A new future for Radio 4’s Today with Husain

It happened this week—listeners to Radio 4’s Today programme heard a new voice alongside John Humphrys, Evan Davis, Sarah Montague, James Naughtie and Justin Webb.

It happened this week—listeners to Radio 4’s Today programme heard a new voice alongside John Humphrys, Evan Davis, Sarah Montague, James Naughtie and Justin Webb. Mishal Husain joined the programme, and her arrival was significant to the future of the programme.

Criticism for lack of female voices

The BBC had long been criticised for the lack of female voices on Today, and the decision to hire Husain had been a priority for Director General Tony Hall. At the time of the appointment, Hall said Husain was a first rate journalist. “I am also particularly pleased that her appointment means there will be another female voice on the programme, which I believe is extremely important,” Hall said.

The first programme she presented (7th October) was with Humphrys, and had featured her interview with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who advocates for education for girls and had been shot last year by the Taliban in the head and neck.

All-female programme

Later on Thursday (10th October), it was an all-female programme, a rarity for Today, which was received warmly by listeners, especially on Twitter. After the programme, Montague tweeted it was a delight to present with Husain. “Not the first all-female team but hope it’s one that’ll soon be considered normal,” Montague said.

Rectifying lack of female voices

Husain, who was known widely within the BBC for her work presenting UK news bulletins but primarily for her work for the corporation’s international audiences, had also tweeted a picture of the studio that morning, with newsreader Corrie Corfield and sport presenter Alison Mitchell.

A spokesperson for the BBC said Husain was not doing any interviews.

The importance of this move is important to rectify the issue of the lack of female voices on Today, as the Guardian’s radio critic Elisabeth Mahoney noted in her review. “It shouldn’t matter that the new presenter on the Today programme is a woman,” Mahoney wrote. “But given the existing gender imbalance on the programme, it does.”

Today still has relevance

Indeed, the move would show the relevance Today still has. Sarah Marshall of the web site says Today is more than just a news programme, and it has moved with generations well. “The Today programme is not just a news programme, but part of the cogs that run the country,” Marshall said. “It’s listened to by decision makers, politicians and journalists. It sets the news agenda. It always has, and it is still just as important.”

Marshall said that she was impressed with Husain’s debut and that Today had always been forward thinking in that sense, and had hoped there would be more programmes where two women had been presenting.

Better programme for it

Overall, Marshall adds, having a range of voices on Today is important and radio would continue to have a central role. “Having a range of voices and interviewing styles is effective,” Marshall said. “Sarah Montague is tough but less aggressive; Evan Davies was economics editor so has the financial knowledge that is effective when understanding the crisis; Jim Naughtie has sound political knowledge.”

With Husain’s appointment, it is clear Today is on the way to correct the problem of the gender ratio, but also continue to be relevant and still a part of the UK’s news cycle. Husain, to the BBC, is a part of that mission, and her appointment makes Today appear a better programme for it.

Image: Willstar / Wikimedia Commons