Monday, June 30, 2008

CBBC message boards (continued)

A short while after my blog last Monday, the moderators allowed a post to get through from someone who fancies both genders. Is the discrimination policy about to be ditched? I'm keeping a tally of posts on hetero, LGBT and other issues, and so far the statistical evidence still points to a discriminatory policy which includes, of course, the matter of language and self-identity.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The BBC has largely ignored the controversy about the Heinz Deli Mayo advert, but on Thursday the 'BBC News Magazine' published a piece by Tom Geoghegan - It started with a kiss. The article looks, amongst other things, at the history of same-sex relationships on British television.

Tom Geoghegan's article claims that, twenty-one years after Britain's first gay kiss on primetime TV, a show of intimacy between two men clearly still has the capacity to shock television audiences. This assertion is presumably based on the 200 or so complaints received by the Advertising Standards Authority during the five days period that the ad was screened. But there are around 60 million people in Britain. So 200 out of 60 million represents about 0.000003% and within a few days of Heinz announcing that the ad had been pulled loads more people called for it to be reinstated, including some MPs.

Yesterday leader of the Lib-Dems, Nick Clegg, wrote to the Director of UK Corporate Affairs at Heinz urging him to reconsider. Mr Clegg acknowledged that some people in Britain today are uncomfortable with same-sex relationships, but he says that "such prejudice should not be condoned" by an organisation of Heinz's size and stature. He goes on to say:-

The sight of two men kissing affectionately should not be considered offensive or controversial. This is particularly the case in an advertisement which was so rich in irony and double-meaning.

The decision to withdraw it has not only offended many gay, lesbian, transgender - and straight - people, it also represents a backward step in attempts to combat homophobia in Britain today, not to mention a collective loss of humour.

Tom's e-zine article refers to a gay kiss in Byker Grove in 1994. But even before that, Grange Hill's staff included Mr Brisley, a gay teacher. He managed to overcome homophobia from the kids at the school, and eventually got accepted like the other staff. Mr Brisley left Grange Hill in 1999, and since about 2002 the programme has been unwilling to deal with LGBT issues. Byker Grove included a gay storyline in 2004/5 shortly before being axed in 2006.

Just as Heinz was catering to the prejudice of a small number of parents when it withdrew its Mayo commercial, so the BBC caters, more so than in the past, to the prejudices of narrow-minded parents in the way it runs public service broadcasting for children.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Heinz Meanz Homophobz

Heinz said "It is our policy to listen to consumers. We recognise that some consumers raised concerns over the content of the ad and this prompted our decision to withdraw it."

That was their first excuse for withdrawing a TV advertisement which included a kiss between two men. Heinz withdrew the ad after less than a week. Recently they've come up with other reasons, none of which actually goes as far as to say "Heinz is a homophobic company."

A small number of bigoted consumers didn't like the advert. But most people seem to approve of it, including members of a UK parents' forum.

So why is Heinz only listening to the bigots? Whatever happened to the company's Diversity Policy? It looks like Heinz is not a trustworthy company.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

There's been a lot of fuss about a TV ad for Heinz Deli Mayo. Apparently the advert, which included a kiss between two men, received about 200 complaints.

Some parents, according to reports, were angry that they had been forced to explain same-sex relationships to their youngsters. They had every right to be angry ... after all isn't the BBC supposed to enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain. If the BBC had been doing its job properly, children would be informed by Newsround and other CBBC programmes. There would be no need for embarrassed parents to explain.

Last summer BBC Director of Vision, Jana Bennett was telling everyone at Showcomotion in her keynote speech: "We help children understand themselves and their relationships in all their rich complexity and in particular, understand their world – begin to fathom their navigation of relationships, their situation, through the experience of others whom they can relate to."

Was Jana Bennett telling the truth (see, for instance, my previous blog entry.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

CBBC message boards

About a year ago it looked like the BBC was becoming more inclusive (see my blog on 26 June 2007). Messages from kids who had feelings for others of the same gender were sometimes passed through moderation and some even used words like 'lesbian' or 'gay'

Some messages were answered by Aaron, CBBC's agony uncle:-

But by the end of summer 2007 BBC discrimination against LGBT kids was fully back in place.

So when this message was posted recently no-one could read what it said, but only see the BBC's reply:

Message 365 - posted by CBBC (U11500666)
Having feelings for your friends isn't something you should be ashamed of, it's a lot more common than you might think. But it's important to get support, so find someone who can give you that. You could talk to a family member, a friend, a teacher. If there is no one you feel you can speak to it may help to talk to Childline (0800 1111). Talking to someone who helps you feel ok about who you are is a great help, so try to speak to someone soon.

CBBC Helper

My guess is the original post was something to do with having feelings for a friend.

But if having feelings for your friends isn't something you should be ashamed of, and if it's a lot more common than you might think, why did the BBC remove the original message?

Could it be that the post was about same-sex feelings, and the BBC doesn't want to be more specific by telling kids that having same-sex (lesbian or gay) feelings is okay? In fact, doesn't this type of censorship really send out exactly the opposite message.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Last night Newsround reported the story of Sarika Singh, a Sikh girl, who has gone to the High Court. The court will have to decide whether Sarika can wear a religious bracelet or whether the school's uniform rules must be adhered to.

Sonali: First to a huge row that's costing loads of money and involving lots of important people - and it's all about a bangle. A 14 year-old girl in South Wales has been excluded from school for wearing a bracelet which she says is important for her religion. But the school disagrees. And today the row ended up in one of the country's highest courts. Laura's got more.

Laura: (video showing Kara on a girl's arm) This is a Kara. It's a bangle worn by Sikh people to remind them of their religion and to prompt them to do good with their hands. Sarika says that hers is very important to her and that she wants to wear it all the time. But her school, Aberdare Girls' in South Wales says she can't. They have a uniform policy that says that no-one can wear any jewellery apart from stud earrings and a watch. They asked Sarika to remove her bangle. She refused, and so in November last year she was excluded.

Laura: (reporting from outside the High Court) Because they can't agree amongst themselves, today Sarika and her mum and the school came here to the High Court in London to battle it out. Inside there, Sarika and her mum will be arguing that this is all totally unfair, and that it's all damaging Sarika's education. The school, though, argues that its jewellery policy is fair for everyone.

Laura: (archive video of Shabina Begum outside court) Sarika's story is not that unusual. In the past we've reported about Muslim girls, and even a teacher who went to court because they wanted to wear veils to school. We've also reported about some Christians who've been told they can't wear special rings or crosses to class either. It's difficult because, on the whole, schools make up their own rules about uniforms, so there are bound to be disagreements. (video of Sarika arriving at court) But it's hoped that by clearing up this row in the High Court it might give everyone else a better idea of what's okay to wear to school and what's not.

This evening Laura read out some of the feedback Newsround had received:

Laura: ...This is about being able to wear any kind of religious jewellery or clothes to school. And there's been a pretty mixed reaction to this from you lot. First up Emily from Dorset reckons that kids should be allowed religious jewellery at school because it's not to look nice, it's to do with their religion. Rachel from The Wirral says she wears her crucifix all the time. "If you believe that it means something then you should be allowed to wear it," she says. But Matthew disagrees. He says he thinks the school is right because uniform is a school rule and shouldn't be broken. And Chloe says that no jewellery is allowed at her school at all. She says Sarika must have known the school rules before she started there, so why complain now.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Age banding

In her literature review (pdf), used in Ofcom's October 2007 discussion paper on children's television, Professor Messenger Davies refers to some research for one of her earlier publications. Professor Messenger Davies had asked kids aged 6-12 to play the role of children's TV programme controllers and choose what programmes other kids should watch. They came up with lists such as the following: Top of the Pops, Rugrats, Home and Away, Blue Peter, Slot Meithrin, EastEnders, Live and Kicking and Ren and Stimpy. This list, from a group of Welsh 12-year-olds, represents both range of genre and plurality of provenance.

My blog on 8 May 2008 referred to comments by educationalist, Professor David Hargreaves. He has said that pigeonholing children by age is "an extremely crude measure". Recently he told me that age banding in broadcasting for young people is arbitrary, since maturity and age among the young are not strongly correlated, and are becoming less so.

Now, it seems, book publishers are thinking of age banding in books, and that many authors including Philip Pullman, JK Rowling* and Jacqueline Wilson are opposed to the proposal and have signed the No to Age Banding petition. This age banding story was the main item on Newsround this morning.

Newspapers have covered this story in quite a lot of detail. The Times asks at what age are children old enough to be exposed to a terrifying story of child abuse, murder and gingerbread architecture? Five? Ten? Sixteen? Never? That story is, of course, Hansel and Gretel. Mark Lawson, in The Guardian, considers both sides of the argument, but wonders who will set the standards and concludes that the existing system without banding might sensibly be left in place.

The Daily Telegraph quotes Philip Pullman. He says "I have had letters from children of seven who say they have read all the way through His Dark Materials and they have an astonishing knowledge of it. But not every child is the same. A child of nine might be tentative and unsure about reading, and to give them a book that says 9+ will reinforce their sense of failure. The book should be suited to the individual child."

*Edit note (7 June 2008): Although Mark Lawson indicates the campaign has JK Rowling's support, it seems that her name is not at present listed on the 'No to Age Banding' petition website.

*Edit note 2 - (20 September 2008): I checked again and found that JK Rowling's name is now on the petition.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

BBC Statements of Programme Policy 2008/2009

The BBC has finally released its latest Statements of Programme Policy. Gone is last year's promise that the BBC must be inclusive.

The Statements begin with a message from the BBC's Director-General, Mark Thompson. In it he says that last year was a challenging one for the BBC with editorial issues around competition voting and controversy around programmes featuring the Queen and children’s content. He goes on to say that the BBC responded strongly with new guidance and approval procedures and an extensive training programme, Safeguarding Trust, for all staff involved in editorial decisions. He leaves out the fact that certain BBC staff have continued to deceive the public, that he is aware of instances of deception and that he's turning a blind eye. Also he has ignored Will Wyatt's recommendation regarding deception:

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.

The 'Accountability' section is still in the SoPP. Like last year it begins:

The BBC, as an open and transparent organisation which is trusted by the public it serves, seeks to engage its audiences in dialogue, to learn from them and to respond honestly to what they have to say.

But the way the BBC is going, I doubt that statement will remain in place much longer.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Occasionally comments are posted to the more dated entries of my blog. That's what happened yesterday. A comment posted to the 27 March 2006 blog was about the problems of using 'gay' on CBBC message boards. For a short period early last summer some LGBT messages were allowed through on the CBBC 'Your Life' board, and some were even answered by CBBC's agony uncle, for example:-

But by late summer it seemed that the previous discrimination policy had been reinstated, and new messages using words like 'lesbian' or 'gay' were no longer to be seen. I informed BBC management about the discrimination last September but there was no improvement, so I raised the issue again today with the BBC and the Trust.

Last year Sir Michael Lyons was highly critical of salaries paid to people like Jonathan Ross. Today Sir Michael was seen posing for the cameras outside Broadcasting House as he and Jana Bennett shook hands, perhaps in a symbolic gesture to indicate that the BBC Trust and the BBC Executive Board are now working as one.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sadly Lizo has left Newsround after ten years on the programme. Sonali spoke to him on Friday and told him that he'll be missed by everyone there. He said he'd had a wonderful time on Newsround - been to some amazing places, met some amazing people and can look back on some fantastic memories. Sonali then surprised him with a compilation video of some of his best moments on the programme.

Lizo told Sonali that it was hard to pick out a highlight but he mentioned his reports on Doctor Who and Harry Potter, which he'd loved over the years. And also the big serious stories like reporting on how children's lives in Iraq were being affected by the fighting. He said in future he'll be working for the main BBC News channel, reporting on entertainment stories which he enjoys.