Sunday, November 22, 2015

The so-called "Family Channel" is a Canadian broadcaster responsible for several children's programmes including The Next Step - a mainstay of current CBBC schedules.

Family has been celebrating its 13th Annual Bullying Awareness Week, which coincided with Anti-Bullying week in Britain. Their website (not normally viewable outside Canada) tells people to "tune in all week starting November 16 for bullying-themed episodes and clips of Family stars talking about their experiences with bullying." And amongst the resources on the Family Channel website is a fact sheet to help parents and teachers reduce bullying against LGBTQ kids. The fact sheet is part of what the channel calls its StandUP! campaign.

The interesting thing about this Family Channel anti-bullying campaign resource is that it stresses the importance of 'inclusion' as a main factor in tackling homophobic bullying.

However, as Newsround Blog discovered some time ago, it appears that no shows made by the Family Channel actually portray gay or LGBT characters - Hypocrisy much? I've asked them about LGBT inclusion on Twitter several times, but have yet to receive a reply.

The Next Step is laced with racism and homophobia. And recent episodes (s3 eps25 & 26) have, once again, brought its xenophobic credentials to the fore. In an early episode we saw the characters making fun of British accents, but now we get to see more of the real contempt they have for British people ....

British exchange student Ella had become the best friend of Riley from The Next Step dance studio. Nevertheless Ella is shown in an extremely bad light when she totally betrays her friend in an attempt to win the Internationals trophy for Britain. Riley responds to the betrayal by telling Ella: "Not only is my team going to win, but we're going to do it without stooping to your level."

Notice, above, that Riley's team do not have a national flag on their outfits - they only have the TNS logo. Whereas British dancer Ella sports a large Union Jack on her outfit.

As if the racism, homophobia, xenophobia and other bigotry is not enough reason for CBBC to cancel this appalling children's show, at the end of a dance routine in series 3 episode 4 "Let the Games Begin" we see Eldon make an obscene gesture towards opponents in the 'Elite' dance team.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

For many years topics relating to homophobia, homophobic bullying and sexual orientation were virtually off CBBC's agenda.

There wasn't even an acknowledgement of Alan Turing's centenary in 2012.

However eventually in 2014 Joe Godwin, Director of BBC Children's decided these subjects could be covered. But this year, with a new person in charge, it seems we might almost back to square one as regards LGBT inclusion.

Below is the substantive part of an email sent to Alice Webb on 9th November 2015. -

FAO: Alice Webb - Director, BBC Children's

Dear Alice,

Further to my enquiry on 29th October, as I've not heard back I assume you are unable to divulge the detailed statistics. Please may I therefore merely ask instead about inclusion in forthcoming CBBC shows?

In September you spoke about BBC Children’s vision for the future. You mentioned giving children a beautiful array of distinctive content - and cited CBBC's I Am Leo, which was the first children's documentary dealing with trans issues.

However - and correct me if I'm mistaken - no new BBC children's TV content which included LGBT characters or themes has been broadcast in 2015. Please could you therefore let me know if there are any new relevant programmes I should look out for in the next few months? Many thanks.

Kind regards,

Friday, November 13, 2015

Anti-Bullying Week starts on Monday.

One way the BBC can help reduce bullying is to make programmes which represent all viewers, and, to some extent children's TV has succeeded in that aim. Last year, for example, CBBC tackled homophobia and homophobic bullying on Newsround for the first time. And CBBC's 'Our School' documentary series, included a deputy headteacher from London, Shaun Dellenty, giving a school assembly about the harm caused by homophobic bullying.

However, the Corporation still seems to have an issue with allowing young people to self-identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, though the same is not true of those who identify as transgender. The 'My Life' documentary I Am Leo, about trans boy Leo Waddell is due to be repeated this Sunday.

Regrettably, no new children's drama portraying LGB young people was broadcast on CBBC in 2015. Rarely a day goes by without children's dramas portraying 'straight' romantic relationships.

A question about the lack of representation of children with disabilities was asked at this year's Children's Media Conference. The questioner, Camilla Arnold, explained that while growing up she saw little, if any, representation of deaf people on television, unless they were elderly - and only a handful of characters had any other form of disability. Camilla asked if more should be done to ensure children's programmes reflect real life.

Anna Home, who worked on BBC children's TV many years ago, agreed, and said there was a need to avoid ghettoisation but that drama is a very good way of bringing in new characters.

Alice Webb, said she was very proud of what BBC Children's is doing in terms of diversity - 26% of representation on CBBC and CBeebies. Alice couldn't remember the individual diversity figures, but said she'd be happy to get them out. However, the BBC has not since responded favourably to requests for the information.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

The theme of this year's Anti-Bullying Week is Make A Noise About Bullying

CBBC Newsround reported, on 23rd October, that a new app is being launched to make it easier for kids to report bullying and receive advice from their teachers. The tootoot app, which will reportedly be available in app stores on 18th November 2015, allows pupils to remain anonymous should they wish to do so.

Anti-Bullying Week starts on 16th November 2015.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The theme of this year's Dyslexia Awareness Week (Oct 5-11) was 'Making Sense of Dyslexia'

To mark the event CBBC published a YouTube video with answers to common questions about the condition. Henry Winkler, author of the Hank Zipzer books, stresses that if you have a learning challenge, it's nothing to do with intelligence. He says just because we are not good in school does not mean that we are not smart human beings.

Henry Winkler talks about dyslexia - CBBC Hank Zipzer

Monday, October 12, 2015

Why did Rocket turn down the chance of dating Bethany Summer in series 2 of Rocket's Island. I speculated the reason might not be solely out of loyalty to his best friend Daniel (Dibber) Sparks. There might be some other reason, but time would tell.

Rocket wants to ask Bethany on a date

Now, in series 3, it seems Rocket does fancy Bethany, and wants to go out with her ....

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The final of this year's Great British Bake Off is only hours away, and loads of people are speculating who will win.

Newsround at 7.40am this morning -

Ricky: First today, Bake Off fans will know that tonight is the all-important final. Who will be the winner of 2015? It's not just the contestants' baking skills that have got people talking, Ayshah met some Bake Off fans to find out a bit more.

Ayshah: For the past two months we've seen beautiful creations, mouth-watering cakes, and also some baking disasters. And tonight we'll find out whether Nadiya, Ian, or Tamal will be crowned this year's Bake Off champion. The contestants have all got us talking, and for these girls in Manchester it's Nadiya who's become a bit of a role model.

Ayshah's report went on to consider what having Nadiya in the final means to a group of hijab-wearing Muslim girls in a Manchester school.

Ayshah: Nadiya is one of the few hijab-wearing women on TV - what do you think about that?

Girl: It takes a lot of courage, and I think that, to us hijab-wearers, I think it's very inspirational.

Another girl: We get scared wearing a hijab outside that people are going to make fun of us. But when we see somebody on the TV wearing a hijab we feel confident and OK with wearing hijab outside.

Ayshah's full report

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My blog on 5th September remarked that Daniel is depicted as selfish and a bit of a snake in the grass. A few recent comments on CBBC's website suggest the hatred and negativity that can be engendered by such a portrayal -

Screencapture of comments on CBBC webpage

Monday, September 21, 2015

Newsround Blog is hoping to soon find out more about diversity on BBC children's TV. We understand that 26% of portrayal on CBBC & CBeebies are of diverse characters, but that doesn't help with questions like how many are, for example, black or gay.

Diversity was central to one of CBBC Newsround's reports this morning. A leading African-American ballet dancer, Misty Copeland, says she's worried there aren't more black dancers around the world. Ayshah visited the Royal Ballet in London to talk to Eric Underwood, one of their few black dancers. The programme's researchers contacted some of Britain's top ballet schools. It seems that only about 18 out of 332 dancers are black.

Another excellent Newsround diversity-related report was based on the efforts of a 14-year-old boy called Frankie, who has a disability -

Frankie: I think if we involve disabled people with books, we can raise awareness and it will become the norm to people, and they won't stare, they won't make comments and life would get better - society would get better.

Martin Dougan: What would you want to see in future, in terms of what you've done and what you want to achieve?

Frankie: That the world's a better place, and there's equal rights between people ... yeah.

Martin: Frankie is extremely passionate about this. He really wants to make changes.

Frankie and Martin Dougan visited book publishing company, Bloomsbury, to talk their head of children’s and educational publishing, Emma Hopkin. Ms Hopkin said the publishing industry is working very hard to ensure that everybody is represented in some way in some books.

The Guardian - Schoolboy calls for more disabled characters in children's books

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Racism and homophobia on The Next Step

Don't expect to hear racist or homophobic language on The Next Step - the discrimination and prejudice is more subtle than that.

CBBC Newsround recently reported on the diversity controversy surrounding Taylor Swift's Wildest Dreams video. That video is supposed to depict a story taking place in 1950; But The Next Step is set in current times, and one of the show's principal characters, West, is black.

So how is the show racist?

Well, although there are black and ethnic minorities in The Next Step, if we look at the storylines, we nevertheless perceive thinly-veiled racism. For example, the fleeting 'relationship' between Emily and West which began at the end of series 2 and finished at the start of series 3. We didn't even see anything amounting to a romantic kiss between the two of them. But they do stay friends, "and that's it" as Emily makes clear. Now contrast her sister Riley's relationship with boyfriend James.

Another example, on yesterday's 4.55pm episode, was the way Giselle laid into Shantel for not dancing in the duet -

Giselle and Shantel

Giselle: This might be how you guys do things at Elite - this is not what we do at The Next Step. We actually work as a team!

This brings us neatly to the homophobia. Because, in the preceding, episode Chloe made a similar comment about Daniel: "... he's not a team player, so I really really want Giselle to beat him."

But where is the homophobia? After all, we don't know that Daniel, or indeed anyone else on the show, is actually gay. However it is precisely because there aren't any openly gay characters that we suspect discrimination - just like the fans who've criticised Taylor Swift's video. How many dance studios only have straight dancers? Answer: none.

Daniel has already been depicted as selfish and a bit of a snake in the grass. But he's also a boy who likes ballet and who doesn't have a girlfriend. So viewers, even the younger ones, might start to think he's gay. And, to top it all, we hear he's not a team player.

The Next Step is made for the Family Channel in Canada. The channel will have much to do in terms of inclusion if it's to avoid further accusations of prejudice and bigotry. This is 2015, not 1950.

Friday, September 04, 2015

From CBBC Newsround's TV bulletin at 7.40am this morning -

Leah: Taylor Swift is known for her hit songs and top videos, but her latest offering is facing some huge criticism from fans. It's all because the video for her new single, Wildest Dreams, is set in Africa, but people have complained that there are hardly any black African people in it. Taylor has not responded yet, but the director of the video has defended it saying it's supposed to reflect a certain point in history, and people of all different races were involved in putting it together. You can find out more about that story on the Newsround website ..

Also see this report in USA Today

Another interesting item on this morning's Newsround programme was Martin's report about Wheelchair Rugby.

Newsround Blog is still waiting for the details of diversity portrayal on BBC children's TV.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The top story on this morning's Newsround bulletin at 8.15am -

Ricky: One of Britain's most popular scientists, Professor Brian Cox, says not enough girls are considering a career in science. He wants that to change, and went back to school to urge more girls to experiment with science. Leah was there.

Professor Brian Cox: 'More girls needed in science'

(ITV News London - 24th August 2015) How to be as good at science as Professor Brian Cox

Earlier this year there was a great deal of controversy surrounding the issue of sexism in science. Newsround didn't mention the story which was sparked when leading scientist, Sir Tim Hunt, told an audience in South Korea "Let me tell you about my trouble with girls - three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry."

Sir Tim found himself in hot water over the remarks and had to resign from posts he held. Some thought he was right to go, but others, including Brian Cox, felt he was being treated unfairly.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The third series of The Next Step began on CBBC today in the UK.

Yesterday I pondered on why The Family Channel website is blocked outside Canada. I've now found that CBBC, too, is blocked in other countries.

The lack of diversity is another subject Newsround Blog raised with the Family Channel last year when they invited some of The Next Step stars to answer questions via Twitter. I was mainly concerned about the failure to portray gay characters. And, of course, a recent survey indicates that a lot more young people consider themselves bisexual or gay than had been previously thought.

There is an attitude amongst those involved in children's TV whereby, whenever the subject of lesbian and gay relationships is broached, they just clam up. So my attempts to get answers from anyone at the Family Channel, or working on The Next Step were doomed from the start. But that doesn't mean we should give up trying. After all, it's less than fifty years since an interracial kiss caused outrage in some States when it was broadcast on American TV.

Towards the end of series 2 of The Next Step West told Emily how he had feelings for her, but in the first episode of series 3 we find out that 'Wemily' won't happen; they'll just remain friends:-

Emily and West on The Next Step: Coming Home? (S3E01)

Emily: After my [knee] injury there's been a lot going on, and my mind just isn't on him right now.

West: I realise now, that with all the drama that's happening with her, and with the troupe, I know that there's really no hope for this relationship.

Emily: But I still really want to be friends, so I'm not really sure what to say to him.

West: All I know is that Emily needs a friend, and I'm going to be the best friend that I can be for her.

Emily: I think we both understand what's going on ... we're friends and that's it.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Some in the UK are eagerly awaiting more from The Next Step which begins a first run of series 3 on CBBC tomorrow. The Next Step is made in Canada for the Family Channel, with backing from, amongst others, the Shaw Rocket Fund.

Last year Newsround Blog tweeted the Family Channel asking why people from other countries aren't welcome to visit their website. Unfortunately I didn't get a reply. I've now tweeted CBBC with a similar question, and hopefully they will be able to explain.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Some broadcasters, including the BBC, have been criticised for breaking Ofcom's rules by screening news films and documentaries funded by foreign governments, charities and non-governmental organisations. Last year Newsround Blog revealed similar concerns over the dubious circumstances surrounding the acquisition of Canadian TV series The Next Step for British audiences. In one episode the characters are seen making fun of British accents. The heteronormative mockumentary forms a mainstay of the CBBC channel, with series 3 starting on Monday 24th August 2015 at 10am.

A CBBC Newsround investigation of vlogging on the internet has led the ASA to add to its earlier advice, so that vloggers are asked to make it clear if they are getting paid to promote a product. Ricky explained it all to Leah on Newsround this morning. He talked about the need to be more honest and more transparent.

According to the new advice "There is nothing wrong with vloggers (or others creating editorial content), marketers or agencies entering into commercial relationships: what’s wrong is if consumers are misled."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


From time to time Newsround Blog has published emails sent to various individuals, mainly people who work at the BBC. However, following my investigation of whistleblowing procedures, I received an email from the BBC on Friday 14th August 2015 which stated "a human error was made in our email system which caused your emails sent to a wide variety of other addresses around the BBC to be diverted for a number of months and not delivered to their recipients."

I've been told that the mistake has now been corrected.

In fact Newsround Blog had not received replies from anyone at the BBC since late November 2014. I did try to check with some of the intended recipients via other means, for example, via Twitter. The BBC's clarification would account for the lack of a responses to emails mentioned in this blog over the last few months.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

There was a Doctor Who-themed same-sex wedding on this morning's episode of Marrying Mum and Dad.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

An excellent report about gay rights in Uganda on Newsround this afternoon (1.50pm bulletin) -

Ricky Boleto: Next - what rights gay people should have is a big issue around the world, particularly in Africa. In the African country of Uganda, gay people have been holding rallies to try to change the law.

Ricky reports on gay rights in Africa

Ricky: Hundreds of people waved the Ugandan national flag and Rainbow banners. They danced and sang. They say they're fighting for more freedom to admit you're gay across Africa. It's against the law to be openly gay in Uganda and in many other African countries. But there have been some changes recently. Up until last year gay people could be sentenced to life in jail. Now that can't happen any more, and the demonstrators think African governments should be more understanding. They say they want equal human rights for gay people.

Moses Kimbugwe (gay rights supporter): Violence, discrimination, harassment and stigma against all LGBT people is bad. So we are here to send a message to the wider population that we do exist and we do want rights like any other Ugandan.

Ricky: The demonstrators say they're proud to be gay and they want society to respect them. In Africa many people hold traditional beliefs and do not approve of gay people. Some African leaders have said it's not part of their culture. But a few weeks ago President Obama visited East Africa and gave his support for equal rights. The gay rights demonstrators are hoping that President Obama's words and today's marches will begin to change people's minds.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Young dancers (aged 11-15) are being offered the chance to try out for a guest role in The Next Step. CBBC has been advertising this opportunity for a while now, and this morning's Newsround bulletins included a message from Blue Peter's Lindsey Russell asking for kids to take part. It's not clear whether lesbian and gay teens are welcome.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

One of the questions at this year's Children's Media Conference was about the lack of disabled representation on children's TV.

Anna Home agreed with the questioner that more needs to be done. She mentioned that, in the distant past, there was a BBC programme specifically for deaf children, but nowadays it's felt important to avoid ghettoising kids. Anna said that drama is a very good way of bringing in more diversity.

Alice Webb, Director of BBC Children's told the CMC that she was very proud of what the BBC is doing on TV: "26% of portrayal on CBBC & CBeebies are of diverse characters."

Alice Webb: I think it's right that we look at the whole range of diversity, not just disability. I think we cover that with LGBT, and, as I say, we cover 26%. I don't think that we need to do any more in terms of measuring individual elements because we cover it all.

Steve Hewlett: Except that the overall figure hides a multitude of sins, doesn't it potentially? Especially if you're disabled?

Alice Webb: Yeah. And I'll look to the guys across the piece in terms of how we break that down. I don't exactly ... I'm very happy to get those figures out.

More recently, a piece appeared in The Guardian entitled Children's TV pretends disability doesn't exist. The journalist, Tim Smedley, believes that it's mainly the commercial TV channels, rather than the BBC, which are at fault. I did ask Mr Smedley whether he'd also investigated the lack of LGB portrayal on children's TV, but failed to get a response.