How I know Newsround is prejudiced
After watching the programme for a few days anyone will notice that Newsround likes to cover news stories about animals. Quite often there are two, three or more animal related news items in the early evening edition on BBC1. News about children from Britain and around the world is another important component of Newsround, as are items about celebrities, world record attempts, the environment, sport and important national or international news stories.
Newsround does not shy away from most issues. They have covered famine in Africa, elections in the Ukraine and Afghanistan, racism, knifing incidents, kidnappings, murders and the Iraq war. But when the news is anything related to being gay, or to issues of homophobia, Newsround remains silent. The news may be important and relevant to many children, but it is never reported on Newsround.
On that evidence alone there is reason to suspect bias against lgbt people. But there is more. In February 2005, and in response to criticism, Ian Prince, the editor of Newsround, sent an email to me and at least one other person who had complained, which many may see as prejudiced and which explains the reason for Newsround's non-inclusivity. More about this email later.
As long ago as 1996 the BBC acknowledged in their Producers' Guidelines that "gay and lesbian people make up a significant minority, entitled to be served and treated fairly by the BBC."
Elizabeth Atkinson, in her recent Guardian article called "Homophobia for Beginners" wrote: "There are several important issues to be dealt with urgently here: that young children use the term "gay" consciously as a term of abuse perpetuates the view that being gay is a bad thing: even where primary teachers challenge the use of the term, it is often only to silence it, rather than to unpack and address its negative connotations. And all too often teachers don't challenge it at all, because they are unsure how to go about it, or frightened of the association between sexual identity and sexual activity .."
A recent article in The Observer said that the government believes that 6% of 16s and over are lesbian or gay (based on several surveys) and - assuming the percentage were true for everyone - I worked out a graph of the number of lesbian and gay kids you would likely find in a school class of 30. You can see from the graph that it is more likely there will be 3 in a class than none at all. It is most likely there will be one or two. Also 10% of school classes are likely to have 4 or more.
A survey found that four fifths of primary age kids saw the use of the word "gay" as a way of attacking or making fun of someone, while the corresponding figure for secondary school kids was less than half. So Newsround's failure to report on lesbian and gay issues is another example of condoning homophobia in schools.
A petition was delivered to Jacqui Smith, the Minister for Schools, on Wednesday 7 December 2005. It was called stamp out homophobia and was one of the longest petitions ever. I told Ian Prince about the petition on the evening of the previous Monday, hoping that Newsround would cover the petition because it was very relevant and newsworthy to what he called their 'target audience' for all kinds of reasons. And as usual for Newsround there was no mention of the petition on Wednesday.