Dorothy Byrne meets Britain’s oldest transgender woman and praises the new generation of men who work in TV
TV current affairs and documentaries are obsessed with the new. That means we can ignore problems which continue over decades. My month begins with watching Channel 5’s Raped: My Story for a panel I’m on.
It’s a really daring programme precisely because there is nothing new in it; it is a devastating document of the way rape ruins lives and survivors are denied justice. And that’s a story we need to tell again and again.
At the same time, we are finalising a Dispatches, The UN Sex Abuse Scandal, another programme that could have been broadcast at any time over the past several decades. As it happens, the first film I ever produced and directed when I worked on World in Action was about marital rape.
One of my male colleagues at the time commented, “That’s not a story.” “You’re right,” I replied. “It’s not a story, it’s a national scandal.”
Big news at BBC News. I don’t refer to the Cliff Richard case, which has worrying potential implications for all of us – there are times when it is vital to name police suspects. No, the news that catches my eye is that there’s a restructure and several new job titles have been created.
I see one person has been appointed editorial director. I assume at first that he is in charge of everything, but it turns out there are other people even more in charge than he is. Hard for an outsider to comprehend. But what we do all know is that the more people there are in charge of making programmes, the better they are.
Sometimes, a job like mine means that you have to give up on exciting experiences. I’m due to go to an event in Parliament where I would listen to lots of MPs talking at length. But, sadly, I am too busy to attend. I bear it bravely.
An event I am able to turn up to is an auction to raise funds for the wonderful Hospice Biographers, set up by my old Granada colleague Barbara Altounyan. The idea is that trained volunteers (who might be journalists or anyone with a professional ‘listening’ background record the life stories of people in their last days.
One can just picture how much those stories would mean in future to, for example, the children of a young woman who died. The auctioneer is Britain’s oldest transgender woman, who changed sex at the age of 81.
Apparently, it was having a knee replacement that gave her the idea that she could dare to become the woman she had always felt herself to be. I have had a knee replacement. I regret that it didn’t inspire me to do anything at all.
Meanwhile, comments are pouring in about Kate Quilton’s film Breastfeeding Uncovered, which showed how uncomfortable young women can be made to feel feeding their children in public.
So many women felt she spoke for them. It demonstrates that, for journalism to have an effect, it doesn’t always have to be a longterm investigation.
And finally, a conversation in the office about men. It’s clear to me that if you are a decent man, you must feel somewhat under siege when you open the papers every day and turn on the news to see your gender exposed yet again.
I have to say that the young men I work with now behave so much better than some of the men I worked with in television in the past.
I realise that I am older and in a senior position – and I did attend a Bafta event some time ago in which young women told some horror stories. But I genuinely think men have improved.
At the very least, they keep their trousers zipped up in the office, which is a definite improvement.
Dorothy Byrne is Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs.