Sky Sports News, Charlie Webster, and the pretence of gender equality


Sky Sports management are apparently upset at the decision of Charlie Webster, one of their Sky Sports News anchors, to appear in FHM. Without a shred of irony, the broadcaster is upset at the threat Webster’s photo-shoot represents to the credibility of its female presenters.

Surely there’s an obvious solution here: maybe Sky Sports should stop hiring female presenters purely on the basis of their appearance? Name a woman who works in front of one their cameras, and you can be certain that she’ll be catwalk-ready. All of them, without exception.

Sky isn’t the only offender with this kind of faux-equality, because you could easily level the same criticism at numerous other broadcasters, but they certainly don’t possess much credibility in any argument which demands that model-like presenters don’t do any…you know…modelling. It’s hypocrisy 101.

Sky, like many corporations, believe in the appearance of equality rather than the genuine existence of it. When a woman appears on screen, within a sporting context, somewhere a box is being ticked and an employment statistic is becoming more favourable.

“We need a woman, any woman…just as long as she’s attractive. We need a black guy too, maybe a bisexual, and a Muslim probably wouldn’t hurt. Look at our diversity. LOOK AT IT!”

For every Charlie Webster at Sky, there are probably five plain Janes who are stuck behind a desk and limited to research. Webster is the acceptable face of women in sport, and she can also be used to provide a neat, politically-correct xx/xy balance behind the SSN desk with Jim White.

The problem is, that all of this is very transparent, and whereas Sky believe that they are a modern broadcaster, and part of the war against inequality and discrimination, they are actually part of the problem. The prejudice is still prevalent, it’s merely been focused in on a more specific group: “we believe in equal opportunities for women, just not the unattractive ones.”

Unfortunately, the perception of Charlie Webster and her credibility isn’t damaged by her appearance in a Lads’ magazine, because it’s already been compromised by the hiring policy of her principle employer. She may well be a sports trivia bore, have collected Panini stickers when she was younger, and followed a team home and away all her life, but that’s just not the association Sky have created around their on-camera female talent.

If you want to promote equal opportunities and credibility, then you have to genuinely believe in it rather than just be pretending to do so.

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