Monday, April 30, 2007

BBC Statements of Programme Policy 2007/2008 were finally published online last Wednesday 25 April. There is a firm commitment to be inclusive, as mentioned in my blogs on 18 & 21 April.

The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 came into force today.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says that children must be protected against all forms of discrimination. So now, with everything in place, there are good reasons to hope that Newsround and CBBC will become inclusive.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust was interviewed by Andrew Marr this morning on Sunday AM. Here is a short excerpt from the interview:

Andrew Marr: Your first proper meeting is in the week ahead, as Chairman of this new BBC Trust. How is the Trust going to differ from the Governors? Are you going to be, as it were, more the voice of the viewers and the listeners, and less also speaking for the BBC as an institution? Is that the key?

Sir Michael Lyons: That's absolutely spot on. The new Charter, the new constitution slightly separates what were the Governors, creates the new body which is the Trust. Its first and foremost responsibility is to speak for the public for those people who pay their licence fee, and not to immediately defend actions taken by the BBC staff. So there's a tension and a challenge created...

Andrew Marr (interrupting): Built into it?

Sir Michael Lyons: That's our job to make sure that comes real.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Empowering kids - Part 2

This entry is the second part of the 15 February 2007 blog, where I said we would be comparing some aspects of kids' TV in the UK and in the Netherlands. In this country TV is run by managers, producers, editors etc who nearly always have the main say in what programmes get to be made and how exactly they deal with their subject, whether the programmes are for kids or adults. But in Holland there is kids' TV where kids themselves get to decide what goes into the programmes. It's called Z@ppelin or Z@pp for older kids.

Z@ppelin was started by Cathy Spierenburg and it was her decision that it was important kids should decide for themselves what they watch. That kids should be empowered. Z@pp has its own TV magazine, and it has kids on the "Board of Z@pp Supervisors." There are about 60 children on the Board who meet regularly and make recommendations and give their views on programmes and broadcast times. They have organised a debate between the political parties in the Dutch general election.

These are things that programme makers in this country should look at very seriously, because I think that the Newsround presspacker idea is a good one in principle, where the presspackers themselves should have the major say in what goes into their reports. But I suspect that, at the moment, the presspacker reports are influenced to a significant degree by the people running Newsround.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Kids in school have grown up in a climate where homophobia is the norm. On these matters Children's BBC has - up till now - been silent and non-inclusive, and the consequence is that children have just taken in the prevailing message that being gay is a bad thing.

A draft of the BBC Statements of Programme Policy 2007/2008 makes clear that, in order to successfully contribute to the quality of life in our society as a whole, the BBC must be inclusive. This commitment to be inclusive comes after four years campaigning about invisibilisation etc. The draft version of the Statements says:

The purpose of the BBC

The BBC is a unique institution, owned by the British people and independent of political and commercial interests.

The BBC’s purpose – largely unchanged in 80 years – is to enrich the life of every person in the UK with programmes that inform, educate and entertain.

The BBC is a major force in UK society, contributing through its programmes and services to the quality of life in our society as a whole. But in order to do this successfully, it must be inclusive and also strive to consistently offer value for people as individuals. It should touch people’s lives in ways that contribute fundamentally to their individual enjoyment, self-fulfilment and ability to participate in our society.

There are some early signs of the BBC taking inclusiveness seriously. On Sunday week, 29 April at 8.10am Radio 4 will broadcast a service from an lgbt-inclusive church in San Francisco. That is one day before the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 come into force.

But the BBC will have to do much more than that. They will need to look again at Stonewall's Tuned Out report. Inclusion means not simply gay presenters told to camp-it-up for effect. And not gay characters who appear fleetingly in BBC dramas to cause problems before disappearing.

There must be real representation of lgbt people of all ages, including early teens in the same way that the BBC has always been willing to represent straight kids.

And most important of all, lgbt people must not be invisibilised on children's programmes such as Newsround and CBBC dramas. Messageboards must stop weeding out or editing messages from gay kids, and there should be special advice to help understand developing sexuality.

Newsround is asking kids about their lives. Currently the question is What do you think makes a happy family?

Will they welcome responses about gay families, or responses from lgbt kids? The next few months will tell whether the BBC really intends to meet its firm commitment to be inclusive.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Statements of Programme Policy 2007/2008

The BBC Statements of Programme Policy 2007/2008 will be published in the next day or two. I've had a sneak preview and it seems that rather than use my suggested wording (blog 18 March 2007) the Director-General preferred to amend the next paragraph to make it clear that the BBC must be inclusive.

I had pointed the DG to several instances of anti-gay discrimination which have occurred in the past, and so it will be interesting to see if the BBC keep to this commitment.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Last Tuesday, and again tonight, Newsround advertised its Press Packer competition - Assignment: Interview the Children's Minister.

They suggested a few questions to ask like:

Why is my school closing down?
Can you clean up graffiti?
Why are chips so bad?

And Newsround's website says they're looking for a Press Packer to ask Beverley Hughes MP some tough questions about what she's doing to help young people.

Unfortunately I'm too old to enter this competition. If I was the right age I might ask the minister what she can do to help stamp out homophobia in schools. Or can she do anything to make CBBC inclusive? I don't think it very likely that my type of question would be selected.

Anyone wanting to enter the competition needs to be 12 years old or under, and a member of the Press Pack Club. Then they have to say in no more than 50 words what questions they would like to ask and why. The competition ends Friday 27 April.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Last month British newspapers covered a story about the No Outsiders project. The Daily Mail and its readers were predictably hostile to the idea of gay fairytale books being used in school.

Elizabeth Atkinson, interviewed by John Humphrys on Radio 4's Today programme, easily rebutted all the well-worn criticisms. The interview prompted a piece in the following day's Guardian: It's all over for homophobia.

I think it's a bit too soon to declare it's all over for homophobia. BBC programmes such as Life on Mars are said to be fuelling homophobic attitudes in school. The BBC excuses itself by explaining that the programme is post-watershed, aimed at an adult audience, and that they don't condone the actions of their fictional characters. But the reality is that they know many children watch after 9pm, and if they don't condone prejudiced characters why are they discriminating against lgbt people on CBBC?

CBBC tell me they are reviewing their policies, but if programmes like Newsround don't quickly shed their prejudice and become inclusive, we'll have a long while to wait before homophobia is eradicated.

Listen to interview

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I haven't been watching Eastenders for months. So after this evening's main Newsround report: Speak out about adult bullies I decided to give it another go. Just my luck - that storyline wasn't on tonight.

I was surprised to see that Naomi is back in Eastenders' cast again. I think it's probably because a few people like me were getting sick of the BBC just using lesbian and gay characters for an important story and then spitting them out a few weeks later. Last year I made it quite clear to the BBC what I thought of their anti-gay treatment and I used the short Naomi/Sonia relationship as an example to underline my case in point.

Monday, April 09, 2007

When Lizo introduced the animal rights report last week, he said that being cruel to animals has been illegal for years. It's also true that discrimination against people has been illegal for years, and last Friday the Gender Equality Duty came into effect with the intention to actively promote gender equality in all walks of life. In schools, teachers will need to be more careful not to pigeonhole or stereotype.

Newsround's teachers' section included a lesson plan last year called Career Stereotypes. Currently the teachers' section deals with animal rights based around the news report last week (see previous blog).

So it will be interesting to see how much coverage, if any, Newsround devotes to rights granted by the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations. They come into effect in Britain at the end of April and LGBT Human Rights is one topic about which Newsround has yet to report.

Amongst other things the new laws should mean that bullying against lgbt kids will be dealt with as strictly as racist bullying - that means a real change for many schools which have condoned homophobia in the past.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Yesterday's Newsround, presented by Lizo, included an informative report about the new animal rights law which comes into force tomorrow.

Lizo introducing the programme yesterday: "Hi there, this is Newsround. Here's what's going on today. Released - the British sailors held hostage in the Middle East are let go. We've got the very latest. Plus, animal rights - the new laws for all pet owners. Hi there, but first to Iran ...."

The longest news report was about the new law on pets. The item began 3 minutes into the programme:-

Lizo: Next, to protecting our pets. Being cruel to animals has been illegal for years, but now people who don't care for their pets properly could be in just as much trouble. New laws which come into force in England on Friday will mean the age limit for buying a pet will rise from twelve to sixteen. There'll be bigger punishments and more protection for animals who are cruelly treated. And pet owners will now have a legal duty to properly care for their animals. Well Laura has spent a day with a family who have just collected their new pet dog, and finding out what the new rules will mean for them.

(Filmed report: Laura in a field walking with dog on a lead)

Laura: This is Max, a five year old German Shepherd. He doesn't know it yet, but today he's going to get a new home. Ella, Sam and Jack have managed to persuade their parents that they want a dog and today they've come to take Max home with them. They needed their parents' permission because from the end of this week the new age for buying a pet in England and Wales is sixteen.

(close-up of sign - "RSPCA Welcome to Leybourne Animal Centre")

Jack, 12: It's going to be really fun I think. I can't wait till when he's really sleepy and just falls asleep on your lap.

Ella, 10: There's loads of responsibilities for him, like loads of work.

Sam, 12: I'm most looking forward to taking Max for long walks and giving him exercise.

Laura: Max ended up at this RSPCA shelter because his owner just couldn't look after him any more, but lots of other animals are here because their owners abused them or didn't look after them properly.

Screen Caption "Max's owner went into hospital"

Laura: But now a new law about to come into force will make sure that all pet owners know all about their responsibilities and make sure that they stick to them.

(Dogs barking)

Screen Caption "Animals will have more rights"

Laura: As well as increasing punishment for people who seriously harm animals, all owners will now be legally responsible for their care too.

Screen Caption "Time to get Max home"

Laura: Meanwhile it's time for Max to see his new home. And Steve, from the RSPCA, has come along to explain how he, and other pets, can be properly cared for.

Steve Dockery: As you can see from Max's environment he's got somewhere comfortable to lay. The area is clean tidy and secure. There's no hazards at all for him. He's got somewhere to go and run and express normal behaviour. Very important that he's got access to water all the time and an adequate diet.

Laura: Well, so far so good. Everyone seems to be getting on well, which is a good start so I'm going to leave Max to settle in with his new family.

Screen Caption: "Max seems to be settling in well"

Viewers' feedback:
What do you think about the new pet laws?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Newsround sometimes carries some interesting press pack reports. Last Wednesday the first item on Newsround was a report from Sumaiya about modern-day slavery. Newsround's In The News discussion board included a topic on apologising for the Slave Trade. Some board users did not feel the need to apologise for what happened 200 years ago.

PlantyPie (U5956849) remarked in Message 6:

If there gana apogise for that might as well apogise for all the kids in the victorian times who had to sweep chimmneys,or all the kids Nike have got making trainers.And yeh it was bad but all those people concernred are probbaly dead.Start apogising for things that are happening now.

PlantyPie does have a point. Some people in the Church have said Britain should apologise (See blog 25 March 2007), but shouldn't they be doing more to condemn present day injustice - like present day poverty and lack of human rights in some countries.

People are executed in China, and their organs sold, in what has now become a transplant industry. The Anglican Church is growing in China, but it's only growing because it keeps silent on "difficult" matters like these executions which take place on a daily basis. In Britain it's not surprising that many see religion as a moral void, and it no longer has the hold over politics, the public and politicians which it once had.