Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wizards vs Aliens - the (coming out) story so far

First let's take a closer look at what happened when Benny came out in series 2 episode: All Out War!

When Tom mentions that he'll need phone Katie to cancel his date with her on Saturday, this leads to more talk of dating. Tom mentions that Benny's never had a date and suggests he should ask out Tamsin Kuthu from Year 10. Benny responds by alluding to Newton's 3rd law of motion -

Benny: I'm the equal and opposite of you. In every way. Do you get it?

Benny: Equal and opposite, Tom. I'll go on a date, one day. Just not with her. Not with a girl. [In Poland the words "Not with a girl" were censored out in the dubbing]

Tom twigs what Benny has been trying to say, and takes the news very well. He seems pleased for Benny, but asks why he'd never mentioned it before.

Benny: It's the sort of thing you say at the end of the world.

Tom: No, it's not Benny .... You can say that sort of thing any day of the week!

Tom says he's now got a good reason to save the world - it's so that Benny can go on his first date.

The interesting thing here is that although Tom insists it's OK to talk about "that sort of thing any day of the week," neither Tom nor Benny actually use the word "gay" in their conversation. It's as if BBC Children's, in reality, still have issues about that particular word. Children, all too frequently, hear "gay" used in a pejorative context. But the opportunity to use "gay" in a positive way was, unfortunately, missed.

Towards the end of that episode Tom drinks magic from the "Salute" and, in doing so, attains great powers to change almost anything. He offers to change Benny, but the offer is turned down -

Benny: I'm happy as I am. I'm going to stay exactly like this.

It would be nice to think Wizards vs Aliens was always intended as part of a long-term diversity strategy on BBC children's TV. So far, though, it is the only CBBC drama in recent times to portray a gay teenager. And it's not yet clear whether Benny, despite the worthy equality message, will actually be treated as Tom's equal in series 3. Will CBBC viewers ever see Benny kissing a boyfriend in a scene which challenges this sort of heteronormativity?

At the start series 3 Tom & Benny return to school after the summer break which Benny has spent visiting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The first series 3 episode, The Secret of Room 12, gives little cause for optimism on the inclusion front. But, of course, we could be in for a surprise.

Tom's dad: Maybe Benny can put you back on the straight and narrow, now he's back from America.

Quinn (right) greets Benny on his return from MIT in the United States

Saturday, October 25, 2014

It's all out war between the mainstream media (MSM) and the social media.

Mainstream media - all TV news channels in the UK, as well as the press - are generally content to toe the line of those in government and authority. Opinion on the social media is a lot more wide-ranging. Nowhere is this divide more evident than in the case of Madeleine McCann, the girl who went missing in Portugal in May 2007.

By and large, MSM accept the McCanns' version - that Madeleine was abducted by a stranger, and that they, the parents, were falsely accused of any involvement.

Most views expressed on Twitter and other social media take the opposite position, namely that Kate and Gerry McCann were responsible for their daughter's predicament. A smaller body of social media opinion supports the parents.

On 2nd October 2014 Sky News repeatedly broadcast a report throughout the day in which a 63-year-old lady, Brenda Leyland, was accused of "trolling" the McCanns. Reporter Martin Brunt said a dossier with her name, and the names of other McCann "trolls" was in the possession of the police. BBC News sensibly ignored the story, though it was briefly referenced in John Humphrys' interview with Gerry McCann on the Radio 4 Today programme which took place the following morning.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Normally BBC One's Rip Off Britain starts something like this -

Julia Somerville: We asked you to tell us who has left you feeling ripped off. And you contacted us in your thousands, by post, email, even stopping us on the street. And the message could NOT be clearer.

Person 1: There's too much focus on profit, and less on customer care.

Person 2: It's so hard to complain. Companies make it so difficult to complain.

Angela Rippon: You told us that with money tighter than ever, you need to be sure every pound you spend is worth it.

Person 3: All my money is very hard-earned. So when I go to spend it, I expect value for money.

Gloria Hunniford: So whether it's a deliberate rip-off, a simple mistake, or a catch in the small-print, we'll find out why you're out of pocket, and what you can do about it. Your stories, your money - This is Rip Off Britain.

This coming week the BBC will be doing a series of LIVE Rip Off Britain programmes from the Broadcasting House in London. And they've been asking viewers for stories to investigate.

Not sure if this is the sort of story they want to hear, but nevertheless they could try checking out some BBC staff expense claims. If, for example, a BBC employee claimed a train fare to attend a board meeting in Liverpool, you would naturally expect that the board meeting was with BBC colleagues to discuss BBC-related matters. But evidence unearthed by Newsround Blog suggests that you, the licence fee payer, might be mistaken in that belief.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What do education campaigner Malala Yousafzai and music sensation Lorde have in common? Well, according to Ricky on this morning's Newsround, the answer is that they've just be named on a list of the world's most influential teenagers. President Obama's two daughters, Malia and Sasha, are also on the list.

In May 2012 the President cited his daughters' views as a factor in the decision to abandon his opposition to same-sex marriage. That story was widely reported, but not by CBBC Newsround.

Monday, October 13, 2014

One of Newsround's reports on Friday related to protest by young people in Hong Kong -

Hayley: ... but one place where people haven't heard much about it is next door in China, where people don't get the same information. ...

Newsround had a similar report about news censorship back in 2006. At that time this Blog suggested that people in glasshouses shouldn't throw stones. It was clear, then, that CBBC Newsround was censoring gay-related stories.

Despite substantial advances in British equality legislation since 2006, there have been only been minimal signs of Newsround moving towards a more inclusive approach as regards LGBT people. That is in very marked contrast to the excellent amount of coverage of stories about other minorities, in particular, the disabled. Here, for example, Ricky speaks to Sir Philip Craven about the way things have improved in sports.

Martin Dougan also frequently looks into what is being done to help make life better for people with disabilities, sometimes mentioning his own cerebral palsy as part of the report.

Whilst there's clearly still a problem with CBBC Newsround and LGBT information, the rest of the BBC and the UK's mainstream media have other unrelated censorship and news manipulation issues.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

It's National Coming Out Day, and CBBC Newsround is asking kids to say what rights they should have. They're told to ask permission before replying via email.

In my last blog I showed that the programme has often looked at animal rights. Now, if you want to know how much they've reported on gay rights, check out this Newsround website search.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Newsround this morning at 7.40am -

Ayshah: First to a big court case in America today that will decide if chimpanzees should have the same legal rights as people. An animal rights group in the US have brought the case because, they say, a 26 year-old chimp called Tommy is being unlawfully imprisoned by his owner in New York. It's believed to be the first case of its kind in the world. If they win it, it could lead to other cases being brought on behalf of animals.

Comments: Should animals have the same rights as people?

In fact the legal case is in a local court, so the outcome will not have as much impact as Newsround suggests. The programme frequently considers animal rights, as can be seen from a quick search of their website.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Same-sex dancing has been in the news this year, mainly as a result of the British Dance Council's proposal to change its rules. Their decision is expected towards the end of this month.

When the BBC announced that Scott Mills would be in this year's Strictly Come Dancing celebrity line-up, some people speculated that he might be paired with another male dancer - possibly Anton du Beke. But in the event it turned out the programme's producers chose Joanne Clifton as his dance partner.

According to Digital Spy, Scott said "Other gay people have done the show, like Julien Macdonald last year, and no-one said he should have a male dancer.

"I don't know why it's happened with me. I'll do what the producers want me to do. You don't have to dance with a man because you're gay."

Strictly is sometimes quite sexually charged as was evident on last night's show - in particular during Alison Hammond's dance routine. And as part of Scott and Joanne's dance, Joanne planted a great big smacker on his face.

Judging time, and Scott has telltale lipstick marks on his right cheek

Scott is reportedly content that the programme is not homophobic, though, of course, as a BBC employee he might not be totally impartial.

In July 2014 I was advised that there were no immediate plans for including same-sex pairings, but that the idea had not been ruled out for future shows. Viewers might have noticed a nod towards a more inclusive approach when the judges were introduced last night, as well as at the very end of the show.

Whereas BBC children's TV has been making determined efforts to become more diverse, for example with this report yesterday, it seems there is still one area of diversity that bosses are less happy about covering; when Newsround interviewed Scott Mills about Strictly any reference to the same-sex dancing issue, or even to his sexuality, was strictly off-limits!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The BBC's mission of enriching people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain took another knock yesterday when CBBC broadcast episode 18 of The Next Step. Newsround Blog is looking into the controversial circumstances surrounding acquisition of that dire Canadian TV series.

The screengrabs below include the broadcast subtitles.

James tells viewers that his "mom" has taken him out of the studio because she wants him to focus on his "math." His maths grades were slipping.

We then see him chatting to Riley and Chloe via webcam. Chloe explains that "everyone who's a part of A-Troupe has been taking shifts to help James with his math."

Chloe: (via webcam): What is cosecant?

James: Um, the inverse of cosine.

Chloe: Yes

Riley: Good

Chloe: Good job

In fact the correct answer is that cosecant is the inverse of sine - not cosine.

James says "It's important to pass, because if I pass it I get to go back to the studio. And I get a date with Riley."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Being the Boss

Episode 2 of The Dumping Ground Survival Files is about being the boss. Like other programmes in the Survival Files series, it uses examples from CBBC's Tracy Beaker to illustrate the points being made.

Faith: "On The Dumping Ground Survival Files this time ... what it takes to be the boss ... the problems and pitfalls of being in charge ... and when being a leader becomes being a bully. Today we're gonna be talking about power and leadership .."

Faith suggests viewers look at some examples of leadership. "What makes Mike such a good care worker?" We hear about some of Mike's good qualities, and then, in contrast, about how bad Dennis was as the person in charge.

Faith: "Tell me about this Dennis guy. What made him such a bad boss?"

Rick: "Well, he's Dennis in't he - loves power, but hates people."

Faith: "Dennis was a bad leader ... he was power-mad, cruel and corrupt."

The episode goes on to give more examples of good and bad leadership, though one important issue was barely considered. True, many leaders are power-mad and corrupt, but the smarter ones aren't necessarily cruel at all - they might even come across as quite beneficent. And they've gradually built themselves up into such a powerful position that none of their subordinates dare question their authority. In fact, more often than not, employees feel honoured just to work for a seemingly untouchable boss.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Some people expressed concern when Newsround ended its forty-year run on BBC One. After December 2012, Newsround TV bulletins were confined to the digital CBBC channel. The BBC defended the decision, arguing that five times more kids watched Newsround on CBBC than watched it on BBC One. The Director of BBC Children's said it felt like the right time to stop the regular blocks of children's programming on BBC One and Two. He added: “We have no doubt that children will continue to access daily news - including through regular five-minute bulletins at 4.25 and 6.55pm every day.”

For reasons yet to be explained, the Friday 6.55pm edition of Newsround was removed from CBBC schedules ages ago. But then, more recently, 6.55pm editions began to disappear on other weekdays too - mainly during sports events such as Wimbledon, the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. It looks like the last 6.55pm Newsround edition was broadcast on 24th July 2014, although there's been no official announcement to the effect that the late bulletin has been axed.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Next Step, CBBC's dire acquisition from Canada, returns to our screens on Wednesday afternoon at 5.30pm. Backers of the mockumentary, as well as its creator/writer, Frank van Keekan, have declined to answer any questions about diversity in the current or future episodes. Newsround Blog readers may recall one episode in which some of the characters are seen laughing at the "funny" British accent.

A somewhat more worthy children's series starts on Wednesday at 5.55pm. Unlike The Next Step, CBBC's documentary, Our School, is real and unscripted. It follows a group of children, in 2013, as they stepped up from various primary schools to their new secondary school, Conyers School in Yarm, Stockton-on-Tees. The first episode of Our School was originally broadcast last week but is being re-screened, and is on the iPlayer. Conyers allowed CBBC to rig the school with "loads of cameras" in the classrooms, corridors and the playground:

Camera being installed in a Conyers School classroom

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Harriet's Army

This excellent CBBC mini-series continued the theme of last Monday's special Newsround programme about how World War 1 changed attitudes to women (see previous blog). Below is a synopsis of the story, with spoilers.

(Spoiler alert)

Harriet Grange lives with her dad and brothers Edward and Sam. Harriet, a feisty girl, is forced to leave the Girl Guides after fighting with some boys. War is declared and most of the local men are anxious to sign up. Edward is too young to join, but is pleased that the government has agreed to allow Scouts and Girl Guides to act as a second line of defence. Harriet, although kicked out of the Girl Guides, still wants to help the war effort.

The Brown family moved to the town two months earlier and people start to gossip when neighbours discover that the Mrs Brown's daughter is living in Germany and is married to a German. A lot of hostility gets directed towards the Brown family.

Harriet's young brother, Sam, gets his foot trapped between railway points, but is rescued by Thomas Brown just before a train passes. Thomas and Harriet gradually get to know each other better and Harriet realises Thomas and his family are being treated unfairly. Harriet enthusiastically adopts Thomas's suggestion of starting her own vigilante kids' army, and goes out in the streets to recruit volunteers.

Thomas's autistic younger brother, Lewis, is bullied by the other kids, but Harriet rebukes them for their cowardly behaviour. Life becomes intolerable for the Browns, so Harriet and her best friend, Violet Croft, help them to escape to a secret hideout in the countryside. Harriet's older brother, Edward, still doesn't trust the Browns, and is really angry when he finds out that she's helped them escape. He tells her she's helped the enemy - it's treason. She convinces Edward that he's wrong about the Browns.

It's April 1915, and Mrs Brown has gone to Whitby looking for work, leaving Thomas and Lewis in the hideout. Harriet and her 'army' have kept the two brothers supplied with food purloined from the allotments.

Lewis has noticed flashing lights in the distance, which he believes represent numbers. Harriet tells Edward she thinks the lights are coded spy messages.

Violet receives a letter from brother, Stephen, describing the unpleasant conditions on the front line. She's been knitting him a pair of wooly socks.

Harriet persuades her volunteer army to help track down the spies. They will need to triangulate the light source in order to determine its precise location.

Violet is devastated to hear that Stephen was killed when the ship he was returning on was sunk with the loss of all on board. But in the course of the search for spies it turns out that Stephen did return safely to Britain on a cargo boat, and was living in the woods, stealing supplies in order to survive. Stephen tells Harriet that every one of his mates had been killed on the front lines and, as the sole survivor, he'd been too ashamed to go back to his family.

Harriet realises that her army still need to find out who's responsible for the light signals. Edward, meanwhile, has discovered a piece of paper with Lewis's decoded numbers. It dawns on him that the numbers match the dates on which British ships were torpedoed. Edward is quick to conclude that Thomas Brown is spying for the Germans, but when confronted with evidence, he's persuaded that his suspicions were unfounded.

The signals are tracked to some old ruins, and Harriet's army catch the harbourmaster red-handed, signaling messages to U-Boats out at sea. British army soldiers arrive at the scene in time to apprehend the culprit. That evening Mr Grange tells his family how proud he is of them. Harriet was, in some ways, a reminder of his late wife.

The series ends on a romantic note with Harriet and Thomas walking hand in hand through the woods.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Today's Newsround at 10.10am looked at the significance WWI had on women's lives; how the war changed attitudes and eventually led to a more equal society.

Ricky reporting for Newsround on 4th August 2014

Ricky Boleto: Good morning, I'm Ricky with a very special Newsround coming to you from these trenches here in northern France. It's here where some of the most important battles took place over the four years of World War 1 - a war which began on this day, exactly one hundred years ago. While men were fighting in places like this, women's lives were changing forever, like Nellie Spindler - and this is her story.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ofcom has decided that the Top Gear Burma Special (BBC Two on 16 March 2014 at 8pm) was a breach of its Rule 2.3: In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context .....

The BBC had defended use of the term 'slope' as follows:

When we used the word ‘slope’ in the recent Top Gear Burma Special it was a light-hearted word play joke referencing both the build quality of the bridge and the local Asian man who was crossing it.

We were not aware at the time, and it has subsequently been brought to our attention, that the word ‘slope’ is considered by some to be offensive and although it might not be widely recognised in the UK, we appreciate that it can be considered offensive to some here and overseas, for example in Australia and the USA.

If we had known that at the time we would not have broadcast the word in this context and regret any offence caused.

The 'joke' went like this (YouTube) -

Jeremy Clarkson: “That is a proud moment…but…there is a slope on it.”

Richard Hammond picked up from there: “You are right…[pointing]…it is definitely higher on that side.”

Hammond's barely stifled amusement reveals he was working in cahoots with Clarkson, and was equally culpable. As far as I know, he's escaped criticism.

Common sense, you would think, dictates that any word, whether or not pejorative, used to describe the race or other characteristic of a human being was inappropriate in this context. For example "there is a Muslim on it" or "there is an African on it." The BBC admitted they were aware that 'slope' referred to an Asian man.

To be fair, a few years ago, some of Ofcom's own judgements were no better. Here in a 2007 edition of Broadcast Bulletin, for example, the Regulator cites Friday Night with Jonathan Ross to help invalidate complaints about a homophobic term used on Big Brother.

Guardian (commentisfree - Carmen Fishwick): The BBC not acting on Clarkson’s racist comment shows its disregard for us

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Commonwealth Games are about to start in Glasgow, the home town of Newsround reporter and disability rights campaigner, Martin Dougan.

Martin's report this morning explained what the Commonwealth is supposed to be about.

Martin: .. Many years ago Britain controlled lots of countries as part of something called the British Empire. Although these countries are now independent, they have chosen to become part of the Commonwealth. It's a group of countries across the world which signs up to a set of values including democracy, law and human rights. ..

Martin fails to tell kids that many of those countries breach the human rights of LGBT people.

This morning's 8.55am bulletin also included Martin reporting live from Glasgow. I suspect he would be less enthusiastic about these Games if some of those Commonwealth countries routinely imprisoned disabled people. But then CBBC, like so many Commonwealth countries, seems to have little time for the equal rights of LGBT people.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Does Disney's animated film Frozen have a pro-gay agenda? That topic was widely discussed elsewhere earlier in the year, including in this BBC blog. Certainly the lyrics from "Let it Go" are about empowerment, and could be seen as referring to the process of coming out. Take a look at these words, for instance:

Don't let them in, don't let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know
Well, now they know!

Gold-medal-winning Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe is 31. For half his life he struggled to keep his sexuality secret, and drove himself deeper into depression with every denial. Last week he came out to Michael Parkinson in a TV interview. He said he'd been concerned about the reaction from his friends and family.

Well, now they know!

Ian said he doesn't want other young people to feel the same way that he did.

So has CBBC now come round to supporting and empowering ALL kids regardless of sexual orientation? Was Ian Thorpe's disclosure just the spur CBBC needed to change? Could it explain why Newsround has spent time publicising the Disney animation, Frozen? It's been mentioned in all Friday's and all Saturday's TV bulletins.

Regrettably the truth is less encouraging: BBC Children's has symbiotic relationships with various media groups and/or personnel. Frozen is still being shown in lots of UK cinemas, and, with school holidays approaching, what better way to increase box office receipts than to promote it on children's TV?

Working hand in glove with commercial organisations is rarely consistent with the best interests of children, but perhaps promoting Frozen is the exception.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The British Dance Council is considering banning same sex couples from competing in some ballroom dancing competitions. I wrote to the BBC about Strictly Come Dancing in November 2010. Moira Ross was the programme's Executive Producer. Below is the substantive part of correspondence -

Email to Moira Ross dated 12th November 2010

Hello Moira,

Yesterday I read a story on Pink News about the possibility of a TV dance programme in the United States including same-sex couples. I commented that I couldn't imagine seeing that happen on Strictly Come Dancing, and then it dawned on me that I could ask the BBC what they thought about the idea.

Look forward to your views on the prospect of including same-sex couples on SCD. Many thanks.

A response from Stuart Macdonald on 24th November 2010:

I'm publicist for Strictly Come Dancing - I understand you were keen to discuss same-sex couples in Strictly. If you'd like to give me a bell I'd be happy to chew the cud with you!

My reply to Stuart the same day, with Cc to Moira Ross:

Rather than discussing the issue I was just curious to find out where the BBC stands. I imagine that there's a certain reluctance to include same sex dance partners because the BBC would be worried that audience reaction to this could be quite negative. But I guess the same would have been true thirty or forty years ago when mixed-race couples first started making an appearance on TV dramas etc.

Earlier in the year Prime Minister David Cameron said: ".. we'll never really tackle homophobic bullying in schools, we'll never tackle homophobic issues in the workplace just by passing laws. It's culture change and behavioural change that is needed as well." So really, as I see it, the ball is in the BBC's court.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Children's Media Conference 2014

The Conference begins this Wednesday, 2nd July.

BAFTA Award winning drama, ‘The Dumping Ground’, continues to resonate with its young audience. Or at least that's what the website says about a conference session entitled BAFTA Creative Masterclass: Laying Foundations for The Dumping Ground. The panel have been asked to examine the programme's "winning formula" by talking about emotional truth, moral and editorial responsibility, and on screen diversity, with reference to specific case studies, including gay adoption and racism.

Presumably the "gay adoption" case study will look at episode 5 from the first series: What Would Gus Want? The episode has been discussed by Newsround Blog on a few occasions, including 26th, 29th and 30th January 2013.

Lesbian couple Ronnie and Dawn (foreground)

Some points the CMC panel might like to consider:

1) Children's programmes which deal with gay themes are extremely rare.

2) The words 'gay' and 'lesbian' were used more than a dozen times in that episode. Those words are never heard on other kids' dramas or, for that matter, on other episodes of The Dumping Ground.

3) It was quite unfortunate that such 'loopy' lesbian characters were portrayed in the episode - all the more so in view of the scarcity of other lesbian and gay portrayal on kids' TV.

4) The arguments against prejudice were made by children, none of whom identified as gay. The result is that, in contrast to the racism storyline, we didn't get to see the hurt caused to children themselves as a result of homophobic attitudes.

5) The BBC children's department is refusing to converse on matters of fair portrayal and representation.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Hundreds of thousands of children grow up in Britain with the realisation they're not primarily attracted to the opposite sex. Such kids might well feel bad about themselves, especially if they're bullied, or if they hear homophobic language at school.

The BBC used to state its purpose is "to enrich the life of every person in the UK with programmes that inform, educate and entertain." That purpose is all very well. But the aim is not achievable unless people see their own lives and feelings represented. And that is something the BBC's children's department has failed to do. In fact CBBC's overwhelmingly heteronormative programming could easily alienate gay kids and do more harm than good.

From The Next Step - kids being fed a diet of heteronomativity

Thankfully some people are making a stand.

Despite the CBBC reality series School for Stars only mentioning straight relationships, former pupil of the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, Layton Williams, believes a substantial number of kids at the school are gay. He bravely spoke about his experiences at last year's Stonewall Education for All conference.

Layton Williams gives a keynote address at Stonewall's 2013 Education for All conference

Another hopeful sign was Children's Media Conference debate on the need for inclusion.