TV Audiences Judge Presenters on Professionalism Rather than Looks, Research Finds

Back to news listings

Television audiences place more importance on newsreaders’ professionalism than their looks, new research has found.

It comes as TV personality, Clare Balding, this week reignited the debate around the issue of sexism in television, by saying that female presenters being judged on appearance ‘stultifies talent’. The research, by the University of Worcester, has found that viewers are tired of presenters being judged on their physical appearance alone.

“We found that the audience were well aware that female newsreaders may have been chosen for their appearance, and many of our respondents though that this was rather unjust,” said Claire Wolfe, Subject Leader in Journalism.

“The audience is more sophisticated than the industry gives them credit for. Certainly the audiences we talked to seem to want to concentrate on the news whereas it seems that the industry itself is not prepared to trust the audience in this.”

Almost 200 people were quizzed by Ms Wolfe, Mike Webb, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Sociology and Dr Barbara Mitra, Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies, on who they would rather see deliver a news bulletin.

One female respondent said she felt ‘slightly irritated and offended’ at what she perceived to be female presenters who were on screen simply to attract male viewers, while a male respondent said he believed that the selection of presenters, based purely on looks, ‘takes away the weight’ needed to report on serious news items.

The issue of ageism, particularly among female presenters, was also discussed, with one respondent saying of older newsreaders: “They don’t suddenly become less able or inarticulate. But it seems to be that it’s being decided on the public’s behalf that they don’t want older women on the television.

“It seems unfair and discriminatory when they’re kicked out earlier.”

The majority of people who took part in the study agreed that a presenter’s ability to deliver news was more important than anything else.

“What is important is that their appearance is not such that it detracts from the story they are reading, whether that be that they are too attractive, too ugly or too flamboyantly dressed,” one male respondent explained.

However, about a quarter of the study sample did think that physical appeal was a desirable quality for newsreaders, and this was most notable in respondents aged 61 and over, where 47 per cent thought that female newsreaders should be attractive.

The research: ‘Audience Responses to the Physical Appearance of Newsreaders’, is published in Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, Volume 11 Issue 2, November 2014. 

The first part of the research: ‘Newsreaders as Eye Candy’, by Claire Wolfe and Barbara Mitra, was published by the Association for Journalism Education Journal in 2012, and concluded that physical appearance plays a key role in the employment prospects of female newsreaders.