Thursday, February 28, 2008

Jake has been presenting Newsround since Monday, and today their website added a page all about him. And about his wife and family. His younger brother has a girlfriend, and his sister is married with a baby.

Luckily for Jake, it seems he's got all the right credentials to do well on CBBC, and I'm sure he'll also achieve his aim of being a top BBC presenter at the 2012 Olympics.

It now seems that Anne Gilchrist's statement about feedback relating to axing Grange Hill was not true. It remains to be seen whether she will apologise for the attempted deception.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Editorial decisions and impartiality - Part 3

In December 2005 Newsround didn't report on the Schools Out 'Stamp out homophobia in schools' petition. Newsround has never reported anti-homophobia sports initiatives, unlike racism issues which are properly covered. The one time when Newsround did report on a news item which should have been of particular significance to LGBT kids, they redacted all mention of LGBT issues (see blog dated 30 August 2006). The BBC's explanation for that editorial judgment was:

The story was covered very briefly (about 10 seconds duration) and we did not feel the sexual / homophobic angle of the story was the most relevant for our target audience (primary school children). This is not to deny that this was a legitimate part of the story - but simply that given the other news stories that we wished to cover on that day, it did not merit inclusion in this brief report.

That feeble excuse doesn't account for the lack of proper website coverage about ChildLine's Casenote: Calls to ChildLine about sexual orientation, homophobia and homophobic bullying or why, for example, the bridge demolished in the United States was worthy of more airtime and was more relevant than a news item about anti-gay prejudice in UK primary and secondary schools.

It's now nearing the end of LGBT History Month and, as expected, Newsround has shown no real signs of budging in its non-inclusive attitude (also see blog 5 February 2008).

When Anne Gilchrist announced the axing of Grange Hill on 6 February 2008 she said The lives of children have changed a great deal since Grange Hill began and we owe it to our audience to reflect this. She is right - children's lives have changed a great deal since Grange Hill began. For instance children in this century are entitled to respect, whatever their sexual orientation. They shouldn't feel ashamed, or be bullied or discriminated against, for being different. Under Ms Gilchrist's Controllership CBBC has failed to reflect this societal sea change, and instead has maintained a discriminatory policy, virtually invisibilising LGBT identity on children's programmes and CBBC message boards.

In relation to the axing of Grange Hill itself, I am still awaiting confirmation that Ms Gilchrist's decision to axe the programme was supported by CBBC's audience, as she has claimed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

On the topic of youth democracy in my last blog. Yesterday in California there was a hastily arranged demonstration for tolerance following the murder of a gay teen, Lawrence "Larry" King. The demo was arranged by two 16 year-olds, and nearly a thousand people attended - many more than expected.

Jerry Dannenberg, the school district administrator said "We forget the goodness that is in most of our kids. This tremendous turnout by kids is an expression of their voices, their opinions."

Newsround intends to deal with knife crime, but what about letting young people have a real say in what is reported. For a start that means covering the UK Youth Parliament conferences next week.

Friday, February 15, 2008

My blog (17 December 2007) mentioned the UK Youth Parliament (video) and other youth organisations, and the fact that Newsround fails to cover youth democracy. There will be a UKYP meeting on gun and knife crime in London next week, and another meeting the day after in Birmingham on climate change. Newsround is planning a 15 minute 'special' on knife crime (see blog 5 Feb 2008) and they've already contacted the organiser of the London conference. So lets see if Newsround reports on either of the UKYP meetings. I know for a fact that the Newsround team check this blog. Newsround - over to you.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Editorial decisions and impartiality - Part 2

Newsround's editorial decision not to report Phil Redmond's pertinent comments about ending Grange Hill (see last blog entry) is by no means the first time that the CBBC news programme's impartiality has been open to doubt.

On 3 October 2007 Ofcom published a discussion paper about the future of children's TV, but Newsround failed to mention it even on their website. At 5.25pm that day the eight items covered were:

school dinners (based on Ofsted study) - 3'03"
Special Olympics in Shanghai, China - 0'11"
hi tech Japanese mobile phone - 0'14"
tiniest dog in the world - 0'12"
bed bugs on the increase - 1'44"
tropical storm in Vietnam - 0'14"
mystery stone heads in Yorkshire - 0'14"
wacky races in Washington State USA - 1'08"

In the first (school dinners) news item, Lizo said "The people in charge of your schools [Ofsted] say that it's important that more of you eat food that's better for you at lunch times, and they want schools to do more to make sure that all of you eat as healthily as possible." Ellie went on to say that "today's figures [less kids eating school lunches since the ban on junk food] came from a survey of just 27 schools. So we wanted to know what more of you thought." What Newsround didn't say was that 9 of the 27 schools were secondary schools, and that the programme wasn't listening to anyone aged 14 or over. In fact, of the web comments read out by Ellie all came from children under the age of 13, except Emma from Swindon's comment. Emma's age, 13, was the only one not displayed on screen.

This brings us back to the October 2007 Ofcom discussion paper on children's TV, and why nothing was said about it on Newsround or their website. It seems very strange that they would want to know what kids think of school dinners but not what kids think of children's television. Could it be because Ofcom's survey had identified, amongst other things, a lack of public service TV programming aimed at teens. After all, CBBC insist that their 'target age' is six to 12 and were engaged, at that time, in covertly filtering website feedback from teens.

In fact the 'wacky races' item was several days old, and could have easily made way for a much more newsworthy and relevant report on the future of UK children's TV.

Part 3 will follow.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Editorial decisions and impartiality - Part 1

Today is Grange Hill's 30th birthday (2006 link)

In May 2006 CBBC's Richard Deverell announced that Byker Grove was to be axed. Newsround received a large number of messages about the news, mostly unhappy with CBBC, and Richard Deverell was asked to appear on the programme to answer questions from viewers about the decision. I commented that Newsround had showed just how relevant a programme it could be (see blog 13 May 2006). Mr Deverell was asked some quite probing questions.

Back then it seemed that the CBBC was prepared to treat its audience with a modicum of respect, even if the reasons given for axing Byker were a little hazy. One reason for the axing, Ellie said, was CBBC wanting to focus more on shows aimed at younger children of primary school age.

On 6 February 2008, another iconic children's programme was given the push and it was first reported on Newsround's website. It was also the first news item on Newsround itself at 3.55pm, but by 5.25pm the news was relegated to the last item. There was no live interview, but as part of Lizo's filmed report Anne Gilchrist, CBBC controller, attempted to explain Grange Hill's demise: It's been going now for 31 series, and I think it's time to say goodbye to it, just because we want to do other new things. And we feel that children do other things apart from go to school, and we wanted to explore areas in children's lives that happen outside the school arena.

BBC editorial guidelines are clear that when an item of news concerns the BBC or its programmes, the report must be impartial, and they say "We need to ensure that our impartiality is not brought into question." CBBC's failure to report Phil Redmond's recent and self-evidently germane remarks does call the BBC's impartiality into question. Professor Redmond could have been invited to Newsround's studio and asked to explain why he would not be celebrating Grange Hill's 30th anniversary, and had instead called for his programme to be axed.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Newsround is to screen two 15-minute specials on important social issues. The topics will be knife crime and the effects of divorce.

Anne Gilchrist, the CBBC controller who commissioned the programmes, said: Newsround continues its 35-year-long tradition of tackling difficult yet truly relevant topics on behalf of children. Both of these special programmes help give children a voice within British society. Newsround is still the only daily, year-round provider of news especially for children.

But on CBBC, children over the age of 12 are allowed to participate only on sufferance because of the present 6 to 12 target age range. The recent news about Grange Hill (blog 18 January 2008) is one instance of the effect of this policy.....a cutting edge programme has been robbed of its original purpose and should be scrapped, according to its creator. Things have reached this state because CBBC is rigorously enforcing policy on its so-called 'target audience.' Even feedback to Newsround's website from over 13s used to be systematically (and covertly) weeded out ...until January 2008. I had raised the matter with the BBC Trust and Ofcom last year. However, posts to the CBBC 'Your Life' and 'Bullying' forums still appear to be weeded out because of other diversity-related issues. (see blog 2 September 2007)

This month is LGBT History Month, and on 25 September 2007 I was informed of hope that Newsround would be able to report LGBT stories "in the near future." On 16 January 2008 I followed up the issue: In September 2007 you mentioned in an email to me that you were hoping to make use of Stonewall contacts to help make some stories in the near future. Do you perhaps have any ideas for including something in LGBT History Month? I haven't yet received a reply, and there's still no indication that CBBC has any intention of becoming more inclusive on LGBT issues.

In their October 2007 discussion paper on children's TV, Ofcom feature an extensive survey which identified a perceived lack of TV programmes for older kids. But even after Phil Redmond's passionately expressed views, CBBC adamantly refuses to listen to outsiders and seems determined not to budge. The problems of knife crime and family breakdown are relevant to children of diverse ages, and it remains to be seen whether the Newsround specials will yet include contributions from teens.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Today is the start of LGBT History Month.

Imagine a world where everyone is lesbian or gay. All children are brought up by same sex couples and are conceived through artificial insemination. Despite 1 in 9 secondary school students ‘questioning’ their sexuality, being hetero is still often viewed as something dirty or wrong. Many young people are bullied at school because they are thought to be heterosexual, and ‘hetero’ is used as a word to mean pathetic or stupid.

How would it feel to live in this world? (pdf)