Sunday, September 03, 2006

Blog 99

Childline's report on telephone calls asking for help about sexual orientation, homophobia and homophobic bullying mentions about some kids being triply isolated with schools, friends and families all being unsupportive at best or overtly homophobic at worst. Some young people who were homophobically bullied said they were in a catch-22 situation: by reporting the bullying to their school or parents, they would effectively "out" themselves. They were often reluctant to do this because they were aware of commonly expressed homophobic attitudes.

The report says "Many homosexual children know - through years of hearing slurs - that their parents are homophobic. The fear of telling parents, and problems that resulted from telling them, was the second most frequently mentioned issue for young people calling ChildLine about their sexual orientation."

However Newsround and CBBC do nothing to help alleviate the isolation of lgbt young people; Newsround and its website include gratuitous references to heterosexuality - boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, engagements and marriages. For example on Friday's Newsround, Adam's report about Ashley Cole's transfer included this comment: "Cole, who recently married Girls Aloud star, Cheryl Tweedy, has netted himself a five year deal worth a whopping £90,000 per week." The web report is no better.

A news programme for kids made by the national broadcaster should be expected to be fair minded when covering news. Not only does Newsround not cover lgbt news and issues, we saw in our last blog that they also censor stories with lgbt content, even where it is the main part of the story they are supposed to be covering, to remove the lgbt content so the story will fit in with their agenda.

Newsround's former editor, Ian Prince, said that these issues are not particularly relevant to the target audience and are better left to secondary school level. However the Childline report made it clear that homophobic bullying is an issue at primary as well as secondary school level, as I have been telling the BBC all along. This is well documented by educationalists and psychologists, who say the problem should be tackled from Key Stage 1 onwards.

The BBC is well aware of these facts, yet I still get given the excuse that sexuality is not a matter for CBBC, since children are not grown-up enough. Funny how this always means lgbt sexualities are unsuitable, but on the other hand heterosexuality is invariably ok - programmes are fine as long as they are about boy/girl crushes, and not girl/girl or boy/boy crushes. In the past a few kids' programmes did touch on the issue, but now the BBC is clamping down on diversity using the "Creative Future" excuse.

Paul Smith, a CBBC policy adviser, says that CBBC policies are built on the premise of no discrimination against any persons because of their race, gender, age, sexual orientation etc., but he also claims the BBC have a secondary, but very important, 'contract' with parents to provide material that, while challenging the audience, also takes account of parents' expectations. He said CBBC output should be suitable for the entire target age range at all times [email from Paul Smith of 10 July 2006].

I offered to send Mr Smith full transcripts of two half-hour CBBC web chats so he could see for himself how Andrew Hayden-Smith was asked about relationships and romance etc in his interview yet Alex Parks was asked no such questions. Paul Smith admitted that he wasn't familiar with the interviews with Andrew or Alex Parks (see blog on 16 Feb 2006 for details), but when offered a chance to see the transcripts he declined and said he didn't accept the comparison between the two interviews. It seems he was not willing to look at the evidence of discrimination for himself, nor discuss its implications with the BBC's own diversity experts. He simply wasn't willing to accept that homosexuality had any place on CBBC, even when I tried to show him evidence that heterosexuality was covered all the time.

Paul Smith's view on CBBC was that knowing and understanding their audience is something the BBC take very seriously, and the success of the CBBC "brand" suggested they get it right most of the time. As far as sexuality is concerned, he said he believed that this is not really a meaningful or relevant subject for the range of CBBC's target audience, and its inclusion would raise some understandable concerns from their parents. He said that if a post to a CBBC messageboard were to mention homophobic bullying and there is a specific issue, then it would be passed on to one of the other BBC websites, e.g. teens and/ Radio 1 both of which have the supporting knowledge and material to deal with the issue.

The BBC's discriminatory attitude is against the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Every Child Matters - the basis for modern UK policies involving young people. It is incredible that this attitude pervades the BBC from the very top downwards and little is being done to combat it, in spite of all the best evidence that kids can feel isolated, depressed and even despairing or suicidal when they are bullied. The Childline report is an attempt to look honestly and frankly at the problems some kids have to face at school. It includes comments from kids such as ‘I’m really attracted to other girls, but I don’t want to be gay. It’s not right.’ -- ‘I look at some boys and get really excited, but I don’t like fancying them. It feels wrong.’ -- ‘I’m confused. I’ve always thought I was straight, but now I’ve started having fantasies about other boys. The things I’m thinking make me feel like I must be sick.’

Other kids whose comments are included in the Childline report are happy with their sexuality but face prejudice and harassment from their peers and/or parents: ‘I’m happy I’m gay, but nobody else is. Everyone calls me "batty boy" and kicks me when I go past.’ -- ‘My parents are very religious,’ said 14-year-old Dipesh. ‘They say that being gay is a sin - I’ll never be able to tell them the truth.’ -- ‘I think my parents are okay with gay people in general but I think they’ll freak if they find out I’m a lesbian. I’m an only child, and my mum’s always talked about how much she’s looking forward to being a grandmother.’

The Report says even when a parent was supportive there were sometimes caveats. For instance, 16-year-old Zoe said ‘I told my mum I’m a lesbian, and she was alright about it - but she told me not to tell anyone else. I know that’s partly to protect me, but it feels weird to have this big secret, especially when all my friends are talking about boys. What am I supposed to say?’

CBBC and Newsround are doing absolutely nothing to help kids, parents and schools combat homophobia, and to help make Britain an inclusive society. In fact by censoring news in the way it does, Newsround is compounding the problem. By pandering to the prejudices of some parents, Newsround will almost certainly help nobody and will simply reinforce stereotypes and bigotry, feeding the misery and despair that some kids feel at school.

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