IN the week before Christmas I was invited to participate on BBC Radio Scotland’s comedy quiz show Breaking The News, hosted by Des Clarke. For a mere journalist like me this is a major step beyond the well-trodden demarcation lines of the comfort zone.

You are joined on stage by three professional comedians who not only possess an in-depth knowledge of the issues of the day but also the wit to deliver a withering critique of them which can make an audience laugh. It is a gift that only a few possess, and you are soon made aware of your own limitations and thankful that you are asked merely to write for your supper and not appear nightly in front of an unknown audience of uncertain temper.

Also on stage were Rory Bremner, who requires no introduction as one of the UK’s top comedy performers, and Jay Lafferty and Fern Brady, two of the country’s finest stand-up performers. These two women would be equally comfortable in a television or radio studio discussing politics and current affairs as they are on stage making hundreds of people laugh with their witty and very funny apercus. Both of them, as well as Clarke and Bremner, were at the top of their game and were nothing but kind and gracious to me as I strove clumsily to keep up with them.

My only qualifications for being there, I suppose, was that I am an experienced journalist who has also occasionally appeared on television or radio offering my tuppence worth on some of the issues of the day. Beyond that I have no qualifications or any degree of expertise for appearing on a show such as Breaking The News, and would be required to sink or swim on what little else I possessed.

I very much doubt I would have made the cut if I’d had to embark on the process that BBC Scotland wants women to undertake to ensure more female voices are heard across the nation’s airwaves.

Last month the BBC published a notice seeking applications for Expert Women Scotland 2018. “We’re looking for female experts who’d like to appear on air as contributors to BBC Scotland programmes. If you’re able to travel easily to BBC studios around Scotland, find out how to get involved at our event on Tuesday, March 13 2018.”

This is a long-overdue attempt by BBC Scotland to reach out to smart and articulate women from all backgrounds to contribute to their multifarious broadcasting platforms throughout the year. As such, it must be commended. It’s not merely an exercise in achieving gender balance but a strong attempt to ensure that a diverse and wide range of voices are heard on issues which affect us all.

Then you get to the tasks and box-ticking that women candidates must negotiate before they’re even considered for an invitation to the Expert Women event in March.

Successful candidates must include a CV, a description of their job title and a link to a two-minute video of themselves talking about their area of expertise. The film should also “tell us about an idea you have for a story in your area of expertise which you think the general public would find interesting”.

Helpfully, the BBC informs candidates that the video should be “uploaded to YouTube or similar and sent as a link in your entry email”. A written paragraph is also required “explaining the story/issue you have chosen to talk about”. This should be a maximum of 250 words.

When this is all deemed to be in order “a panel of experts from the BBC Academy and BBC Scotland will view all the material submitted and select up to 24 delegates, plus up to five for a waiting list, based on the following criteria: passion for your chosen subject; communication skills; your unique selling point as an expert in your field; your potential as on-air talent; relevance and audience awareness”. Oh, and the BBC will take up references before confirming the final delegates and the people on the waiting list. The only thing that’s missing is to demonstrate ability at constructing a jet-propelled engine from the spare parts of a fridge.

This, remember, is simply to choose a group of women to appear occasionally on some radio or television talk shows for which they will be paid nothing. When I’d finished looking at it I wondered if the BBC was seeking a new Director General.

Having finally got to the end of this Herculean application form (which incidentally is to help get a major public-sector employer out of a sticky situation without costing it any money), I have a few observations and a couple of questions.

This might be considered a fair attempt at seeking diversity and gender equality across all BBC platforms if all male so-called “experts” were presented with a similar exercise. I know that I’d struggle with it; in fact it would have had me defeated at the instruction to upload my film to a video hosting site and to send the link to it. Memo to self: farewell television and radio career; it was nice while it lasted.

What sort of representation of women are they seeking? The BBC, like many other media organisations, employs a grossly disproportionate number of privately educated, Oxbridge graduates. This exercise looks like it was designed by a group of them in a velvet-lined thinking-pod on the mezzanine level. “Yes, we want more women on our shows, but they jolly well have to be the right sort.”

One of the more positive stories of 2017 in Scottish broadcasting was the emergence of a bright and eloquent group of women on television and radio discussion panels that had once been the exclusive preserve of middle-aged white men like, well … like me.

They are among dozens of smart and gifted women journalists who, until recently, had remained well beyond the radar of BBC producers. They weren’t required to negotiate the absurd obstacle course now expected of women in industry in the public and private sectors.

The BBC loftily informs all of those women who attempt this process that only the successful candidates will receive a communication.

Yes, that’s right: this bloated and unscrutinised organisation which is paid from the public purse wants you to jump through hoops before you get to examination day, yet they can’t even be arsed to thank you for your efforts.

This is a worthy and welcome attempt by the BBC to sew diversity into the fabric of its programmes.

It’s just a shame that it’s been handled in such a clumsy, high-handed and, dare I say it, male fashion.