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Is the BBC sexist?

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The BBC has come under fire for alleged sexism in a heated debate in the House of Commons.

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries and Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt led the charge against the corporation in the discussion on Monday evening (23 January), accusing it of fuelling a "culture of sexism."

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey offered to set up a meeting with the head of the BBC Mark Thompson, after noting that more than 80 percent of guests and presenters on the BBC's flagship current affairs radio programme Today last year were men. The show currently has just one female presenter, Sarah Montague.

"Indeed on 5 July 2011, one would have to wait from 6.15am to 8.20am to hear one female contributor alongside the 27 male contributors to that programme," Vaizey told fellow MPs. His comments were informed by research carried out by the Guardian.

Louise Mensch, the MP for Corby, said: "If it's routine and normative for the BBC's flagship programme not to include women's voices, that's a serious problem."

Dorries, the MP for Mid Bedfordshire, claimed female presenters were side-lined to weekend or early-hour programmes. She said executives all too easily accepted the "unchallenged format" of pairing a young, blonde presenter with an older male counterpart. She insisted that the government force the BBC to get its "house in order" on the issue of gender balance.

Dorries' stance may come as a surprise to some who criticised her as being anti-women after she tabled a (since rejected) proposal last year for all women to be offered independent counselling before undergoing an abortion.

During the debate yesterday, Vaizey vowed to look into the issue of gender imbalance at the BBC.

He said 50 percent of BBC Trust members and 42 percent of its executive board are female, adding, "It is an issue that we must keep pressing at ...We want to hear a balance of voices on the radio and to see a balance of presenters on the television."

What do you think? Should there be more women at the BBC? Or is it a matter of women holding more prominent presenting spots? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments section below.

Picture credit: Rex Features, from left to right: the BBC sign, BBC presenter Sarah Montague, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey

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