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."]