Thursday, February 19, 2015

The BBC, according to Jana Bennett in 2007, helps children understand themselves and their relationships. But things went badly wrong this Valentine's Day.

Most CBBC programmes dealing with romance and love are heteronormative, with very little directly relevant to the significant minority of viewers who are lesbian and gay.

There were signs that BBC children's TV was about to become more inclusive - for example, Benny revealing his sexuality at the end of series 2 of Wizards vs Aliens. And then Newsround, for the first time, directly reported on the issue of homophobic bullying in November last year. Additionally an episode of the documentary "Our School" included a section about how Conyers School dealt with an incident of homophobic bullying. A short clip of Shaun Dellenty's anti-bullying assembly at Conyer's school appeared on CBBC's website along with a chat board asking whether kids had suffered discrimination. For the first time in many years gay kids' messages weren't censored.

But any progress on CBBC appears spasmodic. One step forward - then two backward. Benny was written out of Wizards vs Aliens during series 3, and we never saw him date another boy. We do regularly see gay celebrities on CBBC & Newsround, but no direct support - for instance a gay sportsperson talking about LGBT and equality related issues. The clip of Shaun Dellenty has now been taken off CBBC's website, along with kids' messages about being discriminated against. So far CBBC has shown no obvious interest in LGBT History Month.

There's no excuse for the BBC spending licence payers' money on homophobic children's programmes. But that's exactly what we see in "The Worst Year of My Life, Again" The clip below was from an episode shown on Valentine's Day. -

Monday, February 16, 2015

Remember, in 2011, that morning when Newsround was keen to show off their new iPad. Well today Leah Boleto seemed intent on viewers seeing a customised Newsround tablet -


Leah shows off her tablet this morning

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Most of CBBC's afternoon and evening programmes today were about love or Valentine's Day -

CBBC programmes today

Even though we're now half-way through LGBT History Month, I wan't exactly expecting an LGBT-fest on CBBC. Nevertheless it was unfortunate to come across one quite homophobic joke in the Valentine's Day programme mix.

The Valentine's Day edition of '12 Again' was repeated once again, but with no attempt whatsoever to update viewers on mariage equality legislation in Britain. I might well contact the incoming Director of BBC Children's, Alice Webb, about concerns over this significant discrimination-related issue. But, of course, moral integrity has never been a strong point of the BBC, as is evidenced, amongst other things, by Trust chairperson, Rona Fairhead, and her failure to answer questions about her work at HSBC

Sunday, February 08, 2015

A week into LGBT History Month, but no mention yet on CBBC. To be fair we have seen a few famous gay people on the channel, such as Sir Ian McKellen in a new series called Cinemaniacs.

What would be really good to see is more real recognition of today's stars, as well as some from history, like Alan Turing and Leonardo da Vinci.

Here are a couple of modern-day suggestions:

Lesbian journalist and newsreader, Jane Hill.

Ms Hill came out to all her BBC colleagues in December 2009. Her exemplary journalistic skills can be seen in this excerpt from an interview with Kate and Gerry McCann (May 2007):

Jane Hill: I've spoken to a lot of people over the weeks - local people who'd given up a lot of time - and you've talked about the support they'd given you. I met people who didn't go to work for more than a week because every day they were down on the beach ... searching the streets ... did you, as a mother, Kate, just sometimes think: I've got to be out there with them - I want to go and just physically look as well

Jane Hill interviews the McCanns in Portugal (May 2007)


Another person, who also came out as gay in December 2009, is Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas. The BBC gave him loads of publicity at the time, but not on CBBC Newsround. The current editor of Newsround, Lewis James, is a real fan of Welsh rugby, and with the Six Nations Championships underway, there couldn't really be a better time to make up for the past omission.

Kids need to see that being lesbian or gay is no bar to being the best, whatever their career choice might be.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

An open letter to Her Majesty's Government, published in The Guardian yesterday began:-
Alan Turing was one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century, a man whose work on machines that deciphered the Enigma codes helped win World War II and who was pivotal in the development of modern computers. Winston Churchill said Alan Turing "made the single biggest contribution to the Allied victory in World War II"

The letter went on to mention the appalling treatment meted out to Turing and other gay men after the war.

February is LGBT History Month in the UK - a great opportunity to celebrate all those who, in past times, were silenced and had to live in fear.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Body image and gender stereotyping are topics which receive quite a lot of coverage on Newsround. Here, for instance, Newsround reported on what boys and girls prefer to be when they grow up.

And in this report Natasha Devon talks to Ricky about the importance of self-esteem.

Those topics are also central to some of CBBC's My Life series of documentaries :

"I Am Leo" featured Leo, who was born a female called Lily, but who wants to be recognised as a boy in society. Leo hated looking like a girl.

10-year-old Kai is a friend of Leo's, and they play football together.

Leo: The only difference between our life and er ..

Kai: .. a boy's life

Leo: .. yeah, a born-male boy's life, is we're trapped in this awful body and we have to do loads of medical stuff.

"What's a Girl?" followed Shelby on her quest to find out what it is exactly that makes a girl a girl. Shelby, too, doesn't conform with many people's idea of a typical girl but, unlike Leo, Shelby is happy to have been born female.

Shelby: I'm a girl. But some people think I that I want to be a boy because of the way that I look. I'm really happy being a girl and my life is pretty normal. ... I like being who I am. I wouldn't change it for anything.

Shelby visits a primary school where she finds out how young children respond to gender stereotypes - for example, hair length and clothing. As an experiment the children were asked to dress up in their own choice of costume.

Although CBBC documentaries have covered children growing with in a wide range of situations, we've yet to see a programme about being lesbian, gay or bisexual. However being gay was mentioned briefly as part of an episode of Our School, broadcast last November.

LGBT History Month starts this Sunday.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

If you want news about the BBC, you'd think their press office would be a good place to start looking. And, in fact, that was true until a few years ago. But things got much worse with the launch of a new-look press office, now re-named as BBC Media Centre. The new resource is only a shadow of its former self. Many pre-2011 archived pages have been removed completely, and the keyword archive search engine no longer works.

So much for the BBC Trust promise, in 2010, to set new standards of openness and transparency.

The report below was from Broadcast on 16th January 2015 -
Wizards vs Aliens on hold

The BBC has put Wizards vs Aliens on hold after three series due to cost issues regarding the children’s sci-fi drama.

Russell T Davies, who created the show with Phil Ford, said the BBC had “paused but not axed” the CBBC show after three series, because “there was not enough money” as yet to fund further episodes.

He also expressed his concern that protracted talks could result in cast members accepting offers to appear in other shows.

The BBC Wales/FremantleMedia Enterprises series originally received a two-series order totalling 26 episodes. Last year, it returned for a ten-part run under Ford’s sole stewardship.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Two films about important British scientists received nominations for this year's Oscars. But despite the importance of science and computing, neither of the films - The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything - was mentioned in Newsround's report of the nominations. The films are loosely based on the lives of Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking respectively.

CBBC's Absolute Genius series hasn't, as yet, included a programme about Stephen Hawking.

    Imitation Game     /     Theory of Everything

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

One of this afternoon's questions to the prime minister appears to confirm suspicions that Lord Hall is reluctant to appear in public, and is not up to the job.

Roger Gale MP: Mr Speaker, yesterday the former prime minister, Mr Blair, had to be summoned to the select committee to reluctantly give evidence. We now understand that the director general of the BBC, Lord Hall, is refusing to give evidence to another select committee on the grounds that he's a Member of Parliament. He's also a paid public servant. Isn't it time that we reviewed the matter of parliamentary privilege in this place?



Lord Hall: ".. we should explain ourselves" (November 2013)


Monday, January 05, 2015

LGBT History Month is an excellent opportunity for CBBC Newsround to carry a presspack-style report along similar lines to this Black History Month report by 12-year-old Nyah. Newsround will have to get a move on, though, because LGBT History Month is February - and that's less than a month away.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Complaints closed at stage 1b and complainants subject to the Expedited Complaints Procedure

That's the title of a recently produced document now available for download on the BBC Trust website. It appears from the BBC's lack of publicity they are ashamed of the document's contents - and with very good reason, as you can see in this extract from the opening paragraph:

".. new procedures put in place the right for the BBC to end correspondence on trivial, misconceived, hypothetical, repetitious or otherwise vexatious complaints .."

What exactly is a "misconceived" complaint? Apparently that is something decided by the BBC. So what, in effect, has happened here is that the BBC has set itself up as a arbiter of what is right and what is wrong - and the public just have to accept their ruling.

Last year Graham Norton wore a ribbon to raise awareness of World AIDS Day. The BBC's Deputy Director of Television, Mark Linsey, ordered Graham not to wear the ribbon again, and the BBC subsequently received thousands of complaints about the ban. Nevertheless, the BBC presumably decided that those complaints fell into one of the above categories, and the Trust has not looked into the issue. Nor, it seems are they happy to discuss it further.

The BBC Trust's document ends with a list of "expedited" complainants. Correspondence from "expedited" complainants must, according to the BBC, be read but not acknowledged.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hogwarts, according to J.K. Rowling, is a safe place for LGBT students. In a pointed allusion to her Harry Potter books, Ms Rowling said no one should live in a closet.

Author Jeff Kinney has been answering questions about his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Nine-year-old Emma won a competition and was given the opportunity to interview Mr Kinney. She asked Jeff what inspired his 'Wimpy Kid' books -


Jeff Kinney: My own childhood was the inspiration, and continues to be the inspiration for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I think that so many funny things happen to all of us. If you just thought about your day today, I bet you could find five things that would end up in a wimpy-kid-like book. ...

Jeff Kinney has also answered questions for CBBC Newsround. So far, though, he's not been asked much about diversity. Apart from in tweets by Newsround Blog, which weren't responded to.

Wimpy Kid's protagonist, Greg Heffley, has a crush on Holly Hills - so presumably he's not gay. Seems Jeff Kinney has wimped out of including any lesbian or gay characters in his books. That's unfortunate because Jeff's not yet made a stand on behalf of kids who don't want to live their whole lives in a closet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Many important news stories don't get reported by Newsround, or they get reported a long time afterwards. The siege in Sydney is one story which hasn't yet been reported, though of course it did get a lot of coverage on the main TV news channels.

Katrina Dawson, 38, and cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, both died as heroes.

Katrina Dawson, who was married to Paul Smith, with three children, is reported to have shielded a pregnant friend and colleague Julie Taylor, whom she had been meeting for a coffee.

Tori Johnson was killed as he attempted to wrest the gun from the hostage-taker.

As a gay man living in Australia Tori Johnson was, in effect, a second class citizen without the right to marry afforded to other people in that country. His life partner, who isn't mentioned in this BBC news webpage, was Thomas Zinn. They'd been together for 14 years.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Mario Balotelli's recent controversial tweet was reported by Newsround.

Yesterday BBC's Director of Television, Danny Cohen, said the footballer should be sanctioned. Some suggested the same should apply to Jeremy Clarkson, but Mr Cohen failed to answer that point. He was also asked about the suitability of broadcasting ".. get out, you're not welcome here, you're gay" on children's TV. So far he's failed to answer that question too. But he has been pretty busy defending the BBC and its licence fee.

BBC Director General: ".. we should own up to things we don't get right"

Sunday, November 30, 2014

This year the BBC's Children in Need appeal took place on Friday 14th November 2014. A strange thing happened on CBBC that evening. Shortly before the channel closed at 7pm, Pudsey Bear went into the presentation studio where Katie Thistleton and CBBC's resident bully, Hacker T Dog were on air. Hacker shouted at the top of his voice: "Pudsey, get out, you're not welcome here, you're gay."
-
Katie, Pudsey and Hacker in presentation studio (14/11/2014)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Having just read a Commentary piece by Jack Andraka in Advocate.com I thought some people would be interested in an email sent by myself to the Controller of CBBC, Cheryl Taylor, on 11th August 2014. I have not received a reply from Ms Taylor -
To Cheryl Taylor, Head of CBBC 

Dear Cheryl, 
I'm not sure if CBBC will be making any more series of Absolute Genius with Dick and Dom, but there are quite a lot of scientific geniuses who haven't yet had their own programmes, and I had an idea which you might like to consider. 
Some of the featured scientists seem to have been selected to help promote equality - for example Caroline Herschel instead of her more illustrious older brother, or Elsie Widdowson rather than her colleague Robert McCance. To my mind that's a perfectly reasonable policy considering the discrimination women have had to put up with over the years. And there are still some very important women who shouldn't continue to be overlooked; most especially the extremely significant contribution Rosalind Franklin made to the discovery of DNA. Many feel Rosalind was treated unfairly by the male-dominated scientific elite. 
However, it's not only women who've suffered discrimination. Alan Turing was a gay man whose contribution to the world could hardly be underestimated. Alan might have achieved even more had his life not been cut short on account of persecution by the authorities. It's regrettable that the Absolute Genius programme about him failed to tell kids that he was gay. And in the context of CBBC promoting equality, it just seemed like anti-gay bigotry hasn't yet been overcome. 
So here is my idea: Over the weekend I was watching speakers at the Wikimania Conference in London. One of the more inspiring speakers was a young man called Jack Andraka. He is 17 now, but about three years ago he developed a brilliant and inexpensive method of detecting pancreatic cancer at an early stage. He is now working on two or three new projects, including making the test work with other forms of cancer. Up till now the Absolute Genius series has only included scientists who are no longer alive but, as far as I know, there is no reason not to include a living genius. In fact it might well inspire more young people to get involved. And there's one more thing about Jack Andraka - he is an out gay man, so a programme about him could help put right the failure to mention that Alan Turing was gay in series 2. 
Thanks for reading. 
Kind regards,

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Last week's CBBC programme about 13-year-old Leo was introduced by Katie and Dodge T Dog. -

Katie: Now, as part of our 'Bye Bye to Bullying' week on CBBC, we have a brand new episode of My Life coming up next. It's all about Leo, who was born a girl, but lives his life as a boy. We follow the highs and lows of his journey as he tries to apply for a new passport - one which may officially recognise him as a boy. Here's Leo's story.

There's a brief summary of the programme in my previous blog entry. The documentary makers went to some considerable trouble to explain the concept of transgenderism, using coloured graphics to illustrate the points being made. We were shown pink figures wearing dresses but with blue-coloured brains, and blue figures with pink-coloured brains.

Trans people in diagrammatic form

Some very important issues were omitted - in particular the documentary failed, as CBBC usually does, to consider the issue of sexual orientation. Bearing in mind that the number of young people who are LGB is somewhat greater than the number of trans people, it was unfortunate that the producers didn't appreciate the need to carefully explain the difference between being gay/bisexual and being trans. I have attempted to raise this issue with Kez Margrie but, as yet, haven't heard back.

On Wednesday 19th November Katie was joined in the CBBC presentation studio by Tallulah Greive, who plays Lauren on Millie Inbetween, and by CBBC bully, Hacker T Dog, ironically wearing a 'Bye Bye to Bullying' T-shirt -

Tallulah Greive and Hacker (19/11/2014)

Katie introduced Our School as part of CBBC's anti-bullying campaign. Approximately five minutes of the programme dealt with homophobic bullying - an issue also covered on the previous evening's Newsround bulletin.

In the Our School episode Jessica and classmate Libby have been called names by an older boy at Conyers School. They report the incident to Year 7 Manager, Mr Livesey. Apparently the boy had tried to insult Jessica by calling her a lesbian.

Jessica: .... who cares if I was a lesbian, it wouldn't interfere with my life. I wouldn't be upset about it.

Mr Thoburn (narrating): As Year 7 are about to find out, using "lesbian" or "gay" as an insult is a serious kind of bullying. ... The School have invited Shaun Dellenty, a Deputy Head from another school, to talk to Year 7 about what happened to him when he was their age.

Shaun Dellenty told the Year 7 assembly that he realised he was gay at a fairly young age. And at secondary school he got bullied right from the very first day.

Mr Dellenty: During my time at secondary school I was spat on, laughed at, punched, kicked, hit, pushed, and I was told that I would go to hell. All of that by the time I'm your age. How do you think that might affect somebody - a young person, how do you think that might affect them?

After the assembly the kids talked about what they'd heard.

Shaun Dellenty taking a Year 7 assembly at Conyers School

Mr Thoburn: The assembly has really got the Year 7's thinking, and the discussion carries on in tutor time.

We then saw Class 7AG discuss discrimination and being called names. The teacher, Mr Glendenning, asked the class never to use the term "gay" in a derogatory sense.

Jessica: If you get name-called, that's a sign of bullying. I would just go and see your Deputy or your Head Teacher, tell them what's happening ...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Life: I Am Leo is a documentary about the steps Leo Waddell is taking on his journey to be accepted as a boy. It was broadcast on Monday as part of CBBC's contribution to Anti-Bullying Week 2014.

The documentary begins with a 'video diary.' Leo introduces himself and the rest of his family - his mum and his sister, Daisy.

Leo: .... There's something about me that means I haven't always been accepted as Leo. In most ways I'm like an average 13-year-old boy apart from I was born in a girl's body. Although people saw me as a girl, I always knew I was really a boy.

Leo says he wants people to see him, the way he sees himself - as Leo.

We see Leo help his mum make a cake, and chatting about what he remembers from his days as Lily - the name he was given at birth. We're shown old footage and photos. Leo tells his mum that wearing a dress and having long hair didn't feel right. He says he hated looking like a girl so one night, when he was 5-years-old, he cut his own hair short.

Leo: By the time I was nine, I didn't understand why other people couldn't see I was really a boy, and it used to make me very angry. ... Gender, to me, is what you feel inside - not what you were born with like, what you are on the outside. It's what you are on the inside.

The documentary then goes on to talk about boys' and girls' hormones and bodies.

Leo: Our bodies are full of chemicals called hormones. There are some hormones for boys and other hormones for girls. Most people's hormones, brains and bodies all match, so they know they are definitely a girl or a boy. But some people feel they've been born in the wrong body. .... Although I have a girl's body, I know inside I am a boy.

Jack is one of Leo's best mates, who regards Leo as a boy.

Jack: I'll support you, like, whatever you want to do.

But Leo isn't accepted by everyone. He's been taunted by chants of Lily, Lily - which brought back past bad memories.

When someone calls Leo 'she' it upsets him. His mum and dad helped him apply to change his passport to reflect his new name.

Leo goes to meet Stephen Whittle at the House of Commons, because that's where he helped to change the law for transgender people. Stephen was also born a girl, and has worked really hard for trans people to be accepted. He said it was awful at first in the '70s - you were the lowest of the low. They set up 'Press for Change' to lobby parliament to change the law. Stephen wished Leo 'good luck.'

While in London Leo chats with his 10 year-old friend Kai, who was also born a girl. He explains that the only difference between them and a 'born-male boy's life' is that they're trapped in this awful body and they have to go through loads of medical stuff. Kai says it's not just a phase.

Leo's mum has been really busy getting his passport changed so he can get that 'magic M for male.' We see Leo getting new photos for his new passport.

Leo flies to Scotland to meet Natalie. Kai's and Leo's families were accepting, but Natalie's were not so accepting - Natalie was born male but says she was 15 when she knew she was a girl. Her immediate family sent her to counsellors, and thought it was just a phase. So she moved out.

Leo was lucky because both his family and oldest friends were accepting. He's given hormone blockers which he has to inject himself. Knowing that without these injections his body would change into a woman's scared him. Dr Polly explained it -

Dr Polly: The blocker is an injection that someone has every month which pauses the body and stops it from carrying on to grow up into a man or a woman.

The blocker gives Leo and his doctors more time to decide about what he wants for the future. If he stops the blockers his body will continue develop as a woman's body.

Leo: Although I'm pleased to be prescribed the injections, they do really hurt! .. Oh, it's agony.

Leo: Not everyone agrees that the treatment is a good thing. ... Some people think it's not right to give them to children.

The documentary includes some of the ways the press have reported the story, as well as his appearance on This Morning, where he met Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. Leo said he thought he might be in love with Holly.

Leo visited the passport office in Peterborough. He's anxious about his new passport because he wants other people to view him the way he sees himself. The documentary ends with a delighted Leo getting his 'M' for male.

Yesterday's Daily Mirror reported that Leo plans to have his eggs frozen so he can have children even after he has gender reassignment surgery as an adult. According to his mum, Hayley, "at some later date when he’s in a relationship, and they want children, they will use donor sperm to fertilise the eggs then implant them into his partner."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Today is the start of Anti-Bullying Week.

I first raised the issue of homophobic bullying with Joe Godwin in an email on 23rd July 2009: "... A particular concern of mine is that the BBC is not doing enough - or in fact anything at all - to counter the problem of homophobic bullying at school. ..."

On 26th September 2010 Mr Godwin emailed me:

.... Since we last corresponded on the subject of homophobic bullying in schools, you may be interested to know that I've been meeting with senior civil servants and the Children's Commissioners to see what CBBC can do in this area. I have further meetings planned in the coming weeks. ....

However after years' of silence CBBC Newsround has, this morning, finally got round to tackling the problem. And this is the reason they gave -

Martin: .. today we're reporting on homophobic bullying. That's because this year the government is giving £2million to schools to deal with it.

Why was it necessary to give a reason for tackling this form of prejudice? And, as far as I know, receiving a government grant has never been a pretext for CBBC covering any other form of bullying.

The real way CBBC could help is by making children's drama properly inclusive. So far not much has been achieved on that front.