Friday, December 28, 2007

Did you know that Boxing Day was named in Victorian times when the rich would box up gifts to give to the poor? It seems a UK survey found that more than a third of people didn't know that fact. I bet some of those people had tried the Newsround website Christmas quiz and were a bit confused because boxing up gifts for the poor wasn't one of the possible answer options.

An interesting thing happened on Boxing Day this year. Newsround asked What did you think of the Doctor Who Christmas special? and they actually allowed a 14 year-old to have a say. And the very next day (yesterday) Newsround asked What has been your highlight of 2007? and again they allowed a 14 year-old have a say.

I've seen this kind of thing before at the BBC - they sometimes wobble a bit. So I wouldn't be surprised if, once again, it doesn't last. But if I'm wrong I'll get in touch with the BBC next year to ask if they have abandoned the discrimination against older kids and LGBT kids.

One other thing I've noticed over about the last month or so is that none of Newsround's feedback pages have suggested using the text option: You can also send us a text - Text NR and your message to 62222. Remember to include your first name, age and town. Charged at operators' standard rates. Please ask permission.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

What a wonderful news item for Newsround I thought as I watched a Sky News report last night about Louis Barnett, a teenager with a love for chocolate, who started his own company, Chokolit, and recently opened a factory making high quality chocolates for some of the major supermarkets. One of Louis's ideas was for a chocolate inside an edible chocolate box.

Louis left school at the age of 11 after he was badly bullied by other kids. From then on he was homeschooled. At the same time he developed an interest in chocolate and started making them at home. This autumn he opened a factory in time to make chocolates for Christmas, but he may soon have to move to larger premises to meet the demand.

It seems that Newsround's website picked up on the story when Louis opened the factory, but it wasn't covered on Newsround itself, which is a pity because it's an awesome story especially for kids who've had difficulties at school.

Happy New Year

Friday, December 21, 2007

Showbiz news

Newsround Blog hasn't covered very much celebrity news since Newsround's website did away with their daily celebrity gossip update page in the spring (see blog 20 May 2007). I had previously noticed that the page reported news about straight couples, but never news about lesbian/gay couples or civil partnerships. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the daily gossip page was discriminating against LGBT people and I think that's why they had to stop updating it. Newsround's former editor denied that that was the reason. He insisted that the true reasons were CBBC budget cuts, showbiz news being of less interest to kids than it used to be, and the lack of certainty involved with 'gossip' - in fact just about everything other than what I had suspected.

On Wednesday Newsround reported stories about Lily Allen and Jamie Lynn Spears. This was the news as reported on the CBBC Channel programme at 3.55pm -

Lizo: Now Lily Allen's got something to smile about - she's expecting a baby. (film of Lily smiling at an awards ceremony). The singer says it's early days yet, but she and her boyfriend Ed Simons are thrilled.

(Screen caption: Jamie Lynn Spears pregnant - films of Jamie and Britney)
And there's more baby news from America where Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney's little sister, has told a U.S. magazine she's going to be a mum too. Her baby is due in the summer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

To censor or not to censor?

That was the question for Radio 1 yesterday. An old song containing the words 'slut' and 'faggot' was at the centre of a controversy when the radio station initially thought it was time to cut out the offending words.

But after a day of complaints, Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt (also the BBC's teen tsar) decided he was mistaken to cut out the words, and reversed his earlier decision. Some people believe the song will be number 1 in the Christmas charts. Mr Parfitt said "It is not always easy to get this right, mindful of our responsibility to our young audience. The unedited version will be played from now on.

"While we would never condone prejudice of any kind, we know our audiences are smart enough to distinguish between maliciousness and creative freedom. In the context of this song, I do not feel that there is any negative intent behind the use of the words, hence the reversal of the decision."

The question for Newsround is whether or not to report this Christmas and LGBT-related news story, and I expect the answer will be to keep silent.

So the BBC has decided it can broadcast the lyrics uncut for Radio 1's young audience, but probably won't report the surrounding debate on Newsround because usually - as far as CBBC is concerned - gay is the offensive and unbroadcastable word, not faggot.

Monday, December 17, 2007

As mentioned in my last blog entry 11,000,000 Takeover Day never really took off, but what about young people's organisations like CRAE and the BYC? Newsround doesn't report on their work and events. Why?

And why doesn't Newsround report news from the UK Youth Parliament? After all, in July 2005 Newsround presspacker, Rebecca said that the Youth Parliament helps raise awareness, and bring about positive changes in issues affecting young people. She urged others to get involved.

The answer appears to be the BBC's near abandonment of teenage youth. Although kids aged 11-18 can take part in the Youth Parliament, the BBC is no longer interested in teenagers and has decided that anything relevant to that age group must be kept out of CBBC kids' TV.

On 3 December 2007, some 8 months after Newsround's actual 35th birthday, the programme announced the results from their survey of kids aged 6-12. Here's an extract from the announcement on CBBC channel at 8.25am -

Sonali: It seems that overall most of you are actually feeling pretty good about things. How do we know that? Well today Newsround is releasing the results of a special survey we've done to mark our 35th birthday. It's called 'All About You' and one of the biggest things we found is most of you are happy with your lives and yourselves. We questioned a thousand kids from all over the country and more than 9 out of 10 of you said that you like the way you are, and used positive words like happy, funny and clever to describe yourselves. 7 out of 10 of you also felt that you're having a better time as a child than your parents did. Our survey's findings seem to go against the results of a recent study carried out by the United Nations' children organisation UNICEF. Out of 21 rich countries they ranked Britain the worst place to be a child.

Newsround's main evening programme at 5.25pm on BBC1 didn't mention the UNICEF report (pdf). Some further details of the Newsround survey are given in a BBC press release. The BBC was involved in surveys of young people a year ago. (see blogs on 6 & 9 December 2006)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Whatever happened to 11 Million Takeover Day?

In May, Newsround's website reported the launch of 11 Million Takeover Day and said "It is hoped that kids will be in charge of lots of organisations - and Newsround is taking part." But Newsround's participation was practically doomed from the start.

For Takeover Day to be seen as a legitimate attempt to put children in charge, the BBC would need to allow them editorial control of Newsround for the day. But my previous blog (30 November) showed that CBBC bosses have little trust or confidence in children.

Next we come to the number of children - 11 million. That's the number of children and young people in England aged up to 18. But what about those in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales? Newsround is broadcast throughout the United Kingdom, so it wouldn't be fair to have it run only by English kids, even assuming the BBC had been prepared to allow the editorial takeover to go ahead.

Lastly, organisations taking part were expected to comply with child protection guidelines, including the following -

Always work with children in an open and transparent way. Your actions should be warranted, safe and applied equitably; Respect children at all times, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation. Don’t discriminate or show signs of approval or prejudice

So for a number of reasons there was never any chance of Newsround taking part in the event.

About a week after 11 Million Takeover Day, the Children's Commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, answered viewers' questions on Newsround's website, just as he had done in July 2006 shortly before Newsround's exclusion of 14 and 15 year-olds became apparent.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Three weeks ago a national newspaper exposed another Blue Peter deception which took place in 2005. A competition winner told The Sun that two other "winners" of the competition to put questions to Jon Culshaw were actually from an agency.

The first time this year that Blue Peter was caught cheating, Richard Deverell, Head of CBBC spoke to BBC News (14 March 2007): I'm apologising unequivocally to viewers - particularly children - that this has happened. It's a clear breach of the relationship of trust with audiences. We have to ensure that all our dealings with audiences, particularly with children are open, honest and straightforward.

In response to the latest newspaper allegation, the BBC failed to apologise to Blue Peter viewers and claimed that it often used unpaid volunteers from drama groups.

Richard Deverell said: Our presenter should have made it clear that only some of the children on the show came via the website.

He explained that it was standard practice for producers to form relationships with local schools and drama groups to help pad out audiences and to help prevent other children featured on the programme from being too shy to contribute.

It's something which we'll keep on doing because we need articulate, confident children who will contribute something to our shows, Mr Deverell said.

So in future we expect Zoe or Gethin to say "Here are the six competition winners, but two of them didn't really enter the competition and are just pretending they did," or words to that effect.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Anti-bullying week on Newsround - Part 2

I've remarked once or twice before that Newsround is showing signs of becoming more diverse-friendly. Sports coverage is noticeably less concentrated on England, and there's more on the other Home Nation teams as well.

The programme is more inclusive of women's sports too. There was excellent coverage of the Women's Football World Cup from China, with Jake sent out there to provide live reports.

Newsround is also thoughtful about showing children from other countries. On Saturday we saw Presspacker Julia explain how Thanksgiving is celebrated by American families. Last Wednesday, half way through Anti-bullying week, Adam reported from a Japan about how bullying is different there, and why Japanese children find it very difficult to talk about:

Adam: Well it seems that Japanese school children are under loads of pressure. And even getting people to talk about the issue is pretty difficult. So it looks like the problem of bullying won't be solved in this country for a while yet.

Newsround's web report claims that Japanese people find it a bit rude to say the word bullying in public. This was quite an interesting report because, here in Britain, Newsround doesn't use some words on air. Any regular Newsround viewer might gain the impression that being lesbian or gay is unmentionable.

So although Newsround is more diverse-friendly than it used to be, it looks like the problems of prejudice and discrimination won't be solved for a while yet.

Coming soon: Whatever happened to 11 Million Takeover Day?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Anti-bullying week on Newsround - Part 1

Anti-bullying week was mentioned on last Monday's Newsround at 3.55pm (CBBC Channel only). A short excerpt from BeatBullying's YouTube video appears on Newsround's website. As we have come to expect from Newsround, the opportunity to oppose homophobia or homophobic language was missed.

The Newsround clip starts with Girls Aloud and Ronan Keating.

Girls Aloud This year more than 20 people will take their own lives in the UK alone because of bullying. It's not funny.

Ronan Keating: If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, well then don't post it online.

But Scott Mills denouncing "gay" as an insult, which follows Ronan Keating in the YouTube video is not included in the Newsround edit.


Only just over two months till LGBT History Month. The pre-launch event is tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

BBC test

Michael Gove, the Conservative shadow Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools was interviewed last month by Pink News. Amongst the points raised was:

As a social element rather than a sexual element, there is what is called the BBC test. When a footballer gets married, (Children's BBC news programme) Newsround can't shut up about it. When Elton John or John Barrowman from Torchwood gets 'married,' they couldn't possibly mention it because it has moved away from being a social thing to a sexual thing.

And on 7 November 2007 at Equity's first Diversity Conference, Stonewall's CEO, Ben Summerskill criticised BBC programming for failing to reflect the broad make-up of its licence fee payers. (see blog 10 November 2007)

He said: “I have always been a huge advocate of the BBC and I do think it has served historically as a cultural glue for so many people in this country. But I think it is putting the opportunity of continuing to do that in peril if it does not properly engage and portray the way Britain is in the 21st century, rather than the way a small number of people at the top of that organisation imagine it might be.” (see blog entries on 10 August 2007 & 11 October 2007)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Newsround's ethos

At the start of my blog dated 6 November 2007 I quoted a Newsround report about two red pandas kissing. And I went on to say that it was nice to see Newsround cover the story without the usual heteronormative slant. Newsround, it seemed, was becoming more diverse-friendly.

But it looks like there is still quite a way to go.

At the Order of the Phoenix DVD press launch, Newsround's Lizo asked about Ron's new girlfriend, Lavender, in the forthcoming sixth HP film. For some reason Newsround didn't cover the cast reactions to JK Rowling's comment about Dumbledore's sexuality.

In a Newsround exclusive on Tuesday, the programme revealed that Lavender would be played by Jessie Cave -

Ellie: Meet the girl who'll spend most of the next Potter film snogging Rupert Grint....

And on Newsround's website: Jessie, 20, must be the envy of lots of girls. In playing Lavender, she gets to kiss Ron Weasley (played by Rupert Grint) a LOT!

I'm told that Newsround would have no qualms about covering an LGBT-related story on TV provided the item fitted with the programme's ethos. I am still trying to work out the nature of Newsround's ethos, apart from its evident heteronormativity.

Newsround press pack reports have included kids who get picked on or bullied:
Don't call me names because I wear glasses - Sophie doesn't think it's right that you get called names if you wear glasses.

I'm bullied because of braces - Press Packer Simone has braces on her teeth. And she has been getting a hard time about it from other kids.

I am happy with the way I look - Some kids used to call Amy names because she was bigger than them. It made her feel really sad inside.

I'm proud of being ginger! - Catherine thinks it's wrong when other children call her mean names just because she's a redhead.

But would Newsround be equally OK with a Press Packer saying:

I'm bullied for being gay

In today's prejudiced society, not helped by the BBC's non-inclusiveness, a press packer intending to do a report like that would need to weigh up the potential consequences of disclosing their affections on TV. Yet the BBC has no qualms whatsoever about encouraging young kids to talk about their straight affections or relationships on CBBC programmes (blog 12 November 2007).

Why shouldn't LGBT kids be treated fairly? After all, the BBC says it must be inclusive.

Newsround should take special care to consider LGBT diversity in all editorial decisions (blogs 11 & 13 February 2006). They should report news about combatting homophobia and homophobic bullying in schools, for example the ChildLine Casenotes last year (blog 30 August 2006). I would like to think this approach would be entirely in accord with Newsround's ethos.

Next week is Anti-bullying week (19-23 November) - an opportunity to find out whether the BBC is serious about its diversity policy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Newsround report on CBBC channel, 8.29am this morning:

Sonali: A man in India has married a female dog. Really - I'm not kidding. The wedding took place at a Hindu temple in the state of Tamil Nadu. (video of wedding ceremony) In the past the groom had killed two other dogs and believes he's been cursed since then. He thinks that getting married to this dog will get rid of that curse.

(screen caption: Be a Presspacker)

Sonali: Now if you've got anything bugging you that you'd like to report on for Newsround, we want you to get in touch. Here's how.

(video featuring past presspackers and Lizo explaining how to get involved)

Monday, November 12, 2007

CBBC and sexuality

Newsround this evening yet again missed an opportunity. Lizo interviewed three members of the Harry Potter cast but failed to ask anyone what they thought about JK Rowling's comment that Dumbledore was gay. Instead the interview included Lizo asking about Ron's new girlfriend, Lavender, in the sixth HP movie.

CBBC continues to cover sexuality despite repeated denials from BBC managers. Here are three extracts from CBBC programmes last week:

'Best of Friends' shown on the CBBC channel Monday 5 November, 4.30pm :-

Friends - Joe, Matthew, Miles, Nathan, Richard
Presenters - Michael "Abs" Absalom and Rani

Rani: Let me find out a little about you, Nathan.
Nathan: Hello
Rani: (enthusiastically) Ladies' man! Tell us about it?
Nathan: Well I can be a bit, but I try not to.
Abs: How many girlfriends have you got at the moment then if you're a ladies' man?
Nathan: Just the one at the moment.
Abs: Oh, just the one.


'Best of Friends' shown on the CBBC channel Tuesday 6 November, 4.30pm :-

Friends - Amy, Becky, Natalie, Ryan, Savin
Presenters - Michael "Abs" Absalom and Rani

Abs: Let's meet today's team. Hi guys.
All: Hello
Abs: Now this is Becky. You'd like to go on a date - not just with one person, not with two people, but three people. Who?
Becky: erm Robbie Williams..
Abs: Yeah
Becky: David Beckham and Justin Timberlake.
Abs: Wow, what a date.


Abs: Ryan, apparently you fancy Becky here, don't you?
Rani: Ahhh.
Ryan: (smiles and nods in agreement)


'Prank Patrol' shown on the CBBC channel Wednesday 7 November, 5.30pm :-

Presenter - Barney Harwood

Barney: (speaking to James) Let's find out a bit more about this Henry. Then we'll talk about his prank afterwards. Here he is.
(video of Henry and James begins)
Barney: (voiceover) James and Henry have been mates since Year 6. They both share a love of football and support the same team - Manchester United. (cheering crowd on sound track) C'mon the Reds. Henry is into computers, MSN-ing and dating girls (wolf-whistle on sound track).
(video shows Henry and a girl looking fondly at each other, kissing noises on sound track)
Barney: (voiceover) James says that Henry has a different girlfriend every week (photos of girl blowing Henry a kiss) and loves to rub his face in it. I think it's time we arranged Henry a date with the Prank Patrol.
(video ends and Barney chats to James)
Barney: Well he's a bit of a Casanova isn't he? I think he needs taking down a peg or two here, James. Talk to me. What have you thought about for his prank?
James: I want to get him messy. (sound effect)
Barney: Ah, I like mess. Why?
James: Because he's so worried about his appearance because he wants to look best in front of girls (another wolf-whistle sound effect).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On 30 October 2007 I contacted the BBC to ask about diversity on BBC programmes. I said that I was particularly interested in diversity in the BBC main drama - EastEnders.

A response from the BBC's continuing drama department pointed out the BBC has led the way in boosting minority representation in drama. And they said that they aim to fully reflect the diverse make-up of the UK.

Minority percentages were provided for four BBC dramas, detailing the regular cast and the guest cast, but it was made clear that figures don't include "disability, an area where we still need to do more work." A follow-up enquiry revealed that they "do not currently monitor for lgbt on screen portrayal."

It's recently been reported that a new gay character will be introduced into EastEnders next year. It will be Ian Beale's brother-in-law.

But if the BBC really want to fully reflect the diverse make-up of the UK, there will be three or four lgbt characters on EastEnders at any one time, and we will have a chance to see some of them come out to friends and family. (blog 12 July 2006)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Here is a short item broadcast last Thursday on Newsround, 5.25pm on CBBC1

(Film of two red pandas kissing, kissing and kissing some more)
Ellie: "These bear friends just can't get enough of each other. The two red pandas have lived together in the same cage at a zoo in Tokyo for 8 years but the romance clearly isn't dead. According to keepers they're smoochier than ever. Ahh!"

Nice to see a Newsround report like this, but without the usual heteronormative slant.

I mentioned in my blog dated 1 October 2007 that Newsround has become a more diverse-friendly and less London-centric programme.

In a speech to the Royal Television Society on 1 November 2007, Head of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, argues the need for a more diverse-friendly BBC:

All of my previous work, and especially the inquiry I led into the role and funding of local government, as well as my long association with urban regeneration, has convinced me that diversity both within and between local communities is a source of strength rather than weakness – and that the UK will become stronger the more it recognises and builds on that diversity. The BBC can and should help with this. ...

I have spent much time in my first six months going around the country listening to different audiences and one of the issues constantly raised is that people want to see their lives reflected in BBC output – they want to be represented. And many people don't think the BBC does a good enough job of this. ...

Audiences are telling us that the BBC is still too London-centric – and that has to change. The BBC has to deliver value to all its licence fee payers, wherever they live. ...

For the BBC to discharge its public purposes, to realise its own potential and to respond to this big challenge I have outlined tonight, it must reach all parts of the population, whatever their age, wherever they live, whatever their ethnic background, whatever they are interested in. ...

On behalf of the Trust – and more importantly on behalf of the people who own and pay for the BBC – I have outlined some very high expectations of the BBC. I have no doubt that the BBC has the creativity, the talent and the commitment to make the changes necessary to fulfil them.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Clarity and honesty - Part 2

When, on 11 September 2007, I informed Mark Thompson about the discriminatory filtering of messages on CBBC, I was surprised to receive such a muddled explanation.

I had pointed out, amongst other things, and in case he was not aware, that Newsround has been systematically and covertly discarding feedback from 14 and 15 year-olds.

The reply I got said that the CBBC channel (including CBBC on BBC One) and all its programmes "are now aimed at children aged from 6 to 12" and, I was told, that explains why Newsround "does not normally publish comments from those aged 13 or above."

The reply doesn't hold water for two reasons:

1] CBBC has been aimed at 6-12 year-olds for several years, but 14 and 15 year-olds have only been cast aside recently - after 'Creative Future' was unveiled.

2] Newsround routinely publishes comments from those aged 13.

The DG hasn't yet attempted to explain the discrepancies. His policies, announced on 25 April 2006, seem to have resulted in an underhand attempt to drive viewers away from CBBC in preparation for the new teen 'brand' - BBC Switch.

Someone must have deliberately instigated this discriminatory policy, and Newsround Blog will try to find out who it was. But whether or not the culprit is identified, Mark Thompson, having been informed, now bears responsibility.

Often people at the BBC make very clear statements. Take this one for instance: I have never been involved in a deception of the public. Nothing equivocal about that, but just to make sure why not follow by saying It would just never have occurred to me (see blog 31 July 2007)

But without honesty the clearest statements become meaningless. And that's why the BBC has a serious problem - an ethos of dishonesty emanating from the highest levels of management.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Clarity and honesty - Part 1

Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, says that in an age of scrutiny the public demands clarity and honesty from the BBC.

So, is EastEnders part of the BBC's new teen 'brand' - BBC Switch?

If it is, will the programme be shown with the BBC Switch logo in future? If it's not part of the teen 'brand' then why is it currently linked to on the BBC Switch webpage ?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The BBC's derisory teen 'brand' BBC Switch was hardly off the launch pad when it turned out that 'Delivering Creative Future' will result in even less funding. We are told the new plans for the Corporation are to "radically reduce duplication." So what was the point of the BBC inventing a new teen 'brand' in the first place? And why on earth are they so determined to push teens away from a perfectly good existing 'brand' - CBBC ? The answers I've received so far simply don't make sense.

When, last week, Newsround's website reported JK Rowling's comments about the fictional character of Dumbledore, it was the first time in about five and a half years that any lgbt-related news topic had been included. The report was still appearing occasionally in the website's top three 'most popular stories' for several days after its first appearance.

Despite the interest, no web feedback page was started and no discussion of the story appeared on Newsround's In The News messagebaord. Some messages were allowed through by the moderators on the Harry Potter board - quite a few saying how shocked they were.

Of course one of the reasons that children expressed shock is because of a low level of understanding about diversity, sadly made worse by CBBC's reluctance to adhere to the BBC commitment to be inclusive.

Newsround's web report was a small step forward, but a lot more needs to be done to make up for the lost ground of past non-inclusiveness. Their resident Harry Potter expert, Lizo, could have covered the story. Maybe there should be a press pack report from a Harry Potter fan, talking about the way they and their friends and family reacted to the news that Albus Dumbledore is gay.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Eighteen creative future months

There is a special BBC channel aimed for 0-6 year old children. And then there is another BBC channel which the BBC says is intended for 6-12 year olds.

When Richard Deverell was asked on Newsround what the BBC was doing for teens he replied that the BBC would hopefully launch some new services "in the near future." That was almost a year and a half ago.

In the year and a half since 'Creative Future' was unveiled on 25 April 2006, the BBC has done its level best to exclude teens from CBBC - except for those it needs to participate in projects such as the real life Serious series, where the dangers would be too great for under 12 year-olds.

The new BBC teen 'brand' BBC Switch has launched. Jana Bennett, Director BBC Vision, said: "I am incredibly proud of the work being done by Andy Pariftt and his team, it is great to have this project as part of BBC Vision."

So what's to be proud of? A couple of cosmetic changes to Radio 1 and an imported soap (no longer in production) followed by a new music programme on BBC2 on Saturday afternoon. That's basically it.

BBC Switch? BBC Switch-off, more like! Not surprising that the BBC made so little of this teen 'brand' launch.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The truth is coming out

Many children are frightened to 'come out' because they're aware of a pervasive prejudice against lgbt people. And it was probably that same prejudice which prevented JK Rowling making her characters anything other than heterosexual, at least as far as Harry Potter readers were previously aware. But it now seems Albus Dumbledore, in The Deathly Hallows, was alluding to his romantic feelings towards another wizard when he said "You cannot imagine how his ideas caught me, Harry, inflamed me."

JK Rowling told an audience in New York that Dumbledore is gay.

In response to applause from her audience in Carnegie Hall, JK said "I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy." I wonder whether the entire audience was happy, and I wonder if JK would have really risked writing anything which could have cost a lot of book sales, especially in America.

There have been many negative comments on the internet, asking questions like "do we need to know his sexuality?" or saying "too much information." When the Daily Mail reported JK Rowling's remarks, she received little support from readers. "Time to put the books in the bin," said one.

Of course we don't really need to know a wizard's sexuality, but that's never the reaction to all the straight relationships in children's books and, in fact, on children's television too. And when you ask: why not cover other relationships, the answer is always something like "we don't do sexuality for kids." But you only need to watch, say, the ending of the latest episode of CBBC's The Sarah Jane Adventures (The Warriors of Kudlak - repeated on BBC1 next Monday) to see that this answer is a lie.

Heteronormative attitudes hide the truth about human diversity from young people. This can cause worry and distress about their own feelings. But ultimately these attitudes are destined to founder.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

It seems Dumbledore was gay. What a shame that JK Rowling didn't make that clear in any of her seven Harry Potter books. Better late than never, I suppose. And JK Rowling's remarks were reported on Newsround's website.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mark Thompson answered questions about his plan called 'Delivering Creative Future' in a live interview on BBC News24 yesterday afternoon. Amongst other things he defended Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, and he ended the interview by saying "my view is we have to be very open, very honest, we have to confront our issues, but we have to live up to the standards of clarity and honesty which the public demand of us."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Walking with dinosaurs

Mark Thompson is expected to announce job cuts at the BBC. Never mind - there is still a creative future ahead, he says in an Aerial interview reported yesterday.

On 18 July 2007 he told BBC staff I have never been involved in a deception of the public. And the same evening on Newsnight he said Deceiving the public is never the right thing to do. (blog dated 31 July 2007) And now he says RDF behaved "disgracefully" over the Queengate affair.

Mark Thompson is well aware of the surreptitious practice regarding Newsround message feedback. I informed him about it some time ago, and so far he's dithered, seemingly content for it to continue as part of his so-called 'Creative Future' (blog 13 September 2006). Yet he knows that the BBC isn't keeping to its own diversity policy and he's aware that kids are still being treated shabbily.

Jana Bennett the BBC 'Director of Vision' was criticised in Will Wyatt's report into the “A Year with the Queen” documentary, more commonly known as the Crowngate or the Queengate affair.

Ms Bennett has either changed her mind recently and is now in favour of LGBT equality, or she was less than honest when she told a conference in summer - We help children understand themselves and their relationships in all their rich complexity and in particular, understand their world – begin to fathom their navigation of relationships, their situation, through the experience of others whom they can relate to.

In actual fact last month the BBC removed "everything you need to know about growing up" which formed the Your Life section of CBBC's website. Why was the advice removed? Why is the BBC not bothering with children aged 14 and over? Only last week, Ofcom pointed to the fact that pre-school and younger children are better served than older children.

If there are to be any BBC job cuts, why not the talented but vastly overpaid Jonathan Ross along with his utterly hopeless house band - Four Poofs and a Piano.


BBC chief finds there's plenty to celebrate says The Mail:-

As he finalises plans to cut up to 2,800 jobs in a £2billion economy drive, BBC director general Mark Thompson could have found a better time to jet off for a lavish party in Bombay. At an estimated cost of £12,000, I am told Thompson and three of his fellow executives will be among 200 guests at a cocktail party and banquet tonight to celebrate the BBC's success in India. The jaunt is bound to infuriate BBC staff, who are on tenterhooks as they wait for Thompson to say where his axe will fall next week.

"He is getting rid of thousands of staff," says one. "Yet he is swanning off around the world for a party."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ofcom's report into children's TV was a useful snapshot of the present situation. Parents, it says, regard public service programming for children as very important, but less than half think it is being delivered satisfactorily, especially in reflecting a range of cultures and opinions from around the UK.

This blog has concentrated on some of those failings. Certainly CBBC is not properly reflecting the reality of UK society, and the fact that CBBC is deliberately alienating some kids is totally unfair. The Ofcom report puts it like this: Parents are relatively content with provision for pre-school and younger children, but want more drama and factual programming for older children and young teenagers.

I discovered proof that the BBC was binning teenagers' feedback just over a year ago and wrote about it in my blog dated 13 September 2006. Despite being brought to the BBC's attention they took no notice.

So the BBC has to explain why, almost as soon as 'Creative Future' was unveiled, did they decide to axe an important contribution to UK children's TV drama - Byker Grove. Richard Deverell went out of his way to explain the decision on Newsround in May last year, but from what he said it seemed that he was not, himself, responsible for the decision.

Newsround, the most watched programme on children's television, didn't give any airtime or web coverage to Ofcom's report.

More on the Ofcom report another time.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Government guidance on bullying

On 21 September 2007 the Government issued new guidance to deal with homophobic bullying and cyberbullying. (see blog 23 September 2007). I asked Newsround why they had only reported on cyberbullying, and they answered that the focus of the guidance was cyberbullying. So they thought "empowering children offering them practical tips how they can combat cyberbullying themselves" was the most responsible way to cover the story.

I pointed out that the BBC is committed to inclusiveness, and that there are special problems associated with homophobic bullying which need to be tackled - otherwise some, but not all kids would be helped. These problems are discussed in a ChildLine Casenote (pdf file), published 29 August 2006. That, too, wasn't properly reported by Newsround at the time (blog 30 August 2006). However the previous Government guidance on cyberbullying was the first item reported on Newsround last year (BBC1, Tuesday 25 July 2006). And whilst their website bullying guidance already covers cyberbullying, there is no mention of homophobia or homophobic bullying.

Recently Newsround has become a more diverse-friendly programme. It is less London-centric, and it seems to be addressing respect for people's differences. But there is still some way to go, and so far they haven't made up for many years of lost ground on reporting relevant lgbt news.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Blue Peter cat apology

Anyone who saw Zoe and Konnie apologise for the Blue Peter cat-naming competition irregularities could be wondering if the apology was sincere.

Smugness, rather than contrition, was the order of the day. Blue Peter viewers weren't given any explanation for what happened, and instead the programme imagined it could clear the air by introducing another kitten - this time called Cookie. They weren't even prepared to let kids choose a name this time round. 'Socks' still bears the name not chosen by the majority who took part in the poll last year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tim Levell is the new editor of Blue Peter, and good luck to him. Of course, there was no excuse for mistakes already made, but I think the BBC has been quite harsh on Richard Marson, the programme's former editor.

Richard Deverell - so it's been reported - was told to sack him after it emerged that a poll of Blue Peter viewers was ignored. But doesn't Mr Deverell himself share the same condescending attitude to kids which led to the Blue Peter errors? And doesn't he back up the current de facto CBBC discrimination policy against lgbt and older kids. After all, their views are still being ignored on feedback and messageboards.

Why was the 'Your Life' section (Everything you need to know about growing up) removed from CBBC's website? (blog 28 August 2007) Jana Bennett said "We help children understand themselves and their relationships in all their rich complexity..." but could it be that she was the person ultimately responsible for removing the help?

Richard Deverell asked kids to trust CBBC (blog 21 September 2007), but first he should show that CBBC has earned that trust.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Friday new bullying guidance was published by the Government. This is how Newsround reported it at 5.25pm on BBC1 -

Sonali: Beating the cyberbullies - Schools are urged to do more to protect you. ... First to a big problem for many of you - cyberbullying. Lots of children are having their lives made a misery by hi-tech bullies, and today the Government said schools should do more to tackle the problem. Teachers are going to be given advice on how to stop it. Here's Adam with more.

Adam: Thank you Sonali. So what is cyberbullying? Well it's anything nasty that's sent to you on your mobile. It could be cruel comments while you're on Instant Messenger. Or it could be vicious videos of you that are posted on websites. The Government also says that if you log on and check out people being bullied online, then you're making the problem even worse....

Adam: Well the Government has released a special video that's going to be sent to your school. And they're going to be telling teachers to do more and have a school policy to sort out problems with cyberbullying. Now earlier on today I got the Government to email me over some tips about what you should do if you're a victim of cyberbullying.

1} Don't reply to any nasty messages.
2} Keep all the messages so that someone can help you out.
3} Tell someone - let a parent or teacher know as soon as possible.
4} Keep all passwords secret.
5} Don't give out any personal information (like birthday, phone number or address)

Then, later in the programme we saw a clip from the DCSF video which is being sent to schools along with guidelines for teachers. We saw Ed Balls ("the top politician who's in charge of looking out for kids") say:-

Every child should be able to go to school and travel home free from bullying of any kind. And we have new challenges with the internet and mobile phones which we also need to address. Our guidance will help parents and schools, and young people themselves, face up to this problem and stamp it out once and for all.

On the DCSF Government website Ed Balls points out that teachers often feel ill-equipped to address homophobic bullying, and that bullied pupils are uncomfortable about reporting the problem. "Homophobic insults," he says, "should be viewed as seriously as racism. We must uphold every child’s basic right to learn in a safe and secure environment, free from bullying."

I understood that they might possibly feature a presspacker from an lgbt family covering a suitable newsworthy story, but Newsround failed to report the guidance dealing with homophobic bullying for primary and secondary school teachers. It wasn't reported on Newsround's website either, so I will write to them tomorrow to find out why it wasn't covered.

There is also Stand up for us which was announced during Anti-bullying week 2004.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Richard Deverell, Head of CBBC, interviewed by Lizo on 20 September 2007

Yesterday Newsround reported the Blue Peter story mentioned in my previous blog. Sonali explained the events which led to the deception. (Thursday BBC1 5.25pm) In her report Sonali said that "The name that won the vote was, in fact, 'Cookie' but for reasons that are still unclear, your votes were ignored ..."

Following Sonali's report, Lizo interviewed Richard Deverell about the incident -

Lizo: Well this is the man in charge of CBBC. Richard, what do you have to say about the situation?

Richard Deverell: The most important thing to say is I'm very sorry. It shouldn't have happened. It was a bad mistake and I'm very sorry it did happen. And we're clearly taking a number of steps across the whole of CBBC to make sure this sort of thing never happens again.

Lizo: Now this isn't the first time that CBBC has been accused of misleading children. What do you say to kids who think they just can't trust CBBC any more?

Richard Deverell: Well I hope they don't feel that, and I would ask them to trust CBBC. We've looked back over three years of programmes - we do a lot of programmes - we found three mistakes in that period, of which this is one. Now clearly that's three too many, but the vast majority of the programmes we make are absolutely trustworthy, and I hope going forward they'll all be trustworthy.

Lizo: Well thanks for joining us today, Richard.

Richard Deverell: Thank you.

More about this soon.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More CBBC shenanigans

The MediaGuardian reports that former Blue Peter editor, Richard Marson, is understood to have been suspended by order of senior management after another instance of viewer deception on the programme during his stewardship. Staff at the BBC were said to be in shock following the decision.

A competition to name the Blue Peter cat resulted in a name which was deemed inappropriate for kids. The name eventually given to him was Socks

Maybe this will be reported on Newsround or its website.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Newsround has been making the blogosphere recently, but it's not about the programme's discrimination against lgbt and older kids - it's all about Newsround's web coverage of the events surrounding 11 September 2001.

I was looking up Newsround on Google News and came across a Telegraph piece written in time for the start of the new school term. It's about staying safe on the web and I think it has some sensible advice for parents and kids. One surprise, though, was finding some remarks taken from a discussion about the dangers of chatrooms. The surprise wasn't anything the kids said, it was their ages.

According to the Telegraph, Kelly aged 14 from Kent said If you don't give out personal details, then you are safe. And ignore people who are rude and Jackie from Perthshire (also aged 14) commented People have often asked to meet me while I've been in a chatroom, but I just ignore them and log off

Could it be true that Newsround has given a voice to two 14 year old kids? So I checked the website and found that the feedback was from way back in 2003. That explained everything. If they'd posted anything this year, it would be consigned to the digital waste bin.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Now it's time to visit the most important man in the country for children, apart from your own dad. He's the Children's Commissioner and it's his job to stick up for us kids."

Those are the words of 15 year old Billy Gould at the start of a video interview with Sir Al Aynsley-Green which can be seen on the Commissioner's website. In August presspacker Jasmine, 10, took part in a three-day event to help find out the best way to help young people in the country. Kids (up to the age of 18) had to decide what issues were of most concern to them and vote how some money will be spent by Sir Albert.

The Children's Commissioner for England has called for more funding for voluntary sector mental health organisations. One in ten children aged 5 to 16 has a mental health problem at any one time. (also see blog 2 September 2007)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Amy's press pack report

Three weeks ago presspacker Catherine told viewers about being picked on because of her ginger hair (see blog 22 August 2007). Today we heard from presspacker Amy, 10, who used to be picked on because of her size.

Newsround BBC1 - 11 September 2007 @ 5.30 pm


Ellie: Are you worried about the way you look? Well, presspacker Amy wrote to us because she used to get upset about her body shape. But she's not letting it get her down any more. Here's her report.

(Amy, seen in a reflection from a distorting fairground mirror)

Amy: Hi, I'm Amy. I used to be really worried about the way I look. (Amy faces camera) Because I was being bullied about my body size. Some kids in my class called me names because I was bigger than them. (Screen caption: Amy used to get bullied) It made me feel really sad inside. I may not weigh the same as a stick insect but over the last year I've really changed my mind about my shape. When I was in Year 3 and 4 I didn't have any friends, but now I do. (Amy is seen playing with friends) They've really helped me feel more confident about myself.

Amy ( to Kym, 10, on her left): When I was getting bullied you were the one I could turn to. Why did you want to be my friend?

Kym: I didn't like leaving you somewhere and getting picked on and upset.

Amy (to Peggy, 10, on her right): And do you think it would be better if I was thinner?

Peggy: Not really because you're not exactly the same if you were to be thinner would you - it would be weird.

Amy: Lots of people think that if you're a bit bigger you just sit around eating junk food all day. That's not true. (Amy is seen preparing a fruit salad) I love cooking. I always eat lots of fruit and veg and other healthy stuff. (Screen caption: She eats lots of good stuff) I keep really active too. (in karate class) I've been doing karate for a year now. Doing exercise makes me feel really good about myself. If people call me names now it wouldn't bother me because I like the way I look. This is Amy reporting for Newsround in Suffolk.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

CBBC relaunch

After a few rough patches the CBBC relaunch is more or less complete. Some of the best features are the new CBBC continuity studio and presenter Ed Petrie with his sidekick Oucho the cactus. It would have been better for Oucho to be a gay cactus just to prove that CBBC is inclusive. But fairly early on he revealed that he's got a girlfriend.

Some of the new programmes are quite good, including Escape from Scorpion Island which was filmed in Brazil.

The screen logo can be annoying when it moves. Also I preferred the old website which was easier to navigate.

Commercial TV channels are now allowed to advertise gambling so I'm not sure about the arcade machine on CBBC's home page - it might promote the wrong idea. However the most disappointing thing about the website is the loss of permanent growing up advice for kids when the No Problem pages were removed. But fortunately they have kept the Your Life messageboard and questions are still being answered by CBBC's agony uncle. The archive contains his last ten replies to each of seven aspects of growing up.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, last week welcomed delegates to a congress on suicide prevention. Amongst the topics discussed was suicide attempts by children. Professor Carol Fitzpatrick, an expert in child psychiatry at University College Dublin, reported her study which had found that, of the more than 400 children and young people referred to hospital because of attempted suicide, about 10% were aged 11 or under, and some were much younger.

Speaking on Friday, Mary McAleese pointed out that bullying sometimes features in the story of suicide. Speaking to the 24th International Congress on Suicide Prevention in Killarney, Ireland, she said gay people in Ireland encounter a hurtful undercurrent of bias and hostility. “For many it [being gay] is a discovery which is made against a backdrop where, within their immediate circle of family and friends as well as the wider society, they have long encountered anti-gay attitudes which will do little to help them deal openly and healthily with their own sexuality.”

On 13 March 2006 there was a Newsround Extra programme dealing with childhood depression (see blog on 2 April 2006). It was a programme which could have been relevant and helpful, but it's the sort of programme which CBBC is seeming to avoid completely now.

For a while this spring and summer it seemed that CBBC might be beginning to address the kind of problem President McAleese was talking about. The Your Life messageboard had started to include a few posts from lgbt kids or about lgbt-relevant issues (blogs on 24 May & 26 June 2007). Two months later there are very few lgbt messages, and I recently put it to the Head of CBBC that they are being filtered out again.

The day before most kids began the new school term a year ago, CBBC's agony uncle was on TV a few times during the day to help sort out worries and problems sent in by viewers. This year there was no such help.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Checking facts

Newsround on BBC1 yesterday began with a story about the "Black Pearl." Ross, 12, had visited the attraction in Torquay and realised straight away that it was a fake - a different ship altogether. Sonali said "Twelve year old Ross begged his mum to take him to see the ship, and paid £7.50 to get on board." So it seems he paid for his own and his mum's ticket, because according a local newspaper story adults are charged £5 and children £2.50 to board.

On Monday I blogged about Jeremy Paxman's lecture to the Edinburgh International Television Festival. This (YouTube video) is part of what Jeremy Paxman had to say about blogs: The problem with blogs is the same as their strength: they don't operate by conventional journalistic rules about checking facts, and they're unencumbered by any thought that there might be more than one side to a story.

So, in the interest of fairness and truth I have in most cases provided the source data for the facts here, or links to it, so anyone who wishes can check the story.

In Tuesday's blog I said: ".. However in the BBC's attempt to impose more rigid age limits on children's programmes as part of the 'Creative Future' strategy, it will inevitably lose that second option of dealing in reality - both the positive and negative sides of reality. ..."

Thinking about it, there is no reason at all why the loss of reality in programmes is inevitable in those circumstances. Fantasy has its place in programmes as well of course - but it should play second fiddle to reality.

Finally, on the subject of checking facts I misspelled 'Showcomotion' in my last blog.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

New-look CBBC

The new term for CBBC programmes starts next week. Jana Bennett, Director of BBC Vision spoke about children's television in an invited keynote speech to the Showcommotion children's media conference last month. Ms Bennett claimed: We help children understand themselves and their relationships in all their rich complexity and in particular, understand their world – begin to fathom their navigation of relationships, their situation, through the experience of others whom they can relate to. In the conference overview, the speech was described as "Jana Bennett’s evangelic keynote."

But the truth of Jana Bennett's claim is somewhat different. In May last year Richard Deverell was asked to explain the axing of Byker Grove, which annoyed many older kids who felt it was exactly the type of programme they wanted - see blog dated 13 May 2006. Max, a CBBC viewer, said then: surely the BBC needs more shows that relate how hard teenage life is, not less. A year later, on 15 May 2007, Mr Deverell said that CBBC was looking at a modest increase in funding for the children's department, not a decline in funding. We should begin to see the results next week.

The BBC may take the view that things like web videos and YouTube are partly responsible for its difficulty in holding onto audiences. But the reason is also down to the fact that CBBC is starting to lose its sense of purpose, and is moving more and more into a world of fantasy. The success of books like the Harry Potter series may have something to do with this, but despite Potter's popularity millions of kids still appreciate the stark difference between fantasy and reality.

There may be a place for an 'M.I.High', but there should also be a place for the reality of a 'Grange Hill' where some kids starve themselves to look thin, some self-harm or take drugs, families break up and friends fall out. However in the BBC's attempt to impose more rigid age limits on children's programmes as part of the 'Creative Future' strategy, it will inevitably lose that second option of dealing in reality - both the positive and negative sides of reality. Hear no evil and speak no evil seems to be the attitude of mind at CBBC. But will Ofcom even consider such fundamental issues as part of its ongoing review into public service broadcasting? Ofcom say they are looking at the content of kids TV, so we should find out soon enough.

The BBC has pointed out that Blue Peter never set out to cheat its viewers - and I think that's accepted by most fair-minded people. It was, as Ms Bennett says, "a case of bad judgement under pressure of a live programme rather than deliberate attempt to deceive viewers." But the same cannot be said for the BBC's approach to Newsround's viewers. (see eg blog 16 July 2007).

CBBC 'Your Life' Header
Jana Bennett claimed to "help children understand themselves and their relationships in all their rich complexity." However just yesterday I noticed that CBBC's "Your Life" webpage section is being axed. At the top of the page it says "Your life ... everything you need to know about growing up" and now, under that, there is a notice saying "Bye bye for now. Your Life is closing on September 3rd. Aaron will be sticking around, so you'll still be able to get his advice and find the helpline information."

It isn't clear what exactly is going on, but CBBC's web "Your Life" section has dealt with many children's problems recently, and if anything you might think it should be expanded rather than shut down. Yet another example of CBBC retreat from reality, when life issues such as depression and relationship breakdowns are at least as great a problem as they ever were.

Richard Deverell replied in a panel discussion at Showcommotion that CBBC will launch in September with a more simple and coherent brand in response to feedback from children who said ‘There are great fireworks but no display.’ I wonder what that means. We'll get to see very soon now, but on recent form it looks like it's going to be a damp squib.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture

Last week Jeremy Paxman was speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. And making one or two good points, though oddly not a single word of praise for BBC Four. However Paxman was probably mistaken to join the bandwagon of those criticising the BBC Trust. He said: "I know the BBC Trust hasn’t been in the job very long. But it does seem a big disappointment that it appears so far to consider its job to be more to do with chastising the senior management than with preaching a higher social purpose for the organisation." All very well to promote a higher social purpose, but that won't be achievable before cheating and other shenanigans are relinquished at the BBC.

Jeremy Paxman was putting the cart before the horse.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Catherine's press pack report

Newsround BBC1 - 21 August 2007 @ about 5.30 pm


Ellie: Have you ever been picked on because of the way you look? Presspacker Catherine got in touch with us 'cos she's fed up with being called names because of the colour of her hair. Here's her report.

Catherine: Hi, I'm Catherine. There's nothing unusual about me. I'm just a normal ten year old girl, except sometimes I get picked on (she removes her hat) because of this. Yes, I'm ginger. It's not my fault I'm ginger, but so what if my hair colour's different - it's just hair. (Screen caption: Being picked on is horrible) I'm still the same as anyone else.

Me and my brother have red hair and we are proud of it. (Screen caption: You can't help your hair colour) People wouldn't like it if I went around saying (shouts at someone through a megaphone) "oi boring brunette" or "dumb blonde". So why do people pick on gingers?

Dr Angharad Rudkin (child psychologist): All of us want to fit in, we want to be accepted, we want to be part of something. Now if the bullies are pointing out that you're different, you're not going to fit in then that can really upset us. If it is happening to you the best thing to do is not show the bullies that you're worried or upset about what they're doing.

Catherine: Hair colour hasn't stopped Charlie Clements. He's famous for playing Bradley Branning in EastEnders. (Speaks to Charlie) Have you ever got picked on because you're ginger? Charlie: Erm, sometimes. Not overly picked on when I was older, but when I was younger yeah there was a few names flying about at school. Catherine: Has being ginger helped you be a actor? Charlie: Yeah, I suppose it has really. It's helped me get this part definitely. I think in my audition I said something like there's not enough ginger people on TV. And I think thats partly why they gave me the part. So, yeah I suppose it has.

(Screen caption: Some people dye their hair)

Catherine: I know I could dye my hair blonde or brown, but that's not gonna happen. If you've got a problem with gingers keep it to yourself. (Screen caption: Being ginger is great!) This is Catherine, reporting for Newsround from Hertfordshire.

Ellie: Thanks Catherine. And if you've got a story you'd like us to investigate, why not get in touch?


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's almost a month since the BBC's Director-General came clean about their programmes deceiving the public. Mark Thompson said "deceiving the public is never the right thing to do" and "it has to stop." (see blog 31 July 2007)

Newsround wasn't one of the programmes running faked competitions but it is a programme which has been unfaithful to its viewers for quite a while. I asked them what will be done to make the programme inclusive and a reply has been a long time coming. But I hope to know soon if they intend to make any changes, or if they're simply going to carry on as before.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Discrimination on CBBC (continued)

Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as "every human being below the age of eighteen years," unless under applicable law Majority is attained earlier.

Newsround might be improving. Last Tuesday Lil Chris, who's nearly 17, talked about his life and ended by saying "Now you've heard my story, Newsround wants to hear yours. So get onto the website. This is Lil Chris reporting for Newsround."

But ageism, in this case rejection of older teens, is only part of the problem - Newsround still doesn't seem to want to report any lgbt stories.

John Reith, the first BBC Director-General although secretly bisexual himself, had no time for staff who failed to live up to his puritanical standards of morality. The hypocrisy of Reith still lives on in the Corporation. Children's TV personalities today can be gay, but only if they keep silent about it.

A comment left on this blog claimed that Biddy Baxter sacked Michael Sundin for being gay, and not for the reasons she gave Mark Lawson. Whatever the truth, her description in the late 1980's of Michael as "an effeminate whinger" could be suggestive of her inner puritanical motivation for not renewing his contract.

Quite a lot of gay people work for the BBC. At least that's the opinion of Andrew Marr (blog on 24 October 2006) and a well known Member of Parliament (blog on 16 September 2006.) True or not, there is still evidence of lingering prejudice at the Corporation since Biddy Baxter left her job as Editor of Blue Peter. As late as 2003 the BBC's Director of Television, Jana Bennett, expressed consternation that her daughter had even heard the word "lesbian."

In the 1990's some brave attempts were made to change things (see blog 2 June 2007), but all that has fizzled out, and the situation now is probably as dire as ever (except words like 'effeminate' or 'butch' probably wouldn't be used about employees nowadays.)

CBBC's reluctance to embrace inclusiveness and diversity is causing confusion, resulting in mixed signals to kids - that much became clear from the Children's TV on Trial season on BBC4 (see blogs dated 28 & 30 May 2007). The transcript there shows at first the kids were surprised to see gay issues covered on children's tv at all. But then Emily realises this is simply prejudice. All but one of them eventually accept that there's nothing wrong with being gay. Isn't it about time the BBC accepts that also?

Finally, Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child makes clear that children's rights must be protected against all forms of discrimination.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Discrimination on CBBC

The BBC, as the public service broadcaster in Britain, should provide programmes relevant to all children. An Ofcom report in February last year found that young people in the 16-24 year age range have become less likely to watch traditional television services. But despite the fact that young people were deserting TV, on 25 April 2006 - less than two months after Ofcom's report - the BBC's Director-General announced 'Creative Future'. Part of the original policy plan was to narrow the target age range of the CBBC 'brand' (as the BBC like to term it.)

The plan was to add a broadband-based teen service later.

At the time of the Director-General's announcement well over half of Newsround's web responses were coming from children aged 13 and above. Within weeks Richard Deverell, Head of CBBC, announced that Byker Grove was to be axed. Mr Deverell was asked to explain his actions and went on Newsround to answer questions from CBBC viewers.

Several emails asked Newsround why the BBC was concentrating on younger children and ignoring teens. Richard Deverell acknowledged that the BBC knew there was a problem, and said that hopefully in the "near future" they would provide services for 12-16 year olds (see blog 13 May 2006).

That was in May last year.

In August 2006 Tim Levell took over as Editor of Newsround. A survey of feedback in September 2006 indicated very few responses from anyone aged 15 or over. I wrote to the BBC on 14 September 2006 to explain what I had found, but the problem didn't improve. By December 2006 there were hardly any responses put up from children aged 14 or over (see blog 13 December 2006).

Last Wednesday Newsround appealed for viewers to contact the programme -

We're after your stories. It's all part of a survey we're helping to put together into what makes a good childhood. We want to know what you get up to in your spare time. Well in a minute we'll hear Shamona's story, but first let's see what our Gavin's been up to.

(Filmed insert) - What do you like doing? Who do you like to hang around with? Which issues do you care about? How safe do you feel when you're out and about? What do you do to keep fit? Loads of reports say children spend too much time playing computer games, don't exercise enough or eat the right kind of food, or watch too much TV. Now Newsround wants you to put across your side of the story. We want to know about the topics that affect your life. It's all part of a big survey we're doing alongside a charity called The Children's Society. You can tell us what you think, vote online or even send us a photo by going to the Newsround website. Over the next few weeks we want to hear what you get up to, what you love doing and what there is to do in your area. Here's Shamona with her story.... [Shamona then talks about her life, dancing, shopping, friends, keeping safe, internet. She ended by saying "Now you've heard my story, Newsround would like to hear from you. This is Shamona reporting for Newsround."]

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Excerpt from Mark Thompson, BBC Director-General, speaking to his staff on Wednesday afternoon, 18 July 2007:

I joined the BBC in 1979 and spent years working in production. I have never been involved in a deception of the public. It would just never have occurred to me and I know it would never occur to the overwhelming majority of the people watching me this afternoon either.

On Newsnight that evening (BBC2 10.30pm), in a recorded interview, Mark Thompson spoke to Gavin Esler about how he aims to restore trust in the BBC:


Gavin Esler: I asked the BBC's Director-General, Mark Thompson how damaging he thought these cases of deceit really were.

Mark Thompson: I think they're really very serious indeed actually. We've looked at about a million hours of television and radio over the last two and a half years - a vast amount of output. The overwhelming majority of the output we looked at seems to be entirely trustworthy, entirely honest. I believe the overwhelming majority of my colleagues in the BBC have got very high standards, and understand the BBC's values about truth and honesty with the public. We found a small, but totally unacceptable, number of cases where that has broken down. And - not for personal gain, not for reasons of malice, but because of a misguided attempt it would appear in most cases to keep a programme on the air or deal with a production issue - I'm afraid some of our colleagues have done things which are totally unacceptable.

Gavin Esler: Some of these programmes are jewels in the crown of the BBC: Comic Relief, Sport Relief, Children in Need and a World Service programme.

Mark Thompson: What I've tried to do today with all of my colleagues in the BBC, and indeed with our suppliers, is to say this has to stop - it has to stop. Deceiving the public is never the right thing to do. There's no excuse for doing it. And in the end, from now on - I thought this was clear before, but absolutely make it clear now - from now on, if it happens we will show people the door.

Gavin Esler: You've introduced a culture of change into the BBC. There's a lot of young inexperienced producers in the BBC, you've spread too thin doing too much. As Michael Grade put it, people are not being trained properly.

Mark Thompson: We have, and the BBC has always had, a lot of young production staff. It's true on Newsnight, it's true on every programme we make. And I meet young producers and researchers. I also meet young 'indies' who've got very very high values. But I want to say as a result of this relatively small number of instances, I don't want to take any chances with culture or with training. And one of the things I've announced today is you know of the fifteen thousand, sixteen thousand, people inside this organisation who deal with editorial matters, with content, and for our suppliers and for the freelance and casual sectors, we want to make sure that everyone understands what we require, and also what our values are.

Gavin Esler: Have you really got to the bottom of this, or do you think there could be more cases?

Mark Thompson: I don't think we have quite finished. I mean you can appreciate looking at, and trying to understand and trawl through, the volume of content we're talking about is a Herculean task. We have found the overwhelming majority of these cases we have found and we have voluntarily disclosed. If we find more serious breaches of this kind we will disclose them. But I want to say, you know, that process should continue and we should understand exactly why each case happened. If we can make redress or recompense to members of the public if there's any loss in these, we will try and do that as well.

Gavin Esler: There could be compensation?

Mark Thompson: It's possible. The character of many of these "competitions" as they were really quite small scale, often token or even spoof competitions. And we're not talking in any cases about big money, big prize money or anything like that, or indeed about in virtually all cases even premium phone lines. So they are rather unlike some of the other issues which have come up across the industry. But we will do that. At the same time Gavin though, what we also have to do is make sure that we relentlessly put in place all of the safeguards we need, through training through absolute clarity with our editors and our editorial leaders about the fact that compliance with our values is not a kind of nice-to-have or a voluntary option. It is absolutely required. And more than that. It's the duty of the people who lead our production teams to have an eye to the culture of the people in the production team. But also I would say that the other part of this is to support junior members of staff. You know we want to be in a position where if there is a problem - let's say a technical problem with a programme - that any member of the production team feels they can confess there's a problem, they can share the problem, and share it with their boss on the programme, but if necessary share it with the public. It's much better to make a clean breast to the public if it's a problem than think the best thing is to take some Herculean and disastrous you know step into thinking if we deceive the public in some way we'll get away with it.

Gavin Esler: But that makes my point. There's been a management failure. Have you considered your position? Have you considered resigning?

Mark Thompson: I think what I want to say is this. Given the scale of what the BBC does, you know 400,000 hours of broadcast output, millions of web pages every year, we will - the nature of broadcasting, particularly live broadcasting is - we will see some serious mistakes. I think the way to judge me, the way to judge the whole leadership of the BBC is how we react to those mistakes and whether, if we discover weaknesses in our system, we've put things in place to reduce or eliminate those weaknesses entirely. That's what we're going to do. And I will be judged, the BBC Trust have made it very clear to me today that they will judge me and they will judge my colleagues on our success in taking this utterly seriously which I assure you we do. But then over the coming months putting in all the steps in place to make sure that these instances either never happen again - which of course is the ideal - or that that the chances of them happening is reduced to absolutely as small as it humanly can be.

Gavin Esler: Do you accept that the BBC licence fee is based on trust from the British public and tonight many people will be saying why should we trust the BBC?

Mark Thompson: Well I believe that in these instances we've let the public down very badly. What I would say is I hope that the public would also recognise that what we've done today, and what we've done over the last few months is try to be very open and honest about this issue. Both about the fact that it exists, to explore, I think more thoroughly than any other broadcaster I'm aware of, exactly to what extent this problem exists, how widespread it is, and also that we are totally committed to putting this right and in this respect fully winning back their confidence.

Gavin Esler: Thank you very much.

Mark Thompson: Thank you Gavin.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

There was a comment on my previous blog entry. Someone asked about my 'obsession' with Newsround.

Newsround isn't the only programme discussed here. In fact ironically the comment is posted on a blog entry which concentrated on Blue Peter and Biddy Baxter. Sometimes this blog also criticises adult programmes - Jonathan Ross being an example in my blog dated 7 July 2007.

I did choose to deliberately target Newsround because it is a news programme and, as such, should be subject to the same standards of impartiality as other news programmes. Adult news programmes may, as the comment says, be unenlightened when it comes to gay issues, but they do report important lgbt-related items like the introduction of civil partnerships. In addition the main BBC News website usually helps to make up for less important lgbt stories not covered in detail on TV news.

I think that Newsround is in many ways an excellent programme. For example the day after Gordon Brown became Prime Minister most of the 'adult' news programmes were still giving wide prominence to Mr Brown and his Cabinet appointments. Newsround, however, concentrated on the flooding in Hull which was affecting people there in a very real way.

Then on 6 July 2007 Adam was reporting live from Toll Bar, warning kids about the dangers of infection from the flood water. The issue wasn't covered on other programmes at the time. And the report was very well done with Joanne, an expert from the Environment Agency, there to carry out tests and explain the dangers from flood water. Some newspapers only headline the dangers today.

The 'Creative Future' initiative, which sought to narrow the target age range of CBBC's audience (blog 16 July 2007), was a very big mistake. In the case of the flooding news, for instance, is it right that only younger kids, but not teens, should be warned about the dangers of flood water just because the BBC says they aren't part of Newsround's target audience? Isn't the water potentially a danger to kids of all ages?

The point of having a children's news programme is surely that it should be relevant to children, and the problems they face in life and in school. Many young people in Britain were, and still are, affected by flooding, and that's why the programme was right to lead with it in the early days.

ChildLine's report last year made clear that many are affected by homophobia (See blog on 3 September 2006), so why not properly report that story too? The BBC says, in its Statements of Programme Policy 2007/2008 that it has a duty to be inclusive, but it has not lived up to the promise - on Newsround and on CBBC in general. It also says it is "committed to reflecting the diversity of the UK audience." CBBC has actually become less inclusive since the 1990's, and more recently some of the thinking behind 'Creative Future' has only made things worse.

If Newsround is not the issue, then what is?

Only a few days to the start of Pride in Brighton & Hove.

The main event is the Pride Parade on Saturday 4 August 2007. This year the event will include a demo as part of the BYC campaign to Stop homophobia in Poland.

Monday, July 23, 2007

In my blog on 6 June 2007 I mentioned Michael Sundin.

Last week's newspaper headlines were an indictment of the Corporation as a whole after a culture of deception was unearthed. Newsround wasn't one of the programmes directly criticised, but BBC Director-General Mark Thompson has, according to The Telegraph, initiated a compulsory training scheme for all of his 16,500 programmes and content staff which will focus "on the issue of honesty with audiences". The initiative is called 'Safeguarding Trust.'

One of the programmes which was directly criticised is Blue Peter, because of a faked phone-in competition winner last year.

Blue Peter was, for many years, run by Biddy Baxter, and as its editor she was responsible for deceiving viewers. In a recent interview with Mark Lawson she laughed off the "Two Petras" incident: Mark, it was a little puppy, it had made about a thirty second appearance at the end of one programme - in those days the programme was once a week. We were not going to break the hearts of very small children by saying "the puppy's died." That was perfectly okay - I'd stand by that, and I'd do the same again.

Soon the BBC will be spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on integrity training. If the training course doesn't cover the unacceptability of incidents like this, it will be licence-payers money down the drain. Biddy Baxter exemplifies the outdated 'Auntie Knows Best' ethos, and that is where the rot set in.

Later in the Mark Lawson interview Biddy Baxter claimed that Michael Sundin wasn't sacked from Blue Peter for being gay, but because he was "hugely unpopular" and said "his leaving the programme was to do with the fact that children didn't like him, nothing to do with his sexual proclivities."

In April 1985, about a month before Michael Sundin's contract was due to be reviewed/renewed, BBC Children's Programmes, Television asked the Broadcasting Research Department to carry out an urgent study of children's TV presenters. The work needed to be undertaken rapidly, ostensibly for the purpose of helping decisions on the "deployment" of children's TV presenters that Autumn. Results of the research were conveyed back in early May.

Approximately 200 children between the ages of 8 and 13 took part in a telephone survey to assess the presenters from five different Children's programmes: Blue Peter, Newsround, Screen Test, Beat the Teacher and Saturday Superstore. They were asked to rate presenters as follows:

Like as a person: 2 = Like a lot, 1 = Like a little, 0 = Dislike

Rate as a presenter: 2 = Very good, 1 = All right, 0 = Not very good

The survey found that John Craven was considered best presenter (rated 1.69 on Newsround), and Michael Sundin was considered the worst presenter (rated 1.06 on Blue Peter). However Sundin's rating in terms of likability as a person (1.17) was not quite the lowest - that position went to Mark Curry (rated 1.15 on Screen Test).

Michael Sundin's last appearance on Blue Peter as a presenter was on 24 June 1985. One year later Mark Curry, despite the findings of the internal research, became a Blue Peter presenter and remained on the programme for three years.

Excerpt from Mark Lawson's interview with Biddy Baxter

Excerpts from Blue Peter: the inside story by Biddy Baxter and Edward Barnes

Thursday, July 19, 2007

BBC Cheats

Readers of this blog won't be too surprised to read today's newspaper headlines.

You only need read my blogs on 13 and 16 December 2006 to see how young people were cheated by Newsround. And my last entry about the CBBC target audience still shows no feedback from anyone over 13. But when it comes to making Serious Ocean, CBBC doesn't want anyone under 12 years old to take part.

And things are much worse for lgbt kids. Last year BBC Governors acknowledged that 'gay' is widely used by young people to mean 'rubbish.' However Newsround hasn't in recent years done a single thing to combat homophobia. BBC Statements of Programme Policy 2007/2008 says that the BBC must be inclusive, but Newsround has failed to abide by this policy.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people are everywhere in Britain, and they are entitled to be recognised on Newsround NOW!

We all deserve better from you, Auntie

Monday, July 16, 2007

CBBC's target audience

I've criticised Creative Future once or twice before. When Mark Thompson first announced the initiative on 25 April 2006 he said that the CBeebies and CBBC brands will be given tighter audience targets – up to 6, and 7 to 11 years respectively, and he said there would be a broadband based teen brand aimed at 12 to 16 years. The decision, a few days later, to axe Byker Grove, was not well received (see blog 13 May 2006). In autumn 2006 the plans were altered and CBBC now retains the original 6-12 year old target audience.

Having tighter audience targets was a foolish idea from the start because people develop at different rates - some are babyish at 15 and others are like adults at 10. So it was obviously misguided to try to further narrow the target age limits.

It is interesting to note that CBBC is now asking for kids to take part in their next reality exploration series, Serious Ocean, but as with all programmes in the Serious series, applicants must be aged between 12 and 15.

On CBBC Newsround's website, there is still a sharp cutoff in messages (ie none in the sampled data) from kids above 13. Curious eh?

June/July 2007 survey
June/July 2007 survey

Saturday, July 07, 2007

End gay jibes call

Kids who bully gay classmates will be treated like racists, in a crackdown launched yesterday.

New children's minister Kevin Brennan urged schools to protect the 156,000 gay pupils who suffer homophobic jibes.

He blasted Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles for using the word "gay" to mean "uncool" on air. Mr Brennan said: "This is too often seen as harmless banter instead of the offensive insult that it is."

New guidelines will be sent to schools in the autumn. It also emerged £14 million will be spent on teaching kids how to manage their feelings and resolve fights peacefully.

The above story was from page 2 of Friday's The Sun newspaper. Though neither Chris Moyles nor the BBC were actually mentioned by the children's minister, there was little doubt his remarks were a thinly-veiled reference to Moyles's language on Radio 1 last year (see blog 7 June 2006). The story was also covered in other media including The Mail and The Telegraph, but interestingly the BBC itself has so-far failed to report it anywhere. The news report was obviously relevant to Newsround's viewers, but once again the opportunity was missed.

Homophobic language has also been in the news this week when, in the Big Brother house Laura Williams called Liam a "poof." Channel 4 at first claimed the word was used in a non-derogatory context. Then two days later, Laura again compared Liam to a "big poof" apparently knowing it wasn't an appropriate word, but this time she was reprimanded. Laura was told that inappororiate or offensive language was not acceptable in the House and "that would include homophobic language such as poof."

It seems to be slowly dawning on Channel 4 that homophobic language is no more acceptable than racist language. And if the channel wishes to avoid accusations of double-standards it will have to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to both racism and homophobia.

Laura was voted out the Big Brother house last night, but later in the evening Jonathan Ross was on BBC1 with his house band Four Poofs And A Piano. For an organisation which claims "institutional support" for gay people (see blog 18 June 2007), it is sad to see that in reality this "support" amounts to little more than employing gay people as self-deprecating stereotypes or as the target of jokes by Jonathan Ross. Four Poofs And A Piano would not be employed by the BBC but for their offensive band name.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

When, in August last year, ChildLine published its Casenotes report - Calls to ChildLine about sexual orientation, homophobia and homophobic bullying Newsround avoided the subject and merely reported that bullying is reaching record levels. (see blog 30 August 2006). All too often bullies get away with homophobic bullying precisely because the real issue is avoided.

Yesterday in Prime Minister's Questions the Prime Minister said "The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is announcing today a £30 million budget for ChildLine over the next two years, which will enable it to improve its services both to young people affected by bullying, and to all children who need the service of ChildLine. They do need it, and it is a great service." And today Esther Rantzen of ChildLine will be one of the high-profile speakers at an Education for All conference about tackling homophobia in schools. The problem affects thousands of primary and secondary kids, and cannot be ignored.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

London Pride went ahead in very difficult circumstances this year, defying the terrorists' attempts to cause chaos in the capital. Celebrities at the event included John Barrowman and Freema Agyeman as well as some important politicians like Harriet Harman.

Unfortunately a planned screening of Dr Who didn't go ahead, but given that CBBC has given extensive coverage to Dr Who, and also given that Newsround has some considerable ground to make up on equality and diversity, there was little excuse for Newsround's failure to give the Pride event at least a mention.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Homophobia in schools

One of the most senior appointments in the new Cabinet is that of Jacqui Smith - the new Home Secretary.

Newsround failed to report a petition to Jacqui Smith when she was Minister for Schools. The petition was asking for more to be done to stamp out homophobia in schools - (YouTube video) (also see blog 29 December 2005). Let's hope that stories such as this, which are self-evidently relevant, get reported properly on Newsround in future.