The BBC’s guidelines are difficult to fathom at the best of times.
But an advisory note about gender and job titles led to Radio 4’s Today programme discussing the livelihoods of “fisherpeople”, rather than “fishermen”.
Katya Adler, the BBC’s Europe editor, made the reference during a discussion about fishing rights post-Brexit.
Her description raised eyebrows within the industry, where only a handful of women go out to sea.
The industry body in the UK is the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations. Its chairman, Barrie Deas, said using “fisherpeople” was a clumsy term.
“There are women in the industry on the processing and management side – including a president and chair of this federation – so the reality is that women are well-represented in the industry as a whole but not very much on the catching side. It’s really only a handful. Mostly it’s men that crew the boats,” said Mr Deas.
While there are no official statistics in the UK, a recent study in Norway found that women account for 2.7-3.2 per cent of “fisherpeople”.
Mr Deas had a suggestion of his own for gender neutral terminology. “If anyone feels the need to change the nomenclature, that’s easily resolved. In North East Scotland, where I’m from, they refer to ‘fishers’.”
A trawl of the BBC style guide suggests that “men” should be left out of job descriptions on air unless it is a fact that the job is the sole preserve of men.
The guide states: “Unless you are sure only males are involved, avoid words such as ‘newsmen’, ‘businessmen’ and ‘policemen’. Substitute journalists, business leaders, police officers etc, as appropriate.”
Asked about the prospect of changing his federation’s name, Mr Deas said: “If it was a request from a woman president and chair of our executive committee, or if it came from some of the big fishing business run by women, we would very rapidly change. Although we would have to repaint all the signs.”