Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The BBC says it seeks to engage its audiences in dialogue, to learn from them and respond honestly to what they have to say. But I am having great difficulty getting any kind of response about a number of questions.

When I started this blog, my primary concern was the discrimination against LGBT kids which is still continuing on BBC programmes and message boards. But several other questions have arisen.

There was the age discrimination on Newsround's feedback webpages. I wrote to the BBC on 11 September 2007, about this and other diversity issues. Eventually, on 11 October 2007 I received a response from BBC Information which was unsatisfactory (see blog dated 1 November 2007)

A submission to Ofcom last December went into some of these diversity issues, and it seems that the webpage age discrimination policy was subsequently abandoned shortly after Christmas, on 11 January 2008. Try as I might, the BBC have not explained why the policy was implemented, by whom, and whether there will be an apology to 14 and 15 year olds who, for over a year, wasted their time and possibly money emailing or texting Newsround, with the assumption that their contributions would be valued and welcome.

CBBC continues discrimination in other ways - Newsround contributors, including press packers are nearly always under 13 and have their age shown on screen, which is not usually the case for those aged 13 or over. Why does Newsround see the need to display anyone's age? And then there's the question of being inclusive of LGBT issues. Why is that discrimination continuing?

A BBC4 series last year, Children's TV on Trial, discussed kids' programmes from the past 50 years. "80's kids were growing up fast," said the narrator, "and children's television had to keep up."

Eric Rowan, Producer of John Craven's Newsround said: "We felt that the world of children was changing in all sorts of ways and the world of television was changing in all sorts of ways, and we better do something about ourselves and make a few changes in the way we were making programmes. To open things up a little bit; to try and do a few new things in order to provide a service that was useful to kids." Eric was also responsible for The Lowdown, an 80's Panorama-style series dealing with issues relevant to kids, but not treating them in a patronising way. Anna Home, BBC Head of Children's Programmes (1986-1997) said: "The Lowdown was a really important series because it was a proper documentary series for kids which took the subjects and the audience very seriously and explored some really difficult subjects, and I think was of a very high quality."

Just before the 1983 UK General Election Newsround held a mock general election for kids. John Craven said in Children's TV on Trial: "We'd been debating about the fact we needed to do more about politics .... it was a very good way of getting children involved into the political system and becoming, hopefully, responsible voters."

Racism was more overt in the 80's, and Grange Hill tackled the issues head on. For example in one episode a boy is seen ruining a black girl's map that she'd spent ages making. He then tells her not to sit near him. "Monkeys over there," he says pointing to another part of the classroom.

On 6 February 2008, when axing Grange Hill, Anne Gilchrist said that the lives of children have changed a great deal since it began, "and we owe it to our audience to reflect this." But the truth is that, with a few notable exceptions, Ms Gilchrist's programme choices are a poor reflection of children's lives. They are significantly worse choices than those made in the 1980's. As for Ms Gilchrist's comments regarding feedback on her axing of Grange Hill, I still await a response from the BBC Executive. Another BBC channel controller left the corporation when he made an unintentional deception to journalists, but with Anne Gilchrist the deception seems to have been made with her full knowledge of the facts.

An inquiry, commissioned by Mark Thompson and conducted by Will Wyatt, which was published on 5 October 2007, included the following recommendation:

When anyone in the BBC becomes aware that the corporation has put something misleading or untrue into the public domain a correction must be issued at the earliest opportunity. It must be understood that the BBC’s honesty with the public has to be the first concern.

Responding, Mark Thompson said: "I would like to thank Will Wyatt for a thorough investigation and report. I accept his findings and recommendations in full."

The top six UK Youth Parliament campaigns to be debated in the HoL chamber at the beginning of May have now been decided. Three will be chosen to become 2008 official campaigns.

  • Lowering the voting age to 16
  • Your Future, Your World, Your Fight - recycling / environment campaign
  • To ensure fair and accurate representation of young people in the media
  • Abolish university tuition fees
  • A national public transport concession card for young people under the age of 18
  • To create one single age at which young people are deemed to become an adult
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