Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Children's TV on Trial - Part 2

A week of programmes about BBC children's tv began last Saturday on BBC4. In the first we saw the same four children who were earlier shown on Blue Peter, but this time we saw more: one boy kissing another, and how the 21st-century kids responded to the kiss in a 1990's children's tv series.

The 1994 Byker Grove kiss is in a cinema. Noddy mistakenly believes his feelings are mutual and kisses Gary on the cheek. But Gary gets very annoyed and starts to walk out. He says in an angry voice "You just stay away from us, d'ya hear? You're sick man, sick."

The four kids watching were very surprised for a moment at seeing the kiss, and then they all laughed. When Noddy's friend called him "sick" Jonti said "that's a bit over the top."

Afterwards we saw the four kids talk about what they had seen. At times several kids were talking at once.


Emily: The last programme was Byker Grove. It was - no - you just didn't know what was happening..

Amira: I thought the boy with the long hair was actually the gay one.

Emily: But I think it's because the boy who kissed the boy on the cheek, I think he's a bit like muddled about which way to go...

Amira: Yeah he's confused he's...

Emily: ... if he's gay or if he just goes like normal

Jonti: The storyline was proper confusing in that sense

Amira: To be honest it's not appropriate for tv

Emily: They didn't really need to put it in the television

Jonti: No, I don't think they should have done

Ieuan: No

Amira: It's not appropriate though

Jonti: They should have done it subtly. Something like that - homosexuality between those two boys - I think it may have seemed a bit obscene (Ieuan: Yeah) back then but - cos it's in a children's programme.

Emily: The thing is, you've got to realise that there's nothing wrong...

Jonti: I know there's nothing wrong now.

Emily: ... with like people who've got different opinions to other people (Ieuan: Yeah) You know what I mean, if they're gay they're gay, if they're lesbians they're lesbians.

End of screened discussion

Part 3 of this blog will follow in a few days

Monday, May 28, 2007

Children's TV on Trial - Part 1

Gethin Jones, speaking on Blue Peter (23 May 2007): "We've invited four 21st-century children to journey back in time."

The four children were taking part to find out what they thought of children's television over each of the five earlier decades starting with the 1990's and working backwards to the 1950's.

The four were:

Jonti, 12 year old boy living in Cheshire
Amira, 11 year old girl from North West London
Ieuan, 10 year old boy from South West Wales
Emily, 11 year old girl from Somerset

The kids recognised Shane Ritchie in Run the Risk, but when David Walliams appeared in a sketch on The Ant & Dec Show they wrongly identified him as Matt Lucas.

After they had watched a 1994 episode of Byker Grove, the only comment we heard was from Jonti who said: "There wasn't really a strong storyline at all. It was very boring."

Actually the kids had quite a lot more to say about that particular episode of Byker Grove, as was clear from a programme later in the week on BBC4. What Blue Peter had failed to make clear was that the Byker Grove episode was ground-breaking: the first time a gay kiss had been shown on children's television.

It seems that CBBC has become more prejudiced than it was in the 1990's. These days they aren't even prepared to show children a screenshot of one boy kissing another.

How does all this square with the BBC diversity policy and its commitment to be inclusive in the latest Statements of Programme Policy?

In Part 2 of this blog we report what the children had to say about the Byker Grove episode.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Majority in Britain support gay equality

Surprising as it may be to some people, the majority of Britain's population support gay equality. That was the finding of a recently published YouGov survey carried out for Stonewall. YouGov has the reputation of being one of the most accurate polling organisations.

Some BBC managers have given me the excuse of needing to be sensitive to parents' concerns in dealing with these issues, but according to the survey findings nine out of ten people support equality.

In the early part of 2007 I was told that CBBC would be reviewing its current policy. Newsround's editor kept me abreast of developments for a while, but I haven't yet been able to ascertain whether there has been a revised approach and, if so, what it will mean for young lgbt people.

On the positive side, I have noticed the following message (Message 35 below) on the CBBC Your Life messageboard. And not only was it allowed through, but it was also answered by Aaron, CBBC's resident agony uncle. But reading between the lines, it was clear that coolkid969 had experienced problems asking his question on the messageboard, as this sequence of posts shows:-

Message 35 - posted by coolkid969 (U8285900)
dear Aaron
i have a massive problem!! well i'm a boy and i think i am a bit weird if you know wat i mean! people call me a girl and i think i like other boys! please help me!!
thank you!

Message 61 - posted by gotta be green glorious GREEN! (U7384463)
Do you mean you FANCY other Boys?

Message 98 - posted by coolkid969 (U8285900)
yes put it that way cause i cant say the word help me please!

I believe that coolkid969's Message 98 implies that the word 'gay' was not allowed by moderators.

However the reply advice thread, which also allows kids to reply, included this message from pogostickid :-

Message 8 - posted by pogostickid (U2533439)
Yeah, there's nothing wrong with being gay. My uncle is gay and he's the coolest -- so is his boyfriend who I also call unlcle, ever since I was little, so I dont see what the big fuss is about. It's not your problem -- it's other people's problem who don't know nee beter.

And now you can see that 'gay' was passed that time by the moderators.

Are we witnessing the end of CBBC discrimination on the boards, or was this simply a temporary 'blip' in favour of tolerance?

In the past almost all messages about same sex attraction failed to get through the moderation process. How can I be certain of this? The answer is that I cannot be certain, but all else being equal, based on official estimates of the lgb population, for every one hundred posts about crushes the probability that there will be none about same sex attraction is very low (about 1 in 400). And, in fact, there is a slightly greater probability of fourteen or more such messages in every 100 than none at all.

Obviously messages using 'gay' in a deliberately derogatory context shouldn't be allowed through. However for the sake of diversity and inclusiveness young people asking for advice should not be barred from using words like lesbian, gay, bi or trans. In addition there should be some relevant expert advice on CBBC's No Problem web pages.

Living together - British attitudes to lesbian and gay people

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Jeremy Vine, speaking on Panorama (23 April 2007) said "Television has been home to some great exposés, many of them on this programme, but now broadcasters are getting a taste of their own medicine ...." The programme was about television competitions where viewers phone in with answers, and it was a very thorough investigation into impropriety in the television industry, including the BBC itself.

Janine Gibson, Editor-in-Chief of Media Guardian, giving her views about the mistakes made by Blue Peter said "... Clearly what happened was just a catalogue of really unfortunate incidences. But what it does show you is how far a sort of culture of disrespect to the viewer has come - that nobody's first priority any more is doing something that's fair and right and proper to the viewer...."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

At the beginning of May I was convinced that Newsround would report news fairly. But I am now starting to think my confidence was misplaced. Not long after my blog on 2 May 2007 many of Coronation Street's stars, including Antony Cotton (Sean Tully), Julie Hesmondhalgh (Hayley Cropper) and Rupert Hill (Jamie Baldwin) signed up to the Exceeding Expectations initiative which aims to end homophobia through education. I wasn't expecting a full report on Newsround, but it was exactly the right kind of story which could have been included on their celebrity gossip page. Other stories about Antony Cotton, including him winning ITV's Soapstar Superstar earlier in the year failed to meet Newsround's criteria for inclusion (see blog 15 January 2007).

I've mentioned Newsround's celebrity gossip page several times in previous blogs. On 6 August 2006 I showed that the gossip was centred on heterosexual relationships, and gay celebrity news wasn't covered at all. I emailed Tim Levell in February this year suggesting the heterosexism on that page be "toned down a little" and also suggested he look again at Newsround's Match the celebrity couples game.

My log of all celebrity stories confirms that nothing really changed since August, but I was interested to notice that the daily updates seem to have ended last Sunday.

As for the fact that the Newsround presenters' blog hasn't been updated for over a month, I think that is probably just down to apathy. I shall probably have a lot more to say about the celebrity gossip page in a future blog.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

International Day Against Homophobia 2007

This year's theme - No to homophobia, yes to education

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Don't worry, Newsround blog is still here and isn't going away until the job is done! Like I said once before - we are in this for the long haul.

At the moment I'm waiting to find out a bit more about what the BBC's promise to be inclusive will mean to viewers, and users of its online services. Tim Levell says that things move very slowly at the BBC, but I'm not quite sure what exactly is happening.

Don't forget the International day against homophobia, IDAHO 2007 is this Thursday 17 May.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Last year a survey indicated that about 8% of young people identify as lgb (see blog 18 August 2006). Another recent survey by financial recruitment company Joslin Rowe found that about 8% of applicants for jobs in the City anonymously identified as lgb. So it seems reasonable to assume that the figure is reflected in the population as a whole.

But anyone who takes a look at the CBBC Your Life messageboard might be forgiven for thinking that kids only think of themselves as straight. Because I've looked there recently, and I can't find any messages about same-sex crushes etc. although there are plenty of messages about boy/girl crushes. And the CBBC Bullying messageboard doesn't seem to include messages from kids who are bullied about sexuality, though messages about most other forms of bullying can be found there.

The BBC Diversity Policy, says the Corporation aims to reflect the population of modern Britain – through gender, age, ethnicity and cultural diversity, disability, faith and social background, and sexual orientation.

The policy was recently reaffirmed by the SoPPs which say the BBC must be inclusive. So I hope the board moderators aren't routinely replacing such messages with "Oops! This message broke the House Rules".

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Lord Browne's world came crashing down yesterday after he was caught out lying to a court about how he first met his ex-boyfriend, Jeff Chevalier. Browne was moronic to believe in or expect any loyalty from a prostitute. So in that regard he only had himself to blame when details of the relationship inevitably became public knowledge.

In a week which saw the introduction of equality laws which protect people from discrimination, the way the case was reported in certain sections of the media reminded us that there is some way to go before society accepts lgbt people on an equal basis. Very few kids in school are happy to 'come out' to their classmates because they know they are likely to face hostility and prejudice.

Should there be events such as the 'Stamp out Homophobia in School' petition (see blog 29 December 2005) or a Childline report on homophobia (blog 30 August 2006) then I have little doubt, bearing in mind the BBC's recent firm commitment to be inclusive, that Newsround would properly report them both today. That is a significant step forward in tackling prejudice and discrimination which is unfortunately still rife in British society.

Ben Summerskill from Stonewall and Tom Cordrey from the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship debated the new Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 on BBC Breakfast last Monday morning. You can read the debate transcript online.