BBC responds coolly to Culture Secretary’s complaints about BBC “sexism”

BBC insists it is making strides in coverage of women's sport and privately some BBC staff accuse the Minister of opportunism

The BBC has responded coolly to a letter of complaint from culture secretary Maria Miller about allegedly sexist Wimbledon coverage.

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The Corporation issued a statement responding to the politician’s complaints which cited BBC anchor John Inverdale’s comments about the physical appearance of Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli.

In her letter to Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC, Miller demanded to know “any further action is likely to be taken” over Wimbledon commentator John Inverdale’s comments.

The BBC was forced to apologise after Inverdale suggested the French player was “never going to be a looker” on Radio 5 Live, shortly after she defeated Sabine Lisicki to win the women’s final on Centre Court.

“Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little: ‘You’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?,” he said.

 “It is therefore a matter of some concern to me that any comment on the looks and stature of a female athlete could be made in the context of one of the UK’s, and indeed the world’s, sporting calendar,” she said in a letter sent to the BBC last week.

However the BBC’s statement today said : “The BBC has made clear that John Inverdale’s comments were unacceptable and fell well beneath the standards expected of our presenters’ said the statement.

 “John sincerely regrets that he made such an inappropriate statement and for the offence caused. As he said on-air the following day, he has written to Marion Bartoli to apologise and the BBC has also apologised for John’s remarks. 

“The BBC has a proud record of supporting women’s sport with the current coverage of Euro 2013 the most recent highlight in a summer of unprecedented coverage. We have also appointed an Editorial Lead specifically for women’s sport, which has helped ensure significantly increased coverage across our daily sporting output. More generally the BBC, following the Respect at Work Review, is taking steps to clearly communicate to those who work for us what constitutes inappropriate behaviour or language.”

Director General Lord Hall has also replied to Miller, pointing out that Inverdale was also “spoken to” by BBC director of sport Barbara Slater as well as Jonathan Wall, the controller of Radio 5 Live.

“[They] have both spoken to John to make it clear that his comments were unacceptable and that an incident of this nature must never happen again,” said Hall in his written response.

Privately there are some figures inside the BBC who regard Miller’s intervention as opportunistic and point- as Hall does in his letter – to the strides the BBC is making in its coverage of women’s sport, such as broadcasting the women’s Euro 2013 football tournament.

For Miller, however, Inverdale’s on-air apology appears not to be good enough.

“I would be grateful for an update on any further action that is likely to be taken following these complaints, and whether there may be positive steps that the BBC could take in the future to ensure that the perception of and commentary on female athletes, and women’s sport generally, are as positive and inclusive as possible.”

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Miller is to boycott the Open golf championship because it is being held at the Muirfield club, which refuses to admit women members.