Friday, October 31, 2008


What is the role of the costly but largely ineffectual 'sovereign body' which is known as the BBC Trust? Even the Trust's chairman had a little difficulty explaining the minutiae of BBC governance to a House of Lords communications committee... e.g. this extract - Q319 Committee chairman: Therefore, at the heart of this, you are again saying you are not a regulator, yet you are saying you are a regulator? Sir Michael Lyons: No

Who has ultimate editorial control over Radio 2? Answer: obviously the editor-in-chief, not the controller of Radio 2 as some would have people believe. Next question - Why did Russell Brand resign, and not Jonathan Ross? Answer: Because he had the good grace, whereas Ross is venal and has no shame. Question - Why did Lesley Douglas resign? Answer: Because she is a decent honourable person, who didn't think her subordinates should take the blame for broadcasting those prank messages.

On 22 February 2008 Ross told his audience that he had won an award from Lavender News which, according to Mr Ross, is a paper that campaigns for gay rights. Ross said "Apparently I'm the celeb who's been nicest to gays this year and I am proud to receive this award, but it made me think have they never seen this show?" He then showed a series of video clips of introductions to his house band, in which he was seen making vulgar jokes about gay men. After that, Ross quipped "It's only when I found that Jim Davidson came second that it all made sense to me."

So it seems that Jonathan Ross himself shared my reservations on his gay-friendly credentials. In my blog on 11 October 2007 I suggested that if there are to be BBC job losses then the overpaid Jonathan Ross should go, along with his hopeless house band. But only one week later Mark Thompson defended Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, explaining how cheap it is in terms of cost per viewer-hour. He said: And in the end, you ask the public do you want quality or not from the BBC, they will always say yes.

Almost exactly a year ago Sir Michael Lyons criticised the salaries paid to Jonathan Ross and other 'top talent'. But he changed his mind after a licence fee funded report concluded that the stars weren't overpaid after all. The BBC Trust Chairman subsequently explained why Jonathan Ross is worth the money. I bet Sir Michael wishes he'd kept to his original beliefs and not bothered to commission the worthless report.

Russell Brand has been correct to resign over his mistake. Nothing in his BBC employ became him like the leaving it. Both he and Lesley Douglas, controller of Radio 2, leave with grace, dignity and respect.

Some concern was expressed on Wednesday's Newsnight that there is a danger the BBC will lose touch with the next generation of licence fee payers by giving in to public anger. Emily Maitlis questioned what signal Brand's departure sends out to younger viewers that "the BBC is so desperate to attract?" The truth, as this blog has consistently pointed out, is that the BBC has not only spurned teenage viewers, it has also actively discriminated against them.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

BBC standards

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand have made the headlines over the last few days, though not on Newsround. But lots at the BBC goes unremarked.

During the period when there were only a few complaints about Jonathan Ross's and Russell Brand's prank calls to Andrew Sachs the BBC was giving the presenters their backing, saying they hadn't received a complaint from Mr Sachs. But as the Daily Mail's campaign against the BBC chimed with the British public, complaints began to roll in. Eventually Mark Thompson decided he had to do something, and has returned from his holiday.

Thompson's tardiness indicates that he completely failed to appreciate the egregious nature of what Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand had done. The BBC's mindset is against the concept of political correctness (see blog on Sunday 26 October)

But what about offensive jokes aimed at gay people. Here the Daily Mail has a different agenda. Such non-pc jokes are okay, as anyone who doesn't like them is part of the politically correct brigade of which the Daily Mail so disapproves.

It will be news to some, but it seems that last week, Alexander Armstrong, a comedian on BBC One's Have I Got News For You joked about Iran's failure to confirm it had made a world record longest sandwich. He continued: On the plus side they do still hold the record for hanging homosexuals. There were a few audience groans, but no doubt that 'joke' meets BBC standards of decency, and the Daily Mail also has no concerns.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Prop 8 debate

At the moment loads of news in Britain is about the economy, but the US presidential election is also getting a fair amount of coverage. Newsround came up with the idea of Pres Packers - kids who send in their webcam diaries about what they feel on the presidential race. The kids are all from the town of Culpeper in the state of Virginia.

One story which hasn't had much coverage here in the UK is the battle for equal rights in California. Earlier this year that state's supreme court ruled that the respect and dignity of marriage is a basic human right which cannot be withheld from same-sex couples.

Religious groups are campaigning to change the state constitution so that only marriages between a man and a woman are recognised. A simple majority of those voting would be enough to pass Proposition 8 which amends California's constitution. The vote is on 4 November 2008, the same day as the election for US President.

The latest opinion polls show that, unlike the Presidential election, the outcome is finely balanced. So what I'd like to see Newsround report is how Californian kids are reacting to the campaign. What do kids in Californian schools think? How about a few Prop-8 Packers reporting for Newsround?

This is a golden opportunity to acquaint Newsround viewers with the debate, and it might go some way to make up for the dearth of coverage of LGBT issues on BBC children's TV.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The yobbish culture at the heart of the BBC

I've not yet received a reply, or even an acknowledgement, to the questions I put to Mark Thompson regarding the source of his claims about religion and atheism (see blog 22 October 2008)

Apart from promoting religion, Mr Thompson has also been outspoken in his support for non-pc presenters such as Jeremy Clarkson and Jonathan Ross. He told Andrew Marr on BBC Sunday AM in 2007: "..I also want to say that when people talk about political correctness, I mean many of the most politically incorrect voices in Britain you hear and see on the BBC. From Jeremy Clarkson onwards. I mean, in other words I think the BBC is in many ways more open to different perspective and different opinions now than it was say five or ten years ago."

A year later he answered questions from Telegraph readers: ".. we have some of the most politically incorrect voices in Britain on the air every week – and I’m glad we do. And Jeremy Clarkson will come round looking for you if you disagree!"

BBC Trustee Richard Tait remarked on the launch of 'From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel': "..BBC audiences believe that impartiality should not lead to political correctness. The BBC agrees and one of our new principles makes clear that impartiality is no excuse for insipid programme-making. Providing space for controversial and passionate writers and contributors of all kinds will ensure impartiality is an antidote to political correctness."

Political Correctness has been one of Mark Thompson's bugbears for a while - his disdain for it is well known. As I put it in an email to Mr Thompson dated 13 March 2007:-

In summer last year the BBC governors defended Chris Moyles's pejorative use of "gay," and within a few days of their decision Jeremy Clarkson repeated the offence on Top Gear. A complaint against Mr Clarkson's remark was upheld in December, but following your wholehearted support to the non-PC Top Gear programme in an article you wrote for the Mail on Sunday (29 October 2006) it was not surprising that Mr Clarkson was far from contrite. Shortly thereafter Clarkson dismissed the complaint decision with contempt. He told The Sun "No one's rung me to tell me off. And it wasn't a gay car — it was actually a bit lesbian."

The article to which I referred in my email included Mr Thompson saying: ".. it's ridiculous to suggest that Top Gear somehow gets broadcast despite the BBC. It's a programme we're incredibly proud of and we know that exhilaration - and yes, risk - are part of the reason for its success. ...I've never met a BBC boss who wants to ban Top Gear. And if I ever do, I'll show them the door. As a viewer, I'm not sure I can face life without it."

This blog has little time for Jonathan Ross, whose house-gay band, Four Poofs and a Piano, is used as an easy target for Jonathan's non-pc jokes about gay people (see blog 7 July 2007). Despite widespread misgiving over Ross's remuneration, he enjoys Mark Thompson's full-hearted backing. According to Mr Thompson "the BBC has always had to go into the market for key broadcasting talent. Our licence fee payers want the very best people on the BBC...Were Jonathan to leave the BBC, you would have headlines about that fact and I think our licence fee payers would be disappointed." And in October last year, even at a time when the Director-General was seeking volunteers for redundancy, again Thompson defended Jonathan Ross.

With this well-known backing from the top level of BBC management, it's hardly surprising to hear of the loutish behaviour shown by Ross, Russell Brand and their senior producers as reported by the Mail today. Andrew Sachs was reported to be deeply upset and terribly hurt by their behaviour. Perhaps there needs to be a code of behaviour for public service broadcasting.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The top story on Newsround at 5pm today was the government plan to make PSHE education for 5-16 year olds compulsory in England. Sonali: Have you had any classes on growing up and having babies at school?

Maddy then reported about plans to change the rules in England. There are some facts said Maddy that not everyone's great at talking about, like how girls' and boys' bodies change as you get older. And things like moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend, getting married and having babies.

CBBC Agony Uncle Aaron said having a baby when you're a teenager is a lot of work, and it's not what you'd expect it to be like, so having all of the information and learning about it properly will help you make better decisions about what kind of relationships you want to have and what kind of decisions you want to make.

Maddy said some mums and dads are worried about teachers talking to kids about growing up, as they'd prefer to do it themselves, and can ask for their children to miss those lessons. Her report ended by asking what viewers thought about having body and relationship lessons at school.

The last news item was about a slip-up on South African TV when a politician's chair broke as he was speaking in an interview. Sonali: And finally in TV we like to plan ahead to try and make sure that things go wrong...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Faith, morality and the media

What is it about those in charge which makes them think they're experts on morality. Especially when they're devoutly religious. Tony Blair is convinced about the importance of religion and its role in guiding his life and work. He connived with the Americans in starting a war, while giving lectures on faith in politics.

BBC Director-General Mark Thompson is well known for his deep religious convictions, and his speech to the theology think tank Theos may have left the audience with the impression that faith and morality go together hand-in-hand.

According to Mr Thompson: "quite simply religion is back." People of faith - Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs - are, he says, all increasing in number as a proportion of the population whilst atheism is on the wane. In consequence, Mr Thompson believes the media can't avoid religion if they want to reflect the world.

If there's any truth in Thompson's suggestion that religion is growing in popularity, it didn't seem that way from a Newsround report on Sunday 28 September. Apparently churches in England Scotland and Wales are trying to get kids to attend Sunday services, but it seems most kids aren't interested. Maddy, who was presenting Newsround that day, said churches "are especially worried that Christian kids are going less than ever before." Three kids interviewed on the programme said they wanted to play football at the weekend, and were too busy to go to church.

Religion and Honesty are not always good companions despite Biblical Law forbidding falsehood. Anyway I've seen evidence which indicates a decline in religious belief, so I've written to Mark Thompson asking the sources for his claims and hope to hear back by the end of this week.

More on Mark's lecture:-

  • Preaching to the masses - Guardian comment
  • BBC boss says Islam should be treated more sensitively than Christianity - Telegraph
  • Friday, October 17, 2008

    Yesterday, the 50th anniversary of Blue Peter also saw the start of a new CBBC reality series - Election - presented by Angellica Bell. It seems like a kids version of The Apprentice but with a political twist. The idea has promise, but time will tell whether it lives up to that promise.

    Angellica began by asking the audience "If you ruled the world what would you do?" Some of the show's contestants provided suggestions e.g. dealing with knife crime - arrange that more people to have access to clean and safe drinking water - ensure every child had a bicycle - set up theatre groups and dance classes.

    Sixteen kids from around the UK were selected by audition, and in the first episode they were whittled down to ten. These will reside in the Election 'Leadership House' and take part in various tasks to decide who has the qualities needed by political leaders. Each week we will see leadership skills put to the test, and Jonathan Dimbleby will be telling one unlucky kid that their campaign is over. The series will end with the final two candidates debating in the Palace of Westminster, and the ultimate winner will have the chance to meet the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street and tell him their idea for making Britain a better place for kids.

    My tip to win is Amardeep who was seen in a Newsnight-style debate excerpt saying "children have minds, and adults have to stop taking control all of the time..," but Izzie's policy to stop young people being stereotyped and give them a chance to express their individual identity is also in keeping with this blog's ethos.

    Election is no substitute for proper coverage of youth politics such as the BYC and the UK Youth Parliament, to which the BBC gives little attention. Maybe Election is a step in the right direction, and I'll almost certainly have more to say about this series in the future.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Money crisis

    Newsround has been doing its best to keep kids informed on money issues. Last Wednesday it reported the government's bank rescue plan and Declan Curry explained what was happening. Friday's programme began with a report about the Iceland bank problems with over £1bn of UK money frozen, and on Saturday Ore reported that a hospital in Manchester treating cancer patients could lose £7½m. Monday's programme included more about the cash crisis, including interviews with kids on the changes they'd noticed. The report ended with some tips on how kids could be more careful spending their money.

    The BBC has always been value for money, but with less to go around these days it won't be only kids who need to get better value. Even Conservative leader David Cameron, referring to the plan to invest taxpayers' money in the banks, said last week that there should be "no more irresponsible behaviour, no more inappropriate dividend policies and no more indefensible bonus packages." Maybe the BBC should heed the advice about bonuses. Why were bonuses introduced in the first place? I wonder if the BBC Trust will ask management to do the right thing and abolish bonuses for good.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    EastEnders, homosexual content

    The 150-odd people who bothered to complain to the BBC about homosexual content on EastEnders could have saved wasting their time. On Tuesday the much-publicised kiss between Christian and Lee took place, and hours later the BBC added its response on their complaints website. The BBC said "We approach our portrayal of homosexual relationships in the same way as we do heterosexual relationships."

    But the truth is that the BBC has again used a gay storyline in a negative way.

    In 2003 there was the New Year's Eve "lesbian" kiss between Zoe and Kelly which turned out not to be lesbian at all. Then more recently the awful portrayal of Sonia and Naomi's relationship. Yesterday's episode of EastEnders included scenes pathetically reminiscent of the first time Christian appeared in the soap. This time Lee was the incredibly rude gay man causing all the problems. Lee, it seems, had no time for anyone similar in age to himself. Plenty of stereotyping and, as usual, the relationship has apparently (no-one can be sure in soaps) ended almost before it began.

    Homophobes should be thanking the BBC, not complaining.

    Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    Homophobia in sport

    One of Newsround's strong points is the amount of time devoted to sport and sport-related stories. Yesterday at 5pm the programme's top story was about former Plymouth Argyle footballer Luke McCormick, who was sent to prison after causing a motorway crash in which two children were killed. In the fifth news item yesterday Adam reported from Hull about how well Hull City is doing in the Premier League, making it to third place in the table.

    Newsround viewers are well informed about almost all aspects of football. On 10 January 2008 the programme considered who should take over at Newcastle. Kevin Keegan's appointment was top story six days later, as was news on 2 September that he would leave the club. On 5 September Newsround reported that fans were threatening to stay away in a protest against the club's owners.

    Other football stories covered by Newsround included Joey Barton's prison sentence for assault, an item about fans being unable to watch the England vs Croatia match because it was only broadcast live on Setanta Sports, and news of former Man United player Ben Collett's £4.3m award after a tackle in 2003 resulted in leg injuries and his early retirement.

    This morning's main item was about comments by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who thinks that it is too easy for foreigners to buy British football clubs. Ore reported Sepp as saying that buying a football club now seems as easy as buying a football shirt.

    One topic that so far hasn't been covered is the problem of homophobia in sport. Last week Sol Campbell was again the victim of abuse, and the incident was reported to Hampshire Police. With such comprehensive football coverage why wasn't the item reported by Newsround?

    Sportsfix video report - Abuse in football

    Wednesday, October 01, 2008

    Loads of kids have sent in their opinions on the new-look Newsround. To me the 'screens' mentioned in an explanation of the graphics look more like eyes attached to optic nerve stalks. So as well as presenting us with the news they're also watching out for the news.

    The Sun reports that there will be a kiss between two gay characters on Eastenders. Such a kiss goes more or less unnoticed on Hollyoaks, but this is the BBC so the writers decided to get Dot Cotton to comment that she's as liberal as anyone else but doesn't like seeing that sort of behaviour in public. The episode will be shown on 7th October 2008, which is exactly ten years since Matthew Shepard was assaulted on account of his sexual orientation.