Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Pride and prejudice

It is coming up to Europride, and it's over six months since this blog started. At first I concentrated on Newsround, but later other examples of BBC discrimination were added.

The BBC says it aims "to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom’s people and cultures in our services."

And the BBC Diversity Centre says that diversity should form a substantial element of editorial judgement, and that all editors share an obligation to give adequate and meaningful consideration to diversity matters.

On appointing an additional executive to oversee diversity, the BBC director of television said: "To deliver the ambition of Creative Future and meet audiences' expectations in a changing world, we need our programmes to reflect fully and accurately the diversity of the UK population."

So all the mechanisms are in place to make the BBC one of the most diverse-friendly organisations in Britain. The big question is: Does the BBC really want to be inclusive of young lgbt people, or is it just happy to continue with the discrimination and prejudice?

Let's see if Newsround reports from EuroPride this year.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Double standards

Yesterday Newsround included a story about a peacock called Mr. P which they claimed had fallen "head over heels in love" with some petrol pumps.

Bet they wouldn't have covered a story like this one.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Is the BBC still committed to diversity?

Greg Dyke, a former BBC director-general, once said famously that the BBC was "hideously white" meaning that there weren't enough people from ethnic minorities working there. Although there are more ethnic staff now than in 2000 some of the present BBC senior management have a problem accepting the need for change. Sunny Hundal wrote about this yesterday in MediaGuardian.

Programme makers have always valued their independence and have traditionally enjoyed the support of senior management. And this is why diversity is such a difficult concept for them - because it means losing some of their authority.

Crucially, an effective diversity department should have power to require and enforce improvement in situations where BBC output does not meet a satisfactory diversity standard. But the diversity department is only a fledgling department.

When Jana Bennett, the Director of Television announced, independently of the BBC's currently existing diversity structure, the appointment of a new 'diversity champion' it may be a sign that things are about to change. (see blog 10 June 2006)

The BBC Press Office biography of Andrea Callender, the BBC Head of Diversity, says that she "co-ordinates the BBC's objective to reflect fully the diversity of the UK, both in its programmes and in the make-up of the BBC staff."

Ms Callender was appointed shortly before the departure of Greg Dyke in January 2004.

I think that the BBC could prove it is still committed to diversity by requiring all personnel, including management, to undertake a course in diversity training.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Children's Commissioner to answer questions on Newsround

Professor Al Aynsley-Green was appointed last year as the English Children's Commissioner. The post was initiated as part of the Children Act 2004 legislation, but the NSPCC believe that he wasn't granted sufficient authority.

Norway has had a commissioner for children since 1981. Reidar Hjermann is the current appointee, and he's obliged to check compliance with the UNCRC, as is, for example, the Swedish commissioner Lena Nyberg.

Sir Al will be answering questions from Newsround viewers. The problem is that Newsround does not recognize the existence of young lgbt people, and therefore it's a racing certainty that no questions about lgbt issues or homophobia will be put to him. The BBC will probably deny they received any such questions if Sir Al asks, as it's clear from the way Alex Parks was treated in her star chat (see Blog 16 February 2006) that unwanted questions are silently weeded out.

So there is no real alternative - the Children's Commissioner should go out of his way to talk about the problems of heterosexism, being gay at school, homophobic language and homophobic bullying. He shouldn't wait for questions to be asked - Newsround has already invisibilized lgbt kids for far too long. And, if anything, things might get worse under the "Creative Future" banner (see Blog 10 June 2006), when CBBC will limit its target audience to 7-11 year olds.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The first item on Newsround today was about a link-up between Phefeni Secondary School in Soweto, South Africa and Hesketh Fletcher CofE High School in Wigan, UK.

In two days' time on 16 June it will be the thirtieth anniversary of the Soweto uprising against the evil apartheid regime. A lot of poverty still exists in Soweto but now the people are free to live life as they choose, without being oppressed.

All discrimination is now outlawed in South Africa's constitution, and it will be one of the first countries to allow gay people to marry - not that anything to do with gay equality would be mentioned on Newsround.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Newsround must be inclusive

Newsround has covered around 450 stories between 6 March - 9 June 2006. I've broken the stories down into eight categories:

Main news 20.3%
Kids/school news* 15.2%
Sports news 22.3%
Celeb,music,films arts 11.9%
Environmental,climate 15.2%
Animals 7.5%
Sci/tech 4.6%
Other 2.9%

*including stories about, or touching on 'bullying'
7 March, 15 May, 23 May

None of the programmes covered lgbt issues. But the same has been true for years. Newsround Extra on 13 March 2006 was about depression, and although homophobia and bullying about being gay are a main cause of depression, the programme avoided the topic completely.

It seems clear that some very senior people at the BBC believe words like 'gay' and 'lesbian' aren't suitable for children. In February three years ago the BBC's director of television was surprised to find out that her eight year old had heard of lesbians.

But hold on a minute - this is some of what the BBC governors had to say recently:

The Committee noted that the word "gay", in addition to being used to mean "homosexual" or "carefree", was often now used to mean "lame" or "rubbish". This is a widespread current usage of the word amongst young people.....The Committee believed that, in describing a ring tone as "gay", Chris Moyles was conveying that he thought it was "rubbish" rather than "homosexual".....It did, however, feel that it would be advisable to think more carefully about using the word "gay" in its derogatory sense in the future, given the multiple meanings of the word in modern usage and the potential to cause unintended offence. Nevertheless, given the programme's audience, the Committee considered the broadcast to be within the relevant editorial guidelines.

So as far as the BBC is concerned, young people hearing 'gay' to mean 'rubbish' meets editorial guidelines, but polite usage on programmes like Newsround is not acceptable.

Hardly surprising, then, that more people are beginning to realise that our national broadcaster is homophobic to the core.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

BBC 'Creative Future' a creative 'con trick'

Mark Thompson announced his 'vision' of things to come on 25 April 2006. It is known as 'Creative Future' and it's a kind of umbrella term which seems to enable BBC management to do whatever they like.

Byker Grove was a victim of 'Creative Future' and there will probably be many many more.

Creative Future is apparently the reason given for creating the new post of editorial director of diversity, who is to be Mary FitzPatrick. But the truth is more likely that the purpose of the new appointment was to undermine the BBC's own Diversity Centre. The appointment coincided with the BBC governors' decision about Chris Moyles's use of 'gay' to describe a ring tone. The Diversity Centre, and almost all people in the field of education think that such use of language is not acceptable.

John Quinn, director of Beatbullying, is quoted in The Guardian as saying "While the BBC claims the word gay has evolved into meaning 'lame', this is only because people identify being called gay as undesirable, therefore giving power to that term. Using the word gay as a derogatory word, whether in the context of homosexuality or not, further propagates the idea that being gay is a bad thing. The BBC have just greenlighted the use of gay as a derogatory word. Therefore, the BBC have given credence to the idea that being gay is bad. This low-level homophobia is not acceptable and is outrageous considering how homophobic bullying destroys lives."

Beatbullying's website suggests complaints be made to the BBC (Tel 08700 100 222), or via their website at

Director of television Jana Bennett who appointed the new 'diversity champion' earlier this week, knows the views of Beatbullying, but still supports the governors' decision on Moyles. The big question then, is "what is the real reason for new appointment?" Is it to promote diversity, or is it really part of an internal power struggle?

However, if Mary FitzPatrick is prepared to be an independent principled thinker these fears should prove to be wrong, as it will hopefully mean that she, in conjunction with the Diversity Centre, will take a stand against endemic homophobia at the BBC.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

BBC clears itself of homophobia (again)

After looking into a complaint about homophobia the BBC has concluded that it is not guilty.

The complainant had argued that the BBC allowed homophobic material to be included in its transmissions, listing three specific examples: The Chris Moyles show, Jo Whiley's show and the Catherine Tate show.

Whilst I believe the BBC had a reasonable defence in the cases of Catherine Tate, and a strong defence case for Jo Whiley, this still leaves Chris Moyles.

The complaint was about Chris Moyles dismissing a ring tune by saying "I don’t want that one, it’s gay." The complainant argued that using the word 'gay' in this context was clearly derogatory and that the presenter 'unthinkingly' used a word in a way he should not have done.

I would like to believe that Chris used the word 'unthinkingly' and not deliberately as a part of an image. The prime use of 'gay' in a derogatory sense is amongst children who mostly grow out of it in secondary school, especially if they're sensible enough to understand the offence it might cause. The BBC said "it would be advisable to think more carefully about using the word 'gay' in its derogatory sense in the future." The BBC Diversity Centre confirms that this type of offensive language is wrong and should never be used.

If the governors' recommendation is to mean anything at all, it must surely mean that the BBC will be less prepared to excuse future lapses by Moyles, as well as other radio and tv presenters. BBC presenters are paid huge sums of money, and for their salaries it's not too much to ask that they remember not to perpetuate prejudice against a section of British society. I have asked Mr Moyles whether he'll try to keep to the governors' recommendation.

The BBC said in its decision that it aims "to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom’s people and cultures in our services." However if this were true Newsround would be lgbt inclusive. What about a report from the Pride March this year? After all, every August bank holiday Newsround covers the Notting Hill Carnival (2002 2003 2004 2005) which is just a festival with people wearing outrageous costumes. So what's the difference? Are some people more equal than others?

Newsround could also use the opportunity to report Pride from around the UK - there are separate events during the summer in most big towns - here are just a few of them Belfast, Brighton, Cardiff, Glasgow and EuroPride '06 in London.

Monday, June 05, 2006

BBC radio causing offence

Today's Mirror reports that Radio 1 has banned World Cup songs that mention England. The station apparently doesn't want to offend Welsh, Scots or Irish listeners.

But BBC radio isn't so sensitive when it comes to gay listeners. A two hour long interview this April with Buju Banton included part of Banton's hit track 'Boom bye bye' which advocates shooting and burning gay men. The head of BBC radio defended the programme, part of a week long festival of Dancehall music, saying that Banton is an extremely important figure, and the interview was a rare opportunity to hear his views.

I'm waiting to hear back to find out if the BBC would have anything to do with a musician who supported killing people on the basis of their race.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sonia's high & low points

Here are the high & low points of Sonia's life, as listed on her character profile on the BBC EastEnders website.

Latest version

High Points
Finding true love with Martin and agreeing to marry him.
Jamie's proposals (not once, but twice).
Being given money by Robbie to pay for her nursing course.
Growing apart from Martin and their marriage suffering.

Low Points
Realising, after the death of Chloe (Rebecca's) adoptive parents, that she must stay out of her life.
The death of Jamie following a road accident.
Unexpectedly giving birth, giving up baby Chloe and later kidnapping her.
Carol and Alan leaving town without her and Robbie.
Splitting up with Jamie, and discovering his flings with Janine and Zoe.
Being thrown out on the street by Naomi.

Google cache (as at 4 June 2006)

High Points
Finding true love with Martin and agreeing to marry him.
Jamie's proposals (not once, but twice).
Being given money by Robbie to pay for her nursing course.

Low Points
Realising, after the death of Chloe (Rebecca's) adoptive parents, that she must stay out of her life.
The death of Jamie following a road accident.
Unexpectedly giving birth, giving up baby Chloe and later kidnapping her.
Carol and Alan leaving town without her and Robbie.
Splitting up with Jamie, and discovering his flings with Janine and Zoe.
Growing apart from Martin and their marriage suffering.

The latest and cached are the same with two exceptions:

1 - 'Being thrown out on the street by Naomi' has been added to the latest version

2 - In the latest version 'Growing apart from Martin and their marriage suffering' has accidentally been listed as a 'high point' instead of a 'low point'

I'll have something more say about Sonia and her relationship with Naomi later in the blog.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Update on SoPP (blog 8 May 2006)

The BBC replied to my email on 17 May, but the reply didn't actually state whether 'sexual orientation' will be explicitly mentioned in future editions of the SoPP.

Their reply did refer to delivering the highest editorial and ethical standards in the provision of its programmes, meeting Ofcom's Broadcasting Code. The next part looked like some text from the SoPP - stuff about the BBC being a unique institution, independent of political interests. A lengthy criticism of Stonewall's 'Tuned Out' report followed, and the email ended by saying that the perception that the BBC deliberately ignore or misrepresent a sizeable section of society is inaccurate, when the full breadth of BBC output is examined.

However I wanted to know if future editions of the SoPP would explicitly mention 'sexual orientation' in the text. So I wrote back on 23 May with a reply to their email giving many specific examples of anti-gay discrimination and non-inclusiveness, together with a request that the BBC simply agree to my suggestion, which as I explained would help to ensure that this type of injustice is put right as soon as possible.

I'm waiting to hear back to see if they agree.