people are still starkly under-represented on television according to a report which revealed that disabled contributors are barely seen on some of the UK’s biggest-rating shows.
The study of small screen diversity said television was far younger and more male than the population at large, with large gaps in the representation of disabled, ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
Broadcasters have been united in their public determination to improve diversity both on screen and behind the scenes but the report by the Creative Diversity Network highlighted how far they still had to go.
Its analysis of some of the most popular programmes on BBC1, Channel 4, ITV and Sky1 said just 15% of women featured were aged 56 or over, half the actual make-up (30%) of that demographic in the UK.
Men outnumbered women by a ratio of almost 3:2, with women more likely to be aged between 20 and 39 than their male counterparts.
It said older people were “considerably under-represented” with over-55s accounting for just 8% of entertainment presenters and 12% of lead roles in drama.
Ethnic minorities were relatively well-represented but tended to be clustered around certain types of shows, including ITV’s The X Factor and BBC1’s The Voice.
Lesbian, gay or bisexual people comprised 1% of the overall TV population, said the report, against a nationally representative figure of 1.5%.
Miriam O’Reilly, the former Countryfile presenter who won a landmark age discrimination case against the BBC in 2011 and is deputy chair of the Labour party’s commission on older women, said: “By not doing more broadcasters are making it possible for discrimination to thrive.
“Since television has the power to shape prejudice they really – particularly the BBC as state broadcaster – should take a long hard look at the implications for our society.”
The Creative Diversity Network, which is backed by all of the UK’s main broadcasters, looked at the five most popular programmes in drama, entertainment and factual between October last year and April this year, with a maximum of six editions of each show.
The survey, completed last month, was part of plans to come up with a long-term tool for measuring diversity across all broadcasters and follows criticism by actor and comedian Lenny Henry of the “appalling” percentage of black and Asian people in the creative industries.
BBC1 scored best, albeit marginally, with its representation of women and also over 55s, accounting for 22.5% of all its on-screen contributors, double Sky1’s 11.2%.
ITV had the most minority ethnic faces with 16.5% (against 12.9% recorded in the 2011 census), ahead of BBC1’s 12.2%, and also the most disabled contributors, with 3.5% ahead of Channel 4, which came bottom in the disabled category with just 1.4%.
The broadcaster, which was home to the Sochi winter Paralympics as well as the Paralympics in London 2012, has previously said it has gone “further than any other broadcaster in putting disabled presenters at the heart of what we do”.
A Channel 4 spokesman said: “As the CDN has made clear, the small sample within this pilot study is not representative – it covers just 2% of the Channel 4 schedule – and it serves to highlight how valuable the CDN diversity monitoring tool will be in measuring and increasing representation across all programming going forwards.”
BBC director general Tony Hall has made improving diversity a key tenet of his time at the BBC. “The BBC gets much right on diversity, but the simple fact is that we need to do more,” he said in June.
“I am not content for the BBC to be merely good or above average. I want a new talent-led approach that will help set the pace in the media industry.”
A BBC spokesman said: “Clearly the huge range and variety of our programming can’t ever be captured in a sample of 15 programmes, and we’re working with the industry to develop a more consistent and rigorous monitoring tool.
“However, like other broadcasters, we recognise that more needs to be done to ensure all audiences are reflected on screen which is why we’re taking action to increase ethnic minority and disability representation and will continue to do our very best to improve in these areas.”
Responding to criticism by Henry and others, culture minister Ed Vaizey has called the lack of black and ethnic minority faces on UK television as “frankly weird”. BSkyB pledged earlier this year to take 20% of talent from black, Asian or other minority backgrounds.
Sky entertainment director Stuart Murphy said: “The results of the report highlight once again the need for us to tackle the lack of diversity on our screens.
“Sky has publicly committed to ambitious targets to make this happen. TV will be much better for all customers when it starts to reflect the Britain and Ireland in which we live.”
An ITV spokesman said: “As chair of the CDN we are committed to working with the other broadcaster, and non broadcaster members, to jointly take steps towards real shared action – which includes monitoring.
“Diversity, in its broadest sense, is important to us at ITV and we are committed to maximising the growth of diverse talent as well as increasing diversity on screen.
“We are also working on a social partnership with producers, as part of the commissioning process, that will challenge us all to think collectively about the impact we have on the people, communities and environment in which we operate, and represent within our programmes.”