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Why IS Louise Minchin still in the 'inferior' seat? BBC embroiled in sexism row over sofa seniority

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Anna Pollitt
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You don't have to be a TV presenter for Louise Minchin's situation at BBC Breakfast to strike a chord.

The longserving newscaster and presenter is caught up in a depressingly familiar sexism debate over a lesser-experienced male colleague being handed a position that should rightfully be hers.

After waving off senior co-presenter Bill Turnbull in September, Minchin's place on the show remains the same, while her new, less experienced colleague Dan Walker has slid into Turnbull's coveted lead position on the lefthand side of our screens.

Viewer Adele Clarke first brought the sly inequity to national attention in a letter of complaint to the Radio Times.

Annoyed to see "new boy" Walker in Turnbull's spot when he started earlier this month, she asked: "How long will it take the BBC (and most other news stations) to catch up with the rest of us in the 21st century? Be brave - try seating a woman on the left and see how the world will keep turning".

BBC Breakfast in 2000 with Jeremy Bowen And Sophie Raworth

Starting as it meant to go on: BBC Breakfast in 2000 with Jeremy Bowen And Sophie Raworth

Given that we're talking about settee spots on a TV show, it's easy - or more convenient - to dismiss the row as petty or trivial, but imagine it in the context of your own workplace.

If you were next in line for the prime desk in the office, a cushty work trip, that CV-enhancing course - or worse; a pay rise or promotion - and it was given to a new staff member with far less experience, you'd rightfully feel rattled, whatever that person's gender. 

Whether viewers realise it or not, Walker, 38, has been placed in what the industry deems a prime spot - seated directly next to guests and in the centre of the screen during interviews. Our left-to-right reading Western minds subconsciously place importance on the first things our eyes land on and that's why it's a plum position for presenters. Why wasn't Minchin, 47, who's been in what's considered a junior seat for 10 years, automatically moved up to that position?

The BBC has insisted: "There is no seniority in terms of who sits where." But it's a line that's difficult to swallow when the majority of news and current affairs we watch on TV sit their male presenters on the left and the experienced Turnbull occupied that very spot for 15 years.

"There is no seniority in terms of who sits where on the BBC Breakfast sofa. It’s all about judging which is the best camera angle for the presenters." - A BBC spokesman

Maybe snagging the prime place didn't even cross Minchin's mind. Perhaps she's left-handed and is clinging onto the junior side of the sofa for convenience. 

It could be that her pay packet far exceeds Walker's in reflection of her seniority and experience. However, viewers can't see wages onscreen. 

Body language expert Judi James says that by handing the "camera left" position to a new male co-presenter, the BBC is insidiously damaging how society views women.

"This absolutely reinforces the idea that women are inferior," James told RadioTimes.com. "It's really one of the hugest bastions of sexism that in any double act that you get on television where there's a man and a woman it's pretty much always seen that the guy is the dominant alpha and that it's reflected in where they sit."

Miriam O’Reilly, who won an ageism case against the BBC after she was dropped from Countryfile, told The Guardian that from her experience in newsrooms, men are seen as having "gravitas" onscreen while women are viewed as "his bit of fluff on the side."

"It’s just deep-rooted misogyny in newsrooms where editors think a man somehow has more authority ... And of course the people who make these decisions tend to be men themselves."

Before he even appeared on the show, Walker's stage was being set by reports hailing him as Turnbull's "replacement". Why, given Minchin's stature, did the Beeb choose not to position her as the replacement - aka lead presenter and top dog - and present Walker as the new junior?

Whether or not Minchin did complain to producers, as suggested by The Telegraph, or is absolutely fine with a new junior colleague taking Turnbull's spot, the Beeb's vague comment on "judging the best camera angles" seems a weak and evasive explanation. 

Keeping Minchin static and suggesting to viewers that Walker is the "new" Turnbull simply because they are both men is sexism hiding in plain sight.

At the very least, sofa-gate has opened up debate:

Turnbull and Walker have joked about the sexism row on Twitter - Minchin has yet to respond:

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Anna Pollitt

Anna is a freelance writer and editor who’s been making her dime from online since 2007. She’s a regular at Stylist.co.uk, ITV News and Emerald Street and moonlights as a copywriter and digital content consultant. The baby is borrowed.

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