Tuesday, July 29, 2008

From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel (continued from 9 July 2008)

I'm still trying to clarify some points about the BBC impartiality report, but in the meantime I've been checking through two of CBBC's message boards and found out some quite interesting results.

The Your Life message board allowed a small number of LGBT-related messages through last year (blog 23 June 2008) and in September one board user started a petition, but the thread was closed by administrators in November, since when hardly any new LGBT-related messages have been allowed through moderation.

The situation on CBBC's Bullying message board is even worse. According to the BBC, "comments from children are not filtered out for the reason that they have used words such as 'lesbian' or 'gay'."

So I checked back over two years on the Bullying message board. For the period between July 2006 and now there are no messages at all which specifically mention 'gay' or 'lesbian' apart from this one where 'gay' occurs in its pejorative sense. Other causes of bullying are commonly found on the board. For example, in the same period, 'ginger' was found on 164 threads and 'fat' was found on 181 threads. Those issues have been covered on Newsround's TV programme (eg my blogs on 22 August 2007 & 22 May 2008)

Bullying related to sexual orientation is recognised as unfortunately being common in schools today, so the chance of no-one trying to use the word 'gay' or 'lesbian' for over two years on the CBBC Bullying message board is unlikely. This leads to the conclusion that the BBC has deliberately filtered out messages about homophobic bullying - definitely NOT the action of an institution which supports equality for gay people, or aspires to such support. That's why the BBC needs to explain precisely what is meant on page 72 of its report entitled From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel - Safeguarding impartiality in the 21st century.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The nature-versus-nurture debate was examined in a documentary last night (BBC1, 9pm) when John Barrowman tried to find out what made him gay. The programme summarised almost every theory about the cause of homosexuality. We saw John's delight when scientific tests confirmed that he was gay, and his satisfaction at the conclusion that sexual orientation is probably predetermined before birth and not willfully chosen.

The BBC online magazine includes a piece about John Barrowman's documentary. One reader wrote this comment:

Typical gay man, using his sexuality to boost his career. Lucky for some, my boss is female which means I can't follow suit.

And another wrote:

I am interested in why the BBC seems preoccupied with homosexuality or to be more precise it's promotion. Is it because according to Andrew Marr the BBC is disproportionately overrepresented by gays? And certainly in positions of influence to promote the gay agenda?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bethanie and her friends enjoyed being treated like film stars when they arrived at their primary school prom in a pink stretch limousine (see yesterday's blog) but the same can't be said for many children living in Hull. The local economy is dominated by low wages and high unemployment. Almost half of the people in Hull live in electoral wards that are amongst the 105 most deprived wards in the country, according to Hull City Council's website.

Newsround covered poverty problems in the award-winning programme called The Wrong Trainers, which went out in December 2006. However, as with Ofcom's discussion paper on the future of children's TV (see blog 11 February 2008), for some reason Newsround chose not to cover the joint UK children's commissioners' report(pdf) to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Speaking live to BBC News on the morning of 9 June 2008, Patricia Lewsley, the Northern Ireland children's commissioner said the commissioners' most striking finding across all their four jurisdictions concerned poverty in its widest sense, including poverty of opportunity for young people. She said kids living in poverty "can't ask their parents for £10 for art materials because that could mean two days without food or a day and a half without electricity."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Just over two weeks ago Sunday Life on BBC1 carried an item about school proms, and a few days before that BBC News also included an item on the topic. Not to be outdone in promoting this American cultural import, Newsround yesterday had press packer Bethanie and her friends extolling the virtues of a primary school prom. Introducing the press pack report, Adam asked "Did you celebrate the end of term in style?" and continued "Well Bethanie in Hull certainly did. Take a look at what she got up to."

We saw Bethanie having her hair done, putting on make-up, and then showing off her dress which had been specially made for her. Bethanie and her friends arrived at the prom in a pink stretch limo and walked along a red carpet to the school hall.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Last week an industrial tribunal found that Islington Council was wrong to require Lillian Ladele, a Christian registrar, to carry out civil partnership registrations. The Daily Mail hailed the ruling as a victory for common sense in our courtrooms. However Suzanne Moore, writing in the same paper was somewhat less impressed with the ruling.

Ladele seems to regard gay partnerships as more objectionable than fornication. But even in cases where religious beliefs are entirely sincere, is it reasonable to excuse employees their duties? What if a Muslim checkout worker at Tesco's insisted on calling in a colleague every time a customer's shopping trolley included a bottle of wine or a packet of pork chops? The disruption and time wasting would cause problems for everyone, not to mention unease caused to customers.

The employment tribunal decision was foolish, and not at all a victory for common sense, as I'm sure The Mail would be the first to say in a case of a similar victory for my hypothetical Tesco employee.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The word 'Gay' was used on Newsround today as part of its Olympic coverage. Sonali reported on who we should be looking out for. First mentioned was Usain Bolt from Jamaica, who Sonali said was the fastest man on the planet. "He can run 100 metres in 9.72 seconds. No wonder his nickname is Lightning Bolt. Next to the United States of America. That's where double world champion sprinter Tyson Gay lives. The clash between him and the Lightning Bolt will definitely be one of the highlights of the Olympics. In fact, last week Gay actually beat Bolt and ran the 100 metres in the fastest time ever. But because there was so much wind behind him it didn't count as an official world record."

The race to which Sonali referred was widely reported around the world. But it wasn't just Tyson's speed which made the news. A conservative Christian website, One News Now, disapproves of the word 'gay' and automatically converted occurrences of 'gay' into 'homosexual,' so that they reported the news as "Homosexual runs wind-aided 9.68 seconds to make Olympics."

CBBC Newsround's ethos is similar. The programme continues to treat 'gay' as an offensive word, but Newsround uses a more 'intelligent' filter.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel

It's over a year since the BBC published a report called From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel (see blogs on 18 and 19 June 2007). The report was supposed to be about safeguarding impartiality in the 21st century. The main document includes certain assumptions, such as BBC institutional support for equal rights for women and gay people.

It is self-evident that any study of impartiality should itself be impartial. But the report was commissioned by, and significantly influenced by people working for the BBC, as is clear from the Foreword which states that the author "has been able to draw on the advice, wisdom and experience of a Steering Group, comprising three of the BBC’s most senior executives, two Governors, two Trustees, a former broadcasting regulator and four external consumers of the BBC’s output."

That fact alone calls its worth into question. Then consider, for example, the bias of BBC news report headlines when the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 was passed last year (blog 21 March 2007).

I've written to some of the people involved in producing the report to ask how they can justify its claims.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Today there was another one of those Newsround stories about how much food people can stuff down themselves - this time it was hot dogs. The report on the 2.55pm programme lasted 1 minute 30 seconds, including the lede. Ironically, unhealthy food can't be advertised during children's programmes. So an advert for hot dogs wouldn't be allowed on the commercial channels.

Former Newsround editor, Tim Levell, considered some of the issues surrounding eating competitions in his blog last year. Heinz (see blog 26 June 2008) was a sponsor of the hot dog eating competition, and the Heinz logo could be seen several times throughout the report. A Heinz press release last year said:

“Heinz Ketchup and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs go hand-in-hand and represent an American food tradition that is worth celebrating, especially on the Fourth of July,” said Dave Ciesinski, VP of Heinz Ketchup. “By sponsoring the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, we’re able to reach an international audience and celebrate the love of hot dogs with people around the world.”

The story was controversial because it publicised bad eating habits and made light of the dangers of overeating. A more appropriate news report for a British audience, and more in conformity with PSB Purposes 3 & 4 (see blog 10 April 2008), would have been the Pride event in London today. The BBC needs to prove in practice that it is committed to reflecting the diversity of the United Kingdom.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Biddy Baxter

Although some people found former editor of Blue Peter, Biddy Baxter quite charming, it seems Ms Baxter could also be disparaging to colleagues. In a TV interview with her on BBC FOUR last year, Mark Lawson said he had been discussing, on the radio, a Blue Peter presenter, Christopher Trace, who he had said was sacked by the BBC because of his moral behaviour. Biddy Baxter, however, strenuously denied that this was the case.

Mark Lawson: .. you rang me up and you shouted at me after I said it on the radio.
Biddy Baxter: I didn't shout, did I.
Mark Lawson: You did. But it's erm....
Biddy Baxter: I'm sorry.
Mark Lawson: No, no ..it's alright ..

Valerie Singleton had a few things to say recently about how condescending Biddy Baxter could be. Valerie told Peter Robertson in the Daily Mail that Ms Baxter treated presenters like children; they feared their contracts might not be renewed if they caused any problems. Presenters were always being told: ‘You’d be nothing without us.’ John Noakes, however, stood up to Biddy and was quite capable of slamming the phone down in an argument.

Ms Singleton said that one day in the Blue Peter office there was a letter lying on Biddy Baxter's desk. Biddy picked up the letter and said in front of everybody: ‘Oh, what’s this?’ She then proceeded to read it out loud, causing embarrassment because the letter was from someone who thought Ms Singleton, in real life, hadn't lived up to expectations. Valerie was shocked. The letter was obviously not relevant to Blue Peter, and was a private matter.

Some of my earlier blogs, including one on 10 August 2007, go into some detail about the way gay presenter Michael Sundin was treated by Biddy Baxter at the BBC.