Saturday, March 29, 2008

Four school kids from Ashfold School in Buckinghamshire have designed a gadget called Speed Searcher. They beat hundreds of adults to win the Innovation Nation competition at the Ideal Homes exhibition.

The Speed Searcher is supposed to allow items such as keys and trainers to be easily located if they've been lost in your house. This was one of the main Newsround stories on Friday. Helen, reporting on the prize-winning device, pointed out that it hadn't been made yet.

One of the young inventors told Helen how it works. He said "it finds stuff for you. So if you lose your trainers and you've put a chip on it, you go to the Speed Searcher and you type it in, your postcode, and you will come up with a floor plan of your house. And there will be this red flashing dot in a room, and you go to that room and pick it up."

The Speed Searcher seemed to have snazzy looking software with an "S" logo. The location chip tags were marked with the same "S" design to match the software.

It would have been nice to have a little more detail about the technology to make it work. Maybe Ashfold School had in mind utilising RFID tags, but some kind of triangulation method would be needed to locate the lost item, and I can't see how they intend to implement the gadget with the necessary accuracy.

Today Newsround reported on a campaign to get free travel for teenagers. The news item began with students in Manchester signing a petition. Then David Chaytor MP explained why he thought it was a good idea, including benefits to the environment.

But Newsround explained some drawbacks to the free travel proposal - Peter Kavanagh said bus drivers are worried about a possible increase in violence such as drivers being spat at and punched or general unruly antisocial behaviour. Gavin said that this had happened in Essex, and police officers now travel on buses with pupils. He ended by saying that people in favour of the scheme believe it's not fair to allow the bad behaviour of a few to stop other people from enjoying the benefits of being able to travel for free.

This seemed a balanced, impartial and well presented report which allowed viewers to make up their own minds on the merits or otherwise of moving towards free travel for teens.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Pink News reports that an activist, Liam Hackett, has called on people to ditch LGBT labels. His site is called and it says that Ditch the Label is a new campaign, orientating around social labels and the stereotypes associated with them.

You are unique, says the site, and labels in regard to your gender, race, sexuality, appearance, lifestyle or even favourite colour cannot define your entire personality. The site hopes that we can literally ditch the stereotypes associated with labels.

Liam wrote in his November 2007 Myspace Blog entry: "After leaving school and starting college, I began to mix with a large scale of different personalities; EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT! College is mature and people are accepted for who they are and I think this is amazing; it's like the light at the end of the tunnel. Anyway, moving more to the point... Sexuality - why is it such a big deal? I hate how it has to be labelled; if you label your sexuality, it's like you're forced to match the stereotypes associated with it, and obliviously, there's the case of homophobia - this is the lowest of the low, I think we're all scared of things that we don't understand and these people seriously need educating."

There's no doubt that negative stereotyping is a problem that affects LGBT people more than most other groups. But I'm not convinced that just doing away with labels will solve the problem. And for the evidence of this we only need look at CBBC's Your Life message board over the Easter bank holiday.

Regular readers of this blog know that one of the ways that BBC discriminates is by heavily filtering messages about sexuality on the CBBC and Newsround message boards. So when such a message was posted a few days ago, it was taken down shortly afterwards and replaced with a note: "This post has been removed"; no explanation - just "This post has been removed". The thread subject was replaced with "No Discussion Title" (screenshot1)

Later on that message was altered to "This posting has been temporarily hidden, because a member of our Moderation Team has referred it to the Hosts for a decision as to whether it contravenes the House rules in some way. We will do everything we can to ensure that a decision is made as quickly as possible." (screenshot2)

I'm not sure which House Rule they thought the message might have contravened, but after another day or so the "Hosts" decided to allow this message through:

Feelings 4 grls

there is this grl in my class and i think i hav feelings 4 her but i dont know wat 2 do.Is there anyone else who has been through wat i hav been through.
Plz reply

Had the message used a word like lesbian, you can be fairly sure it would not have got through moderation at the present time, since the BBC doesn't like kids labelling themselves as lesbian, gay, bi or trans. But in this case the message doesn't even specify the original poster's gender. And, as you can see, the BBC isn't entirely happy about children implying they've got feelings for people of the same gender.

Labelling isn't the root problem, it's prejudice and stereotyping. You can't get rid of prejudice and stereotyping by trying to pretend that LGBT people don't exist, or by objecting to some labels which posters might prefer to use about themselves.

The BBC still refuses to permit young LGBT people to self-identify, and that surely is an example of prejudice and can't be right. Once attitudes like that go for good, then we can think seriously about the labels themselves. Ditching labels, even with the best motives like wanting people to be treated as individuals, is putting the cart before the horse.

Ditching labels now seems like using a flesh-coloured plaster to cover over the raw wound of prejudice. You might not see the wound, but it's still there and it needs air to heal. When prejudice has gone, then labelling is no longer an issue.

Monday, March 24, 2008

In May last year Richard Deverell and Jocelyn Hay appeared on BBC News24 to talk about the future of children's television. Jocelyn, founder of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, said that children "have a right to information, to educational programmes, live programmes, programmes that reflect their own rich heritage of speech, language, culture and their own environment and locations which help them to grow up to be informed citizens of this country, not of some mid-Atlantic fantasy world."

But instead of celebrating the UK's heritage, programmes like Byker Grove and Grange Hill have been ruthlessly axed - because, ... well one reason given is they aren't in conformity with CBBC's target age range. Another, that they don't reflect kids' changing lives (see Blog 24 February 2008). They've been replaced with cartoons like Eliot Kid (made in France and dubbed in American accents) and fantasy like MI High which has recently been commissioned for a third "action-packed gadget laden" series.

Blue Peter, and CBBC in general have drawn increasingly on American culture and, for example, promoted Trick or Treat to such an extent that police forces around the country are concerned about problems of child safety and public nuisance. And a recent Newsround press pack report was about a £500 grant from the Sport Relief charity to set up a cheerleading group. Previous coverage of cheerleading on CBBC including Blue Peter last year and at least four other press pack reports (see below) may partly account for its burgeoning interest in Britain.

I'm a cheerleader! - 02 November 2005
Why cheerleading involves trust - 17 May 2006
Cheerleading makes us jump for joy - 24 March 2007
Three cheers for cheerleading - 26 January 2008

Basil Brush has been in the news again since my blog last Monday, in which I suggested that some programmes on children's TV (including Basil Brush) seem to be more divisive than cohesive. The police decided not to take action against the BBC, but it's widely reported that the Beeb have decided the episode, Fakes Progress, won't be broadcast again. That's five years after Russell T Davies's complaint about the homophobic content of the episode. So a victory for the politically correct brigade - and quite right too!

The BBC can now get down to making children's programmes compliant with its Purpose Remits and the Values it claims to espouse (see Saturday's blog). In this respect, to be fair, Newsround is now more representative of people from all of the UK - Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England - than it used to be (see blogs 1 October 2007 and 6 November 2007).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

On Tuesday Blue Peter launched a new competition to find two children, aged six to twelve, to take part in the Olympics and Paralympics handover ceremonies in China. Zoe said "Now we do have a new Code of Conduct for all competitions and votes run by the BBC. Full details can be found on our website at - competitions and votes are never run to make money for the BBC."

The competition code of conduct follows last year's exposure of various competition incidents, some of which involved Blue Peter.

The first Blue Peter pretence, on 27th November 2006, occurred when there was a telephone call-handling system failure, and a girl visiting BBC Television Centre was handed a mobile phone and asked to pretend she had entered the competition. At the time he discovered the incident Blue Peter's editor is reported to have been furious, but 3 days later commended the staff member concerned for their initiative in keeping the programme on air. The deception came to light after someone emailed the BBC in March 2007 to say that they had seen what happened. Another 3,500 calls for the competition were received on the repeat broadcast the same evening because the notice indicating that it was closed was only displayed in small letters in contrast to the competition telephone number which was prominently displayed.

In May 2007 the BBC announced that Blue Peter's editor, Richard Marson, had "decided to step down" and been offered a role as an executive producer within the BBC Children's department working on independent projects. A visitor who saw the sham take place, Sally Eades, said on Panorama (23 April 2007): "I just found it extremely sad that the only mistake they made was not trusting the children enough to let them know something had gone wrong."

On 18 July 2007 Mark Thompson said that "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."

Later Richard Marson was accused of fixing a Blue Peter web poll. Marson was given the push from the Corporation, despite some people involved believing that he had acted perfectly properly on the web poll issue. It's said he had been advised by technical specialists that there had been last minute vote stacking in favour of the name 'Cookie,' and colleagues believed he was the victim of a stitch-up job or a witch hunt.

A further Blue Peter incident was reported by a national newspaper in November 2007 - it related to a programme in 2005 when children entered a competition to put questions to Jon Culshaw. In response the BBC defended the actions taken, but said that the programme should have made it clear that only some of the children doing the interview came via the website (see blog 30 November 2007).

On 21 November 2007, the BBC published its new Code of Conduct for Competitions and Voting. It promises that competitions and votes are to be conducted in a way that is honest, open, fair and legal. In the case of entering a competition to put questions to a celebrity, such a competition could only be considered fair and honest if all the children had to overcome the same hurdles in order to win and put questions to the celebrity.

Grange Hill was recently voted best ever kids' show in a poll of five thousand 18-40 yr olds, which was reported widely. But the BBC Director-General has still not responded to my email about, amongst other things, Anne Gilchrist's false statements concerning CBBC feedback after her decision to axe Grange Hill.

BBC Values are printed on the reverse of all staff ID cards -

  • Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.
  • Audiences are at the heart of everything we do.
  • We take pride in delivering quality and value for money.
  • Creativity is the lifeblood of our organisation.
  • We respect each other and celebrate our diversity so that everyone can give their best.
  • We are one BBC: great things happen when we work together.

    I suggested to Newsround in an earlier blog (15 February 2008) that they might give some coverage to a couple of Youth Parliament conferences, one on gun and knife crime and the other on climate change. The UK youth parliament will soon choose its campaigns for 2008. Between 31st March and 7th April young people between the ages of 11 and 18 can vote for their choices from a list of around fourteen, and the final decision will be made at a youth parliamentarians' historic special meeting in the chamber of the House of Lords at the beginning of May.
  • Thursday, March 20, 2008

    Homophobic abuse is endemic in schools, with "gay" now the most common put-down by pupils in the classroom, teachers say.

    The Association of Teachers and Lecturers union found that the word "gay" is the most often heard term of abuse in schools. ATL has published advice on dealing with heterosexism and homophobia.

    Despite the evidence, Newsround's teachers' section still has nothing about homophobia. IDAHO is on 17 May 2008, and that would be an ideal opportunity for Newsround to add some notes on fighting this type of prejudice.

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    The BBC is supposed to promote cohesion within UK communities, but some programmes on children's TV seem to be more divisive than cohesive.

    Take Basil Brush which is being shown on the CBBC channel at the moment. There are the regular digs at cafe owner Anil, and the show has been excoriated by celebrated writer Russell T Davies. The Basil Brush Show is now the subject of an investigation of racism following a complaint from a member of the public. Joseph Jones, vice-chairman of the Southern England Romany, Gypsy and Irish Traveller Network compared the programme to the Black and White Minstrel Show.

    Mr Jones told the Mail on Sunday: "This sort of thing happens quite regularly and we are fed up with making complaints about stereotypical comments about us in words that we find racist or offensive ... Racist abuse of black people is quite rightly no longer deemed acceptable, but when a comedian makes a joke on TV about pikeys or gypos, there's no comeback."

    The Basil Brush episode from 2002 - Fakes Progress - which was the subject of the Russell T Davies complaint, is still being repeated regularly on CBBC: Basil Brush tells Molly and Dave to watch carefully as they may learn something about comedy. A woman approaches the cafe bar. Mr Stephen, without looking round whispers over his shoulder "I think you're drop-dead gorgeous. Fancy a quick snog?" But by then the woman has walked away and a man is standing in her place. The man gives Mr Stephen a disgusted look and punches him in the face, to the sound of general audience laughter and applause. Mr Stephen is seen sporting the resultant black eye for several minutes afterwards. Basil says "Ahh, shame you had to miss the punch-up .." (more laughter)

    Russell T Davies's complaint in 2003 wasn't upheld by the BBC. I asked about the homophobic episode, as well as some other issues, at the end of January 2008. Richard Deverell said (on this subject): Much of what we do on CBBC involves humour. Humour is subjective and, at times, may offend some people. Clearly we do not set out to offend and we apologise when we get it wrong. However, equally, I would be reluctant to adopt a policy where every line, scripted and spontaneous, had to be subject to a rigorous check of whether it could possibly cause offence to any individual or group.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008

    Recent Newsround press pack reports showing press packers holding cameras and switching between the Press Pack Cam and the ordinary Newsround camera. What's that all about? Nothing like that in School Report today, which incidentally included a school's piece about equality and civil partnerships and another's about the need for better sex education (by the way, one of the Youth Parliament campaigns)

    Take Tuesday's road safety report by Megan. First we saw a short clip of traffic outside Megan's school filmed by a Newsround camera, and then a cut to video from Megan's hand-held Press Pack Cam. Her footage is "helpfully" distinguished for viewers by a rectangular red viewfinder border, the words "Press Pack Cam" in red lettering and a red flashing "record indicator" - all of which are presumably added post-filming by the Newsround production team, and intended to simulate what would be seen in Megan's viewfinder.

    At one point we see Megan filming interviews with some of her classmates; the view from the Newsround camera zooms in to show a closeup of Megan's viewfinder and it doesn't look anything like the obtrusive pretend view with its "Press Pack Cam" in big red letters and red framing border - surprise, surprise!

    So Megan's report employs the use of a BBC camera and sound crew plus her "Press Pack Cam." Newsround could instead trust press packers to make their own reports and send them in without any need for a professional camera crew and without interference from the BBC - but then the BBC seems to be such a control freak organisation that it'll probably never happen.

    If they insist on making such an issue of press packers' hand-held cameras then Newsround should go the distance and trust kids to make their own news reports.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    In September last year, the Government launched some anti-bullying guidance. The guidance was concerned with cyberbullying and homophobic bullying, but Newsround chose to cover only the cyberbullying because, as Robert Thompson explained (see blog 1 October 2007), the focus on launch day was given to cyberbullying. Nevertheless, the homophobic bullying guidance was given some prominence by Ed Balls in his launch speech. He said:

    "Homophobic insults 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. Bullying of all kinds is a scourge on young people’s lives and the human cost can be devastating. It can leave young people feeling helpless and isolated and can have a damaging effect on their learning and school achievement. ...."

    When I wrote to Newsround (see Blog entries on 23 September 2007 and 1 October 2007) I was told by Robert Thompson that he was in regular contact with Stonewall. He'd made some valuable contacts which he hoped to convert into stories in the 'near future.'

    The homophobic bullying guidance was given its own relaunch in the lead up to LGBT History Month, but again nothing was reported on Newsround. On Monday I emailed Sinead Rocks, and told her that "I was naturally disappointed that there wasn't any coverage of the lead up to LGBT History Month 2008, and in particular the Government relaunch of homophobic bullying guidance near the end of January."

    Louis-Georges Tin, the founder of IDAHO, will explain the priorities of the 2008 campaign at the prelaunch event for IDAHO on Thursday (IDAHO day itself is on 17 May every year.)

    Newsround continues its policy of not covering LGBT stories or issues.

    I'm still waiting to hear back from Mark Thompson about Anne Gilchrist's apparent attempt to deceive (previous three blog entries), as well as the rationale for the dearth of programmes for teens, and some other matters. In general, there has been an inordinate delay in replies from the BBC Executive.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008

    Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.

    The above statement is the first of the six 'values' which are printed on the back of BBC Staff ID cards.

    Last year the BBC came in for a great deal of criticism about deception of the public. Mark Thompson, the Director-General took a number of steps to restore confidence. In January this year he said: Trust in a given institution may be based on a great tradition and great inherited values, but it depends on what you do today. It has to be earned and earned again.

    More soon.