Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Recently Newsround carried out a web survey to find out what kids worry about. An opinion poll published by the Children's Society indicated that the UK is failing to meet children's mental health and well-being needs.

Yesterday, as part of a week of Newsround items about children's worries, Jake presented a rather upbeat report into the way kids from Risedale Community College are trying to tackle the problem of bullying.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Transgender children

Should teachers be doing more for transgender pupils? That was the question posed in an Independent article on Thursday. The piece began with a description of the life of Lauren, a trans kid who was severely bullied at school. The Independent says Lauren had been insisting from the age of three that she had "a girl brain in a boy's body" - quote marks are The Independent's.

Lauren's life, says her mother, had become a living nightmare. She faced daily taunts and bullying, including being spat at, abusive language from the mother of another child, and an ambush in which older boys tried to remove her skirt. Lauren's story reflects the quandaries experienced by schools when faced with a pupil who does not fit neatly in to the "boy" or "girl" box.

Sometimes, when schools are more thoughtful, experiences can be more positive for trans kids. The pupils at Tim's school were told what to expect when Tim came back as Becky after the holidays. The school made it clear that bullying would not be tolerated. None was reported when Becky returned with long hair and female clothes, though curious pupils did want to ask Becky questions.

In the coming week, Newsround will be investigating what worries or stresses out kids. One of the programmes will be about bullying. Other topics will be terrorism and climate change.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A BBC 'debate' on the future role of public service broadcasting (PSB) has begun with the launch of a special website. This debate follows publication of Phase One of Ofcom’s second review of public service broadcasting on 10 April 2008. It is described by the BBC as "a wide-ranging debate with the public and the creative communities to garner views on public service broadcasting."

Sir David Attenborough, Stephen Fry and Will Hutton have been invited by the BBC to present their views in lectures which will be broadcast and available online later. Additionally, according to the BBC, there will be in-depth research with the UK's creative community and the wider audience on their attitudes to public service broadcasting.

Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC, said: "I am pleased that the Ofcom report reaffirms the audiences' view that the BBC is the cornerstone of public service broadcasting in Britain. As part of our engagement with the review, I want to focus on what our audiences want from us in the future. .... I'm looking forward to hearing from the public and the creative industries what they want from the BBC as we move to a digital society."

Newsround blog intends to contribute fully to the debate. Unfortunately, at the moment, Mark Thompson is refusing to converse on the matters which I have put to him. I did however receive an email three weeks ago from a BBC Divisional Advisor attempting to explain why the main BBC children's television channels have become more narrowly age focussed. I had previously understood, from an email posted to a now defunct Grange Hill message board, that the decision was "based on extensive audience research." However it now seems that the decision was not in fact based on audience research, but rather "seemed sensible and obvious." I was also informed that "the launch of BBC switch has proven a great success," but so far my request for more details about this success has been met with silence, despite two reminders.

More soon.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Reports abound in newspapers and on the net that magician Derren Brown is gay and has a boyfriend. Derren said “You have to be open and up front – or you end up turning it into a dark secret in your mind.”

It's still very difficult for kids to 'come out' at school without risking vicious prejudice. Thankfully Newsround's website has started to recognise the issue of homophobic bullying.

My last blog talked about CBBC and sexuality, using Eliot Kid as an example. The new series of Grange Hill began last week. Here are some snippets from the first episode, New Beginnings:-

Alex: I've been thinking. I'm gonna take charge of my life this year. Be more pro-active. It's like with the Humphries brothers gone last year, without them hounding me I can get on with being me! You know what I mean - it's like if you fancy somebody, you should just go up and tell 'em .. like ask 'em out......

Tigger: He's right though isn't he? About being pro-active. I've been thinking the same thing about Alison.
Ed: What about her?
Tigger: Today's her lucky day. Today I'm gonna ask her out. Proper.
Ed: But she might not wanna go out with you.
Tigger: She was all over me like a rash last year.
Ed: When?
Tigger: She was.
Ed: Er, when?
Tigger: She was giving me all the signs
Ed: Er, when?
Tigger: Ed - this is the difference between me and you. I understand these things.
Ed: So why didn't you make your move then?
Tigger: Alex! He had a thing for her didn't he. I didn't wanna make him feel bad by steppin' in then.
Ed: So what's different now?
Tigger: Well he obviously fancies someone else now
Ed: Well how did you work that one out?
Tigger: Well he didn't tell us the name of who he fancies. If it was Alison he wouldn't have been able to help himself, right? It's Sammy!
Ed: Sammy?
Tigger: Yeah, she's a geek. She'll see the big man's intellectual side.

Togger: (kisses a scantily dressed Tanya) Is that legal?
Tanya: I'm in the sixth form. I can wear what I want.
Togger: No, I mean like anywhere?!

Tigger: You could've introduced me
Ed: Yeah I know, Anyway you've missed her now.
Tigger: Thanks mate(!)
Ed: Look I'm just saying, as a mate, think about it because she might not fancy you.
Tigger: (laughs)
Ed: What if she fancies Alex? (Tigger looks incredulous) Alright then what if she fancies someone else?
Tigger: Well then I'll take my chances. Like the coach is always saying - You don't score if you don't shoot....

(Togger and Tanya still kissing in school corridor - Jenny sees and looks disgusted. Mrs Rawlinson bumps into her.)
Mrs Rawlinson: Really child you must be more .. whatever is the matter?
(Jenny gestures her towards Togger and Tanya snogging)
Mrs Rawlinson: Oh dear. Hurry along - it's only a practical demonstration of homo sapiens' characteristic desire for pre-mating ritual in public.

etc. etc. throughout rest of the programme.

During Derren Brown's stage act he sometimes joked that he could get any girl he liked to go out with him. But now Derren says sorry for disappointing any girls who fancied him.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Eliot in Love

How many children in Britain know the story of Cinderella? Quite a lot I should think. And few parents would object to it being read to their children at school. But change the events slightly to a tale about a prince falling in love with another prince and ... well that's another story! Bristol City Council have withdrawn books called 'King and King' and 'And Tango Makes Three' from two primary schools after complaints, mainly from Muslim parents.

Books like these are intended to help children understand that people are different. Experts believe that understanding differences at an early age is one of the most effective ways of tackling prejudice. So if young children realise that boys don't necessarily fancy girls (and vice versa) that is a sensible way to deal with the problem of homophobia and resultant homophobic bullying. As a bonus these books could also help some children who might otherwise be somewhat unhappy about their own feelings.

Regrettably the BBC seems to have a similar attitude as the parents who complained.

Over the last year or two CBBC has insisted that all its output should be suitable for six to twelve year olds. One of its newish acquisitions is a cartoon called Eliot Kid. It features an imaginative intelligent six year old boy called Eliot. Like many new cartoons Eliot Kid incorporates some modern ideas about diversity - a good selling point these days. So one of Eliot's two closest friends, Kaytoo, is black. His other best friend, Mimi, is a largish girl who wears glasses.

What about sexuality, though? Well, of course, CBBC says it doesn't deal with sexuality of any kind. But right from the start, in the episode called Wedding Impossible, there's a hint that six year old Eliot is attracted to the opposite sex. And we're not left in much doubt when, in an episode called Eliot in Love, we see Eliot totally besotted with classmate Loretta. Incidentally this was the episode referred to in my blog on 12 April 2008

When CBBC say they don't do sexuality, what they really mean is we don't do anything other than heterosexual feelings. It's true that Eliot never says anything such as "I'm straight", but that's only because he doesn't need to say it.

In the words of Mark Thompson "I thought this was clear before, but absolutely make it clear now" - the BBC is deceiving the public when it claims not to do sexuality of any kind for children.

If you're still not convinced, take a quick look at current posts to the Your Life message board and then read my blog on 28 March 2008.

Latest 'love' advice from Aaron, CBBC's Agony Uncle

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The death of Mark Speight was the first item on Monday's Newsround at 5pm.

Yesterday The Mail reported that children as young as seven had posted tributes to Speight on the Newsround website and revealed how he had inspired them to pursue art at school. The Mail website said "Newsround broke the news of Speight's death in its programme last night, taking extra care to gloss over exactly how he died. There was no mention of suicide and children were simply told that his body had been found and no one else was thought to have been involved."

A Mail report later in the day claimed that some children had been in tears at the news. Some parents were unhappy that it had been covered on Newsround; others defended the BBC's actions claiming youngsters should not be shielded from the truth. The Mail said that some people believed the BBC should have used the death as a chance to drive home to children the dangers of drug abuse.

Laura Sadler, who played Judi Jeffreys in Grange Hill, and went on to play Sandy Harper in Holby City, was also a victim of drug taking when she fell off a balcony in 2003. It emerged that she and her boyfriend had been drinking and taking drugs. The boyfriend, George Calil, who was questioned by police, had played her drug-pushing boyfriend Sean Hunt in Holby City. The fictional character of Sandy Harper was written out of Holby City in a story which involved her winning the lottery and going to Australia.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Good Newsround press pack report today about the dangers of BB guns. Presspacker Anthony from Glasgow was concerned about these guns being used near where he goes to school. The guns are a type of air gun and look similar to a real gun. Anthony spoke to a boy called Andrew, who had a tooth shattered by a BB gun whilst on holiday. Andrew's story had made front page news in a local paper, The Arran Banner.

I've noticed that the 'Teachers' section of Newsround's website has now added a page about bullying which also includes homophobic bullying - a good first step, but a long time coming.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT) has made a short spoof filmclip: Badass Wombles of Central Park to warn of a crisis facing UK children's television. Lack of homegrown children's programmes was also one of the issues raised in Ofcom's PSB report published on 10 April 2008.

The Womble clip asks: "Ever wonder why your kids speak a different language?" The answer, according to PACT, is that children's TV is dominated by imported shows - new UK programmes account for just 1% of all children's television broadcast in the UK. Great Uncle Bulgaria adds "... and I thought I was short-sighted. Tell those Wombles in government we need to start making British programmes for British kids again before it's too late." The filmclip ends with a question - "what is a fanny pack anyway?" (it means a "bum bag" in British English)

In my blog of 24 March 2008 I quoted Jocelyn Hay, from the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, who wants children to grow up to be informed citizens of this country and not of some mid-Atlantic fantasy world.

This morning Jana Bennett, BBC Director of Vision, spoke to Breakfast TV about her reaction to the PACT campaign. She suggested that the BBC may devote more resources to homegrown content, particularly in regard to CBeebies, but her precise intentions were unclear.

In the same blog (24 March) I mentioned how programmes like Grange Hill and Byker Grove have been ruthlessly axed by CBBC. One of CBBC's new imports is the cartoon Eliot Kid, variously described as "Pour les enfants de 4 à 8 ans" (TF1) and "Target group 6 - 9" (H,L&T). Apparently not even the dubbing for Eliot Kid is done in this country - language, as with the PACT spoof filmclip, is all American English. For instance, in one episode when their teacher asks Max to work with Mimi in a class presentation about grasshoppers, Max calls Mimi a "slowpoke" (it means "slowcoach" in British English). So much for BBC homegrown content.

Wombles in Da Hood
Wombles warning over TV imports

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Public Service Broadcasting (PSB)

PSB purposes, the public purposes:-

Purpose 1: Informing our understanding of the world - To inform ourselves and others and to increase our understanding of the world through news, information and analysis of current events and ideas

Purpose 2: Stimulating knowledge and learning - To stimulate our interest in and knowledge of arts, science, history and other topics, through content that is accessible and can encourage informal learning

Purpose 3: Reflecting UK cultural identity - To reflect and strengthen our cultural identity through original programming at UK, national and regional level, on occasion bringing audiences together for shared experiences

Purpose 4: Representing diversity and alternative viewpoints - To make us aware of different cultures and alternative viewpoints, through programmes that reflect the lives of other people and other communities, both within the UK and elsewhere

Ofcom today launched the first phase of its second review of public service broadcasting. Annex 10 to the review deals with the future delivery of public service content for children. A substantial portion of the review of children's television programming is about the lack of satisfactory content for older children and teens, something that this blog has consistently highlighted.

Ofcom say that "In the context of changing children’s media consumption, older children and young teenagers are particularly dissatisfied with current delivery of public service programming, yet there is no evidence that providing this type of content is a viable commercial option." But, of course, one of the fundamental reasons for maintaining a licence fee based broadcaster is to fund quality programmes which are not necessarily commercially viable, but are in the public interest. By only belatedly catering for teens, and then with such nugatory programming, the BBC has potentially handed their rivals a sharp knife with which to top-slice the BBC licence fee. If, instead, the BBC had served this section of the community satisfactorily, children's television would not be the issue that it has now become.

Ed Richards, Ofcom's CEO told Channel 4 News in a recorded interview:

"The benefits of a wider distribution of the licence fee are clearly that is one among a series of options that would offer a route to supporting a wider mix of public service broadcasting in the future. But the risks associated with it are that, if a wider distribution of the licence fee took place, that in some way you may damage or diminish the BBC. And that is not an outcome that we would want to take place. But we do want to secure a system which is a plural mixed broadcasting system ..."

The BBC has decided to launch a Conversation with the public and selected sectors.

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
  • Friday, April 04, 2008

    An interesting item appeared in the Washington Blade today. It was about Major Alan Rogers, an American soldier, who was killed in Iraq on 27 January 2008. It seems that the American press tried to hide the fact that he was a gay man. The Washington Post's Executive Editor Len Downie argued there was no proof that Rogers was gay and no clear indication that, if he was, he wanted the information made public. However, it turns out that Major Rogers worked for American Veterans for Equal Rights and had many gay friends who had been interviewed by a Washington Post reporter. His friends, it seems, were outraged at the treatment he received by the press.