Wednesday, December 30, 2009

BBC Values:-
  • Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.
  • Audiences are at the heart of everything we do.
  • We take pride in delivering quality and value for money.
  • Creativity is the lifeblood of our organisation.
  • We respect each other and celebrate our diversity so that everyone can give their best.
  • We are one BBC: great things happen when we work together.
The last two weeks or so of 2009 showed the world just how far the BBC has drifted from its core values. Can anyone believe an organisation claiming to celebrate diversity but which asks the public whether 'homosexuals' should face execution?

And as for the BBC's editorial guidelines about impartiality, the Corporation didn't report the furore which resulted from its bizarre editorial decision. Instead there were a couple of BBC blogs which attempted to justify the "stark" headline but later on stated it was "too stark" and may therefore have caused offence.

The BBC is simply unable to admit to its underlying prejudices, particularly relating to age, disability and sexual orientation.

On 22nd December 2009 the BBC carried out a spate of interviews with rugby player Gareth Thomas, who had come out as gay in order to help others worried about their sexuality. But despite Gareth's wish to help kids, Newsround didn't seem to think this was the sort of help kids should be getting. Perhaps the BBC doesn't believe kids could possibly be gay - it certainly looks that way from CBBC programmes such as Little Howard.

With this New Year it would be nice if the BBC were to resolve to ditch all the prejudice. Getting rid of Jonathan Ross's demeaning stereotype of gay men - notable only on account of their sex lives - would be a great start.

Too much to hope for? Let's see.

Happy New Year

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In an ideal world, the sexuality of a celebrity or sports star would be none of anyone's business. But we aren't living in an ideal world, as the BBC made all too obvious when they asked for opinions on whether 'homosexuals' should be executed.

Many, many people were very annoyed. Philip Hensher wrote in The Independent: The one thing that you would not expect is that the BBC should choose to engage with so gross an assault on human rights by mounting a debate on exactly the moral grounds of these horrible murderers. A BBC World Service programme on the subject was accompanied by a debate on a message board with the headline "Should homosexuals face execution?" Ooh, I don't know. There's something to be said on every side, isn't there? In the style of Mrs Merton, Caroline Aherne's immortal character: Let's Have A Heated Debate.

The BBC's Editorial Guidelines state: "people should only be described in terms of their disability, age, sexual orientation and so on when clearly editorially justified." A top sportsman, who, in order to help others, wishes to tell the public he is gay would seem to meet the requirement. And indeed BBC News did report, on Saturday, that Gareth Thomas had come out as gay. He told the Daily Mail that he doesn't want desperate young people confused over their sexuality to suffer in silence.

What about the thousands of young people who watch Newsround and Sportsround? Wouldn't that story have been a great way to counter homophobia and send them a positive message?

Unfortunately the story wasn't mentioned at all on Newsround, and there's nothing about it on the website either. The last time Newsround mentioned a man was gay was when Stephen Gately died. Maybe, as far as BBC Children's TV is concerned, it's only OK to be gay if you're dead.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

How dare the BBC run a debate on whether murdering homosexuals is acceptable?

The headline above was just one from hundreds of blogs and newspaper articles about a BBC online debate last Wednesday.

Be angry with Uganda, not the BBC, said Lance Price. It seems he, as a gay man, wasn't offended by the question. But could it possibly be that, like those close to the BBC, Lance is not entirely impartial? When Jan Moir wrote her infamous piece in the Daily Mail, famous names including Stephen Fry were lining up to make their views known on Twitter and in their blogs.

According to a Guardian piece, BBC Pride had lobbied the World Service to change the headline and end the discussion "to minimise negative reflection on the BBC."

As for the BBC Editorial Guidelines which require the Corporation to be impartial about itself - interesting to note that, once again, the BBC has buried an item touching on its own anti-gay sensibilities.

Under the heading Gay execution 'debate' is a disgrace Balaji Ravichandran says the BBC is not being impartial by letting a homophobic Ugandan regime set its online agenda – it's providing a platform for hatred.

Ben Summerskill said "Given the near invisibility of so many gay issues from BBC news and current affairs - including recent murders of gay people - it does seem odd that the BBC should invite people to contribute to their web forum asking if gay people should face execution. It is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain the idea that the BBC should receive £230 million from lesbian and gay licence fee payers every year."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

From Wednesday's Guardian: BBC news website asks users: 'Should homosexuals face execution?'

My email to the BBC Diversity Centre (excerpt):-

Subject: Debates on diversity issues

I understand that earlier today the BBC put up a forum question asking whether 'homosexuals' should face execution.

Please could I ask if the Diversity Centre regards this as a legitimate and acceptable question for debate? ......

World Service Africa Have Your Say editor David Stead explains that the BBC thought long and hard about using this question. Reposted on BBC's The Editors

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One of Newsround's main interests is the climate, and there have been several mentions of the Summit currently taking place in Copenhagen. Yesterday viewers were told about Robert's speed bump invention which "could help save the planet." The report ended: "So, Deborah's impressed. Fingers crossed for Robert it will impress experts at the climate change summit too."

Robert's invention, one of four chosen at a climate camp in Sonderborg earlier this year, might impress the politicians, but I'm not personally convinced that speed bumps are a good way to conserve energy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The BBC Trust has been under sustained attack this year. The latest to join the onslaught was former BBC Director-general, Greg Dyke. In the Royal Television Society's Christmas Lecture on Wednesday, Greg called for the BBC Trust to be abolished with regulation handed to either Ofcom or a new public service broadcasting watchdog.

The BBC quotes a spokesperson for the Corporation as saying the Trust was "getting on with the job of making sure that the BBC delivers for licence-fee payers ... These were personal remarks made by Greg and he is entitled to his opinion."

In my submission to the Trust's consultation on children's services (see blog 16 August 2008) I said explicitly that the Trust acts in cahoots with BBC management. Since then the Ross/Brand debacle starkly exposed the Trust's failings - it came across as lumbering and ineffectual. If the Trust had chosen to carefully and dispassionately analyse Mark Thompson's overall performance as Director-general they would have found ample grounds (see previous blog) for a no confidence vote.

The Trust's past subservience to BBC management has cost a great deal of public goodwill, and left the Trust in peril of its very existence.

There have been loads of interesting and sometimes surprising items on Newsround this week, including a presspack report on shotguns, and Ricky reporting about an anti-pink campaign. The week kicked off with an environmental story.

Monday's programme began with a report on the climate change summit in Denmark. Newsround is not sending a reporter to Copenhagen to cover the Summit, because apparently they are concerned about their carbon footprint. Leah said that if she had travelled by plane from London to the Danish capital, the journey would have created double the amount of carbon dioxide which she normally produces in a whole week. On Wednesday Leah took a look at how much CO2 is produced making one day's worth of Newsround programmes.

Considering all the interest in CO2 emissions, it was very disappointing that nothing at all was said regarding the environmental consequences of travelling into space when Hayley reported on Tuesday about Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo.

Also on Tuesday's 5pm programme we saw Ricky reporting about a campaign against the colour pink -

Sonali: Now we're talking colour. I am totally loving pink at the moment, but some people are annoyed that toy shops are selling too much pink stuff for girls. What's wrong with that? Well Ricky's been looking into this for us.

Ricky: Grace loves a bit of pink. Most of her toys, clothes and even bedroom are completely covered in the stuff.

Grace: This is my favourite blanket, because it's warm and cosy and it's Hannah Montana.

Ricky's report also included Abi Moore from Pinkstinks. Abi believes that a lot of toys for girls are old fashioned - all kitchens and cooking and princesses and fairies.

On Wednesday Leah read out one message from the published feedback -

Leah: Yesterday we told you how some people are angry with toy shops who sell loads of girls clothes and toys, pink. They reckon it will make all children grow up thinking pink is a colour only for girls, and their Pinkstinks campaign is being backed by an MP. Well we got loads of emails from you on this, and Sophie told us 'I don't think pink stinks' and she also points out that it isn't just girls that like pink, boys do too. So thanks for getting in touch on that online.

Monday's programme covered the Go Go Hamster safety controversy, which is just as well considering the amount of positive publicity Newsround had given the toys as its first news item on 10 November 2009 at 5pm. The manufacturers say that the toys pass UK safety tests.

Shotguns are somewhat more dangerous than Go Go Hamsters. But nevertheless using them for sport was the subject of a presspack report by 12 year old Victoria, who has been using them since the age of nine.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Revision of BBC Editorial Policy - part 3

Mark Thompson took over as BBC Director-general on 22 June 2004, telling staff there was a need for real, radical change. Thompson immediately set about restructuring of the BBC's Executive Committee, and one year and a day later the BBC published its new slimmed down set of Editorial Guidelines - the guidelines still in place today.

How did Mark Thompson's guidelines differ from what went beforehand? The Producers' Guidelines, as they had been known previously, had given comprehensive advice on a range of issues including Taste and Decency. Mark Thompson, however, presumably thought that kind of stuff wasn't needed in his new anti-political-correctness BBC. So it was ditched along with a lot of other things, including this guidance from the chapter about Portrayal:-

Gay and lesbian people, and those who are bi-sexual, make up a significant minority entitled to be served and treated fairly by the BBC ....Lesbians and gay men can be particularly subject to thoughtless and offensive stereotyping .... There is no place in factual programmes for our use of words like 'queer', 'dyke', 'fairy' or 'poof': when contributors use them they should be challenged wherever possible.

The BBC claimed its new guidelines had applied "editorial lessons learned since the last update in 2000," but didn't explain why some sections had been removed. Previously, producers had been cautioned not to "demean or brutalise through word or deed, or to celebrate cruelty." Comedy must be "well judged, not gratuitous, unnecessarily cruel or designed to harm or humiliate a person or group."

The policy guidance removed by new broom Mark Thompson would have made it abundantly clear that the treatment meted out to Andrew Sachs by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand could not be countenanced.

Thompson has made no bones about his disdain for political correctness. He told The Telegraph: 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!

Is it any wonder there's a yobbish and bullying culture at the BBC which led, amongst other things, to the Andrew Sachs incident. Brazen Mark Thompson, rather than admit responsibility for BBC failings, repeatedly insists others take the blame and resign.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A few days ago Ian McKellen was a guest speaker at a school in Suffolk. The East Anglian Daily Times reports McKellen as talking about homophobic bullying, prejudice and gay stereotypes.

McKellen is reported as saying: I have to confess that I am little disquieted at times by the way that gays are portrayed, particularly on television. Something like Little Britain is not particularly helpful. I know Matt Lucas will say that he is gay and it is not offensive but I don't think it gets the right message across.

The story was also reported by Pink News. One user comment on the story:

Ian is right. While people are being attacked and killed for their sexuality, we are failing to get across the message that it is OK to be gay. The use of "gay" to mean "lame" might appear like a small thing, but small things matter – they contribute towards bigger things. Homophobic attacks work by dehumanising the victim. And one way to dehumanise someone is to consistently make fun of them. Matt Lucas contributes to this – Daffyd is a high-profile ridiculous stereotype, and there aren't enough non-stereotypical representations to counter it. Little Britain is so popular because it's cruel. It's lazy, 1970s humour, dressed up as "postmodern" and multi-layered because one of the leads is fat and gay himself. They had a term for that when black comedians made fun of black stereotypes – Uncle Tomming. Matt Lucas is just another Uncle Tom.

The current homophobia is a drip by drip effect – and all the more insidious and difficult to prevent because there are so many apologists, from within gay ranks, who fall over themselves to prove how strong and thick-skinned they are. Just because they don't take offence, they think there's no problem. Well tell that to Michael Causer. Oh except you can't because he's dead.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Revision of BBC Editorial Policy - part 2

Taste, Standards and the BBC was commissioned following the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand debacle in October 2008. The Report is co-authored by Alan Yentob and Roly Keating, and sponsored by Jana Bennett and David Jordan. One of the recommendations in the Report deals with malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation:

BBC programmes must never condone malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation. While they are all aspects of human behaviour which may need to be depicted, described or discussed across the BBC’s factual and non-factual output, they must never be celebrated for the purposes of entertainment. New guidance is needed to ensure that everyone involved in programme making for the BBC understands that malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation are unacceptable.

Humiliation is already covered in current guidelines, here and here.

The Trust, however, wanted to make editorial controls even stricter. The Draft Editorial Guidelines in part based on Taste, Standards and the BBC are, as we'll see, in fact weaker than those nominally in force at present.

1) The Introduction to current Editorial Guidelines makes clear in unambiguous terms that Any proposal to step outside these guidelines must be discussed with Controller Editorial Policy. It is marked out in red, as being a mandatory referral to the Controller, who at present is David Jordan, one of the co-sponsors of Taste, Standards and the BBC.

In contrast, examine the replacement wording from the new draft guidelines (pdf). The comparable section (2.1) now states Any proposal to step outside the Editorial Guidelines must be editorially justified. The change appears to cede to programme makers rather than the Controller/Director of Editorial Policy the initial decision as to whether or not output can breach guidelines. This "democratisation" of the decision-making process weakens the authority of the guidelines beyond measure.

The Draft continues: It must be discussed and agreed in advance with a senior editorial figure or, for independents, with the commissioning editor. This change confirms a nebulous and unaccountable line of authority.

The Director Editorial Policy and Standards must also be consulted does not imply that he has the authority to refuse permission. In fact the words "also" and "consulted" imply that he now is to have a subsidiary role. Perhaps this explains why David Jordan's job title seems to have changed from "Controller of Editorial Policy" to "Director of Editorial Policy and Standards."

2) Next, compare the following from current guidelines:

We aim to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom's people and cultures in our services. Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exist in our society but we should not perpetuate it. We should avoid offensive or stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in terms of their disability, age, sexual orientation and so on when clearly editorially justified.

with the change made in the new draft (5.4.37):-

We aim to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom’s people and cultures in our services. Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exists in our society but we should not perpetuate it. In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc. may be relevant to portrayal. However, we should avoid careless or offensive stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in such terms when editorially justified.

The BBC has added "In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc. may be relevant to portrayal." There's nothing unreasonable about explicitly clarifying a point. But another subtle change has been made - the need to be "clearly editorially justified" has now been downgraded to "editorially justified."

The portrayal guideline is further compromised by the addition of 5.4.38:

When it is within audience expectations, we may feature a portrayal or stereotype that has been exaggerated for comic effect, but we must be aware that audiences may find casual or purposeless stereotypes to be offensive.

I have been trying to clarify certain aspects of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines as they apply at present. Both Alan Yentob and David Jordan have been contacted, but so far with little success. It seems that nominal protections for minorities will be further eroded away if the proposed changes are adopted by the BBC Trust.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Revision of BBC Editorial Policy - part 1

A meeting between the BBC's Director-general and the BBC Trust was held on Thursday 30 October 2008. It was part of a damage limitation exercise following public outrage at the behaviour of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand on a Radio 2 show. The Director-general made it clear that there had been a serious breach of editorial compliance which should never have happened.

A plan was put in place to take the heat off the BBC, which at the time was being battered by the press. One measure adopted was to request a study into the appropriate boundaries of taste and standards across all BBC output. The next day Sir Michael Lyons was interviewed by a skeptical John Humphrys. Sir Michael said that the BBC must be firmer on excesses, and there was a "need for even stricter editorial controls."

A report was published on 24 June 2009 entitled Taste, Standards and the BBC (blog 24 June 2009). It cost licence fee payers £288,456.28 excluding the cost of BBC staff effort. The Report's conclusions inform the Draft Editorial Guidelines (pdf), which are the subject of a Trust consultation, closing in four weeks' time.

Contrary to Sir Michael's intention, as given in his interview with John Humphrys, Newsround Blog believes that the new draft guidelines are in reality weaker than the current guidelines. A significant change has been made, such that the proposed guidelines have less weight because their authority is seriously diminished. This will be explained in the next part.

Consultation timeline (taken from BBC Trust Terms of reference (pdf))

October 2009 - Draft of the new Editorial Guidelines published and public consultation launched

October to December 2009 - Trust Unit gathers information from BBC Executive, public consultation, audience research, outcome of the implementation of the Audio Visual Media Services Directive in UK legislation, outcome of the current Ofcom Broadcasting Code consultation, and other sources

24 December 2009 - Public consultation closes

January to March 2010 - Trust analyses data

Spring 2010 - Trust considers findings from the data and implications for the Editorial Guidelines

Summer 2010 - New Editorial Guidelines finalised and published

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Yesterday's Newsround top story at 5pm

Ore: Tonight David Beckham reveals he has asthma.......

Ore: Hi there I'm Ore. First to our top story, and a spokesperson for Becks has confirmed he's had asthma since he was a boy. The LA Galaxy midfielder was seen using an inhaler during the club's last game. Now asthma charities say it proves the condition doesn't have to hold you back. (video clip begins)

Ore: David Beckham has been at the top of world football for years. And having a popstar wife has meant that Becks career, as well as his family life, have always been played in the public eye. But when his team, LA Galaxy, took on Real Salt Lake in the MLS cup final on Sunday - a really big game in America - David Beckham was pictured for the first time using an inhaler. Reports now say he's had the condition since he was a kid. Other sports stars that have asthma include Chelsea's Frank Lampard, athlete Paula Radcliffe and Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington. And the news that David Beckham also has asthma is a massive boost for the million or so kids that have it in the UK.

Neil Churchill (Asthma UK): One of the things that children often tell me is they think there's a stigma associated with asthma - they feel that they're being singled out and that people are laughing at them, it's a bit embarrassing. And the fact that someone as successful as David Beckham, and as cool as David Beckham, is saying he's got asthma and it's no big deal - I think will really give people the confidence to live with asthma and not to be ashamed of it.

Girl: My friend has asthma and he can't really play that much sport. But David Beckham has asthma and he can play sport. So it shows that my friend can still play football.

Boy: I was shocked because I've never seen David Beckham out of breath on the football pitch. And it shows that even though you have asthma it can't stop you from doing sports.

Girl: It shouldn't stop anyone from like having a dream of being a footballer, for example, as he is.

Ore: Despite his condition, having asthma doesn't seem to have got in the way of Beckham's career. Hopefully paving the way for more sufferers onto the path of success.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thousands of children went to a UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) rally in Poole, Dorset yesterday to celebrate twenty years of the Convention and to further promote the rights of children. Press Packer Jessica covered the event for Newsround's website.

Last year the four UK children's commissioners authored a joint report (pdf) to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In October 2008 the Committee made its recommendations for the United Kingdom. The Committee said urgent measures were needed to address intolerance and discrimination against vulnerable groups of children.
Recently advertisements have appeared on UK television which promote a website seemingly intended to disseminate the message of international human rights amongst young people ( The organisation behind the campaign is a Scientology front, and people should be aware of this fact.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Whose side are you on? - continued

Recently published figures indicate that 47% of 14-year-olds have experienced some sort of bullying. The figure is a little less for 15-year-olds (41%) and lower still for 16-year-olds (29%). Evidence suggests that kids who are bullied at 14 and 15 obtain significantly poorer GCSE results - equivalent to two grades lower.

Are those who stand by and watch whilst others get bullied no better than the bullies themselves? That's what Newsround wanted kids to think about when they called their latest Special Whose side are you on?

In the beginning we see Jack waking up at the start of a school day. He walks to school with his sister, Ellie, who asks why he's been avoiding his friend Liam. We see Liam being bullied, but Jack has been keeping out the way watching it happen and doing nothing to help Liam.

In school that day Jack meets the first of his celebrity advisers, Aston Merrygold from JLS. Aston asks "do you know what it's like to be bullied?" and explains that he was the only black kid in his football team and suffered name-calling and verbal abuse which made him feel miserable.

Jack refuses to walk back with Liam after school. Liam asks him "whose side are you on?"

Jack bumps into Joe Calzaghe at the after-school boxing club, and is surprised to learn that Joe was also picked on. We then see what happened to Joe when he was younger. Kids went biking to Joe's house trying to pick a fight with him. Joe resisted the taunts and got called 'sissy' and other names. He focussed on his boxing and it helped him ignore the bullying.

Jack is still reluctant to help Liam. On his way back home Jack looks in a TV shop window and sees Patsy Palmer - Bianca from EastEnders. Patsy relates her experiences of being bullied because of her ginger hair - it was the worst time of her life. Patsy tells Jack that bullied kids need help, and they need their friends to stick by them.

Moments later Jack meets George Sampson, winner of Britain's Got Talent 2008. George tells Jack that he had dance lessons when the other kids were playing football. They thought he was 'weird,' but he knew who his real friends were - the ones who stood by him and didn't care what anyone else thought.

Back home Jack's sister Ellie is online, chatting to Liam. Ellie says that Liam seems really lonely and asks her brother why he doesn't like him any more. Ellie suggests that Jack should talk to Liam, but when Jack refuses she tells him that he is just as bad as the bullies.

Jack is watching TV in the evening when he meets the last celebrity, Gemma Hunt from CBBC. Gemma tells Jack not to bury his head in the sand, and that the bullies will stop if they see that Liam has got friends like Jack around him. Gemma tells Jack to decide whose side he's on.

Jack is in bed mulling over all the advice, and in the morning he decides the right thing to do is to let everyone know that he is standing by his friend Liam.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Whose Side Are You On?

That's the question Newsround is asking viewers to ponder in a special programme on Monday afternoon to mark the start of Anti-bullying Week. The programme considers what it's like to be an onlooker, but do nothing to help. In the show we will see Jack do nothing while his friend Liam is bullied at school.

Newsround would like to hear from kids in a similar situation. "Whatever your story," says Newsround, "we want to know about it!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Phil Redmond's RTS lecture - part 2 of 2

In January 2008 Phil Redmond was interviewed by Stuart Jeffries of The Guardian -

Stuart: What would you be doing if you weren't working on this [organising the Liverpool City of Culture events]?

Phil: I was going to say I'd be driving through Grange Hill's 30th anniversary celebrations, but that wouldn't be true. The BBC has abandoned what Grange Hill was about in order to attract viewers aged six to 12 rather than its traditional 13-plus constituency, so there's nothing to celebrate.

Stuart: Do you feel as though the BBC has strangled your baby?

Phil: I do. The most irritating thing is I'm not surprised. It once provided a rites-of-passage touchstone that parents and teachers could use to start conversations. Children under nine can't really have the discussions about the moral issues that Grange Hill was about. It's a shame it's become about ratings. Culture should be about more than that.

A few weeks after the interview Anne Gilchrist axed Grange Hill claiming, untruthfully, that CBBC's audience overwhelmingly supported her decision.

Towards the end of 2008 Phil Redmond spoke at the Media Festival in Manchester. He said "Broadcasting is completely disconnected from the cultural life of the nation."

Phil talked more about the disconnect affecting children's TV in his RTS lecture in September 2009. Referring to the BBC's lack of provision for teenagers Professor Redmond charaterised the BBC Trust as finding Channel 4 cool, in contrast to the BBC - uncool. He lamented the fact that more of the BBC licence fee wasn't made available for children's television.

Phil: Teenage eyes, sensing a lack of local opportunity, role models or relevance ... they start to drift from their set texts as disinterest, disillusionment, detachment and disenfranchisement sets in - and in some areas antisocial behaviour becomes the comfort blanket. .... where are the cultural touchstones for those all-important rites-of-passage years? They're not on television. Because our broadcasters and regulators have decided that childhood ends at 12 ...... I suppose what really happened with Grange Hill in hindsight was that we highlighted, and then fixed the disconnect from Wheldon's world. Instead of a distant, structured, almost cosy world, we put on screen a life that most children would actually recognise. It was a reinterpretation of public service television for children. And in our fast moving digital environment it is even more imperative that we constantly re-examine what we mean by that term "public service broadcasting."

Phil: We cannot think about the future of children's TV without thinking about the BBC itself, and its licence fee. Why? Not just because it's now the only UK broadcaster still actively originating programmes for children. But more fundamentally, if you've downloaded a copy of the BBC Trust's Review of children's services and content from February of this year, the first line reads: "The BBC Trust believes that children's broadcasting is at the heart of the BBC's public service remit." We should stick it on a T-shirt and we should all wear it. The last line of James Murdoch's Mactaggart lecture reads: "The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit." These two lines from opposite ends of the broadcasting spectrum explain why our commercial broadcasters, ITV, Five, Sky and even the publicly subsidised Channel 4, have retreated from originating children's programming. And why the BBC alone stands. It's the reason why Grange Hill was produced at the BBC only after all ITV companies had turned it down ... the publicly funded broadcaster had taken the risks. In a world driven solely by profit, who makes the leaps of faith? Who takes the risks?

The full lecture can be viewed on YouTube

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Phil Redmond's RTS lecture - part 1 of 2

As expected there were no Newsround reports this year about 11 Million Takeover Day.

Readers of Newsround Blog will know that the BBC discriminates against older kids - for example, the recent lack of published feedback from 15-year-olds (blog 2 November 2009.) And then there is the lack of programmes relevant to the lives of secondary school kids.

In February 2008 Anne Gilchrist, then Controller of CBBC, said that children's lives had changed a lot in recent years and that CBBC needed to reflect those changes (blog on 9 April 2008)

Perhaps Anne had in mind that most kids these days are undercover spies like the protagonists of M.I.High, or maybe school detectives like Fletcher Moon, rather than like the humdrum kids who went to Grange Hill. But I'm not sure kids themselves agree - and that's probably one reason why so many have been deserting television. This 'disconnect' was the theme of Professor Phil Redmond's Huw Wheldon lecture to the Royal Television Society in September.

Phil was introduced to the RTS audience by Lorraine Heggessey.

Lorraine Heggessey: ... He never patronised this young audience, nor did he shy away from controversy. He threw a hand grenade into the world of children's drama when, in 1978, Grange Hill burst onto our screens, changing the nature of children's drama forever. Children loved it even though - or largely because - it offended their parents. For the first time they saw the reality of their lives on screen rather than the sanitised twee view that had previously been on offer....

Despite Lorraine's introduction, it seems that the nature of children's drama did not change forever, and we have returned to the old days where the lives of real kids have once again been replaced with a sanitised twee image, but now with an added fantasy twist.

Phil began his lecture with some clips from the days of Wheldon's world children's TV and went on to state his belief that television can be "an empowering agent for social and cultural cohesion." He warned, though, that television itself was at risk, as the younger generation turn away from it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

It's 11 Million Takeover Day. No reports about it on Newsround so far, but will there will be anything later today? (see blog on 23 Sept 2009)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

One of Newsround's reports on Monday was about parents lying on school application forms. Hayley said "It's all because parents want to make sure you go to the right school. But does that make it OK for them to cheat?"

Of course, as regular Newsround Blog readers would know, it's not only parents who cheat. What happens to all the feedback from 15-year-olds? I think Newsround has some explaining to do, so I've contacted the BBC to ask about the anomaly.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Nice to see that Newsround covered the UK Youth Parliament meeting in the House of Commons. I've been suggesting the programme do more reports about the Youth Parliament, so it was a step in the right direction.

But there are signs of the BBC's discrimination against older school kids (see blog dated 13 Dec 2006.) Although we do see feedback from the occasional 15-year-old, it seems that most feedback from them is destined for the cyberbin. Here are a couple of examples where the BBC received loads of messages, and I think the figures speak for themselves.

What do kids think of the X Factor's John & Edward? So far there are 45 responses from 14-year-olds but none at all from 15-year-olds on the webpage.

A few weeks back, on 28 September, Newsround reported news about schools banning coloured bracelets, and the programme asked kids for their views. Newsround published a total of 372 responses, including 49 from 14-year-olds. But again there are zero responses from 15-year-olds on the webpage.

Newsround is asking kids who've been cyberbullied to share their experiences. It remains to be seen how the BBC will treat the feedback they receive, and whether the problem will be reported in a fair way.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Night with Jonathan Ross - 23rd October 2009

Joanna Page, Jamie Cullum and Boy George with Jonathan's house band

Tim Minchin was the third guest on last week's Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Before chatting to Jonathan, Tim was invited to perform a song he'd specially written for the occasion.

During the performance the TV audience saw a couple of carefully posed views of the house band in the foreground, wearing T-shirts with Boy George logos, and Jonathan's guests - including Boy George - looking on (see screen shot above)

On Tuesday I promised to examine the lyrics.

The word 'poof' is offensive. It was used by a contestant on Channel 4's Big Brother in 2007. There were many complaints, with people comparing the seriousness with that of a racist word. Guidelines published jointly by Channel 4 & Five in 2008 state: "As with ethnic minorities and the disabled, the casual or insensitive use of offensive terms, such as ‘poof' or ‘queer', can cause serious offence, regardless of intention."

Two days ago Jeremy Paxman suggested that the word 'poof' is no longer heard on television. The following is taken from an item on Newsnight (28 October 2009) -

Paxman: Can you really do comedy without ever offending?

Paxman: There are some things you'd never see now:
(clip from BBC comedy programme 1975 - with English actor playing a Sikh)
(clip from BBC comedy programme 1970 (B&W))

Man (1970 clip): He fancies you.

Paxman: And there are some things you'd never hear now:-

Man (1970 clip): He's a poof. ....

Obviously Jeremy was wrong, as he'd know if he watched Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. But Newsnight, as we've seen, was right to indicate that 'poof' is offensive. The simple truth is that without collusion from Jonathan's house band, the BBC would no more be able to broadcast the word 'poof' than it would be able to use any other offensive term about a minority group.

So, simply put, Jonathan's house band confers a spurious legitimacy to the use of an offensive term. This is clearly appreciated both by Ross and his house band, and also by the BBC (see blog 26 October 2009). That this situation has been allowed to continue for so long is also partly due to Ofcom's complicity, though if their recent consultation document on Equality and Diversity is to be believed this should be about to change.

Tim Minchin's song plays a blinder, in that it subtly misleads listeners by referring to "the best solution to the problem you're inevitably having" with gay men in the house band. The song goes on to suggest that the licence-paying public don't want the BBC to employ LGBT people on the show, and spends time detailing examples of Daily Mail-type letters of indignation. Despite the insinuation that the BBC is worried about pressure from homophobes, I'd hazard a guess that the more substantive problem Ross and the BBC "are inevitably having" is from those who support equality and diversity, and who object to the word 'poof' and to the demeaning way Jonathan introduces his house band each week.

Just as Tim's song plays a blinder with Jonathan's public, so did Jonathan with Jeremy Piven three weeks ago (blogged on 13 October 2009). In both cases the suggestion is that opposition to Jonathan's house band results from prejudice. Jeremy Piven is a diverse-friendly actor, and Jonathan Ross knew that fact full well.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Kirsty Wark presented last night's Newsnight, and one of the items was about homophobia. Referring to the attack on James Parkes, Kirsty asked "Is this an isolated but horrific incident or is homophobia still just below the surface in our society?"

Reporter Jackie Long began her report from Old Compton Street in Soho which, she said, had over the years become synonymous with London's gay community. "But for the people here tonight," said Jackie, "the news of the brutal attack on a young gay man in Liverpool on Sunday is a reminder just how vulnerable they can be."

A studio debate followed. Johann Hari said that school anti-bullying policies which consistently address homophobic abuse were effective in reducing the problem. Kirsty asked about the role of faith schools, to which Johann answered that kids in those schools are 10% more likely to be bullied violently and 25% less likely to tell anyone.

Neither yesterday's Newsnight report nor the Channel 4 report had anything to say about Michael Causer, who was brutally murdered in a homophobic attack last year. The murder, in Liverpool, wasn't reported in most of the national media. And the trial of his murderers in February this year was similarly ignored.

Newsround Blog has consistently echoed the view of the British Psychological Society. I blogged in September 2006 that "the British Psychological Society had made clear that young people should not have to put up with homophobic bullying and that it should be combatted from Key Stage 1. Therefore Newsround should not avoid the topic."

Kids grow up hearing the word 'gay' used in a negative way at school, and nothing positive on kids' TV to counter it. Is it surprising that a generation despises and bullies gay people?

1} Schools, particularly faith schools, must clamp down against homophobia and homophobic bullying.

2} BBC TV must stop condoning, or in some cases colluding with prejudice. CBBC needs to make kids' programmes which affirm LGBT diversity and inclusiveness, as used to be the case.

So far BBC Vision has in no way lived up to its name. Hopefully the appointment of a new diverse-friendly Director of BBC Children's will afford an opportunity for positive change.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Channel 4 News this evening included an item about the worrying rise in homophobic hate crime across Britain. Trainee policeman, James Parkes, was off duty when he was attacked on Sunday night. He is seriously ill with head fractures.

James left a gay nightclub with friends, when some teenage boys across the road shouted homophobic abuse at them. PC Parkes was kicked and punched, and suffered a fractured skull, eye socket and cheekbone. Police believe that up to twenty kids may have been involved in the attack.

According to the Channel 4 report, Merseyside Police have recorded a 41% increase in homophobic hate crimes this year (April'08/March'09) compared with the previous year.

A policy officer from Stonewall said that a significant proportion of LGB people feel the need to alter their behaviour - whether that's not holding their partner's hand in public or not going to gay venues etc - simply to avoid being the victim of a homophobic hate crime.

Pete Price, a DJ and stand up comedian said he'd been attacked because of his sexuality. He said he'd always had to live with homophobia.

Jon Snow then interviewed Brian Paddick, and began by saying:-

The shocking thing about this particular incident is the youthfulness of the attackers, and people are saying that in their teens these kind of offenders are commonplace.

Brian Paddick said that what we're seeing is a resurgence of homophobia amongst young people.

Jon Snow: Where is that coming from? I mean who is influencing it?

Brian Paddick: 'Gay' is now used as a derogatory term by teenagers. It's used by certain Radio 1 DJs, and generally I think whether it's Nick Griffin appearing on Question Time and making homophobic remarks - across the board I think people are being encouraged to be homophobic.
Last week's Friday Night with Jonathan Ross included a controversial song by Tim Minchin. I hope to deconstruct the lyrics in a future blog.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Recall that Michael Causer - a gay teenager - was murdered in Liverpool last year, and the man who kicked his head in was cleared of all blame by a jury at Liverpool Crown Court. According to witnesses Gavin Alker had used language such as "watch yourself, he's a poof" and "you little queer faggot" (see blog on 17 May 2009). Since then there have been other homophobic attacks, particularly in London, and last night there was a homophobic attack in Liverpool, with the victim, James Parkes, struggling for his life in hospital.

In yesterday's blog I wondered when the BBC will accept that its editorial decisions are often the wrong ones. As Controller of BBC One Jay Hunt is nominally the person responsible for the content of Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, and all BBC One programmes. I emailed her a few days ago, on 15 October:-

Dear Jay,

I understand from Editorial Guidelines that when the BBC broadcasts material which risks offending some of its audience you must always be able to demonstrate a clear editorial purpose. The Guidelines also refer to a "responsibility to protect the vulnerable," and mention that "people should only be described in terms of their disability, age, sexual orientation and so on when clearly editorially justified."

As you may be aware, there have been a number of violent attacks on LGBT people over the last few months, and although it would be churlish to blame the BBC for these attacks I don't think it unreasonable to say that much of the BBC's comedy is based on mockery of the LGBT minority. And in that sense the Corporation is not only reflecting the prejudice of society, but also helping to perpetuate it.

Please could you therefore have a word with Jonathan Ross and ask him to desist from the lewd innuendo with which he introduces his house band every week?

Many thanks.

I received a reply from Jay Hunt this afternoon. Jay tells me that Jonathan introduces the house band with "a knowing twinkle in his eye." And furthermore I'm told that his house band savour the moment.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Newsround is the BBC's flagship news programme for kids, and the way the programme deals with controversial issues is a litmus test for the Corporation's impartiality.

Should you be allowed to have your say even if what you're saying really upsets people?

Newsround posed that question (see previous blog) but surprisingly there was no feedback page for kids to give their answers or opinions.

The question as put was, in any case, a loaded one. Opposition to Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time isn't based on a worry about "upsetting" people. It is based on the concern that normalising the BNP will, in turn, normalise racism and all that entails - racial abuse and violence.

When is the BBC going to accept that its editorial decisions, routinely regarded by them as sacrosanct, are often the wrong ones? It's perhaps significant that Mark Thompson recused himself on Thursday, instead leaving others to answer questions on this critically important topic.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Report on Newsround at 5pm last night -

Sonali: First - should you be allowed to have your say even if what you're saying really upsets people? That's what's being talked about today in a big row over a political party called the BNP. Its leader is appearing on a BBC show tonight, but lots of people think he's racist and shouldn't be allowed on. And in the last half hour protesters have broken through security here at BBC Television Centre in London.

Video, includes interviews with Martin Smith of Unite Against Fascism, and Mark Byford, the "BBC's deputy boss."

Sonali: This is the person at the centre of the row. His name is Nick Griffin and he's the leader of the British National Party or the BNP. Lots of people don't like the BNP because they think they're racist. The party doesn't allow anyone who isn't white to join them, and it doesn't like people from other countries moving here. The BNP insists that doesn't mean they're racist. They say they're just standing up for white people who were born in Britain. And some of the public agree, because in elections over the summer the BNP got more votes than they've ever got before. That's why the party's leader Nick Griffin has been invited to appear on Question Time tonight here at the BBC. Every week millions of people tune in to hear what politicians have to say. But as you can see people don't want to hear what Mr Griffin has got to say.

Martin Smith: We believe that Nick Griffin and the British National Party are a fascist racist party. And we believe his appearance on TV will create more racism and violence.

Sonali: But should you be able to say what you think even if people don't necessarily like what you've got to say? The BBC certainly thinks so.

Mark Byford: He's the leader of a party that's allowed to stand in elections, and the amount of support that they have now had at the most recent election means that they qualify for having an appearance on Question Time where they can be questioned about their policies by the British public.

Sonali: And even though lots of people think it's wrong to give people like Nick Griffin a chance to appear on TV, others believe if you don't like someone's views it's better to let them talk and then argue against them. In the last half hour around twenty-five protesters have broken through the gate at the entrance to the BBC's Television Centre. It looks like the situation is now under control, but the demonstration continues.

See also blog on 3 October 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

I've now heard back from the BBC Trust regarding my email about BNP participation in BBC1's Question Time this Thursday (see blog dated 3 October 2009) but they say they don't answer hypothetical questions.

Ric Bailey, the BBC's Chief Political Adviser was asked a similar hypothetical question by Jon Snow on Channel 4 News earlier this evening - Would Ric have had Hitler on the programme?

Ric Bailey: Well, fortunately I wasn't in a position of being Executive Editor of Question Time then, but we have to deal with what we have now. Impartiality means you have to take a judgement about the present political context. And when the BNP won seats at a national level in that election in June we had to look afresh at the situation.

The BBC Trust wasn't consulted before BBC management decided to invite the BNP. It would be nice to think that, had they been consulted, the Trust would have counselled against the invitation. Peter Hain says that not only is the BNP a racist and fascist party, but it is also in breach of the law.

Even if the BNP was behaving within the law, the BBC's decision to invite them on such a debate programme is unsettling. Television, as Phil Redmond argued in his Huw Wheldon lecture last month, is "an empowering agent for social and cultural cohesion." Nick Griffin, however, has no intention of promoting cohesion and is instead using the medium to promote the divisiveness upon which his BNP thrives.

Jay Hunt, Controller of BBC One, sacked Carol Thatcher earlier this year, following a racist comment by Carol which was overheard by colleagues at the BBC. I wonder how much say Ms Hunt had over the forthcoming edition of Question Time to be broadcast to the nation. Very little, I suspect.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lizo Mzimba left Newsround on 30 May 2008. He had worked on the programme for many years before becoming one of its senior reporters. Lizo was reputed to have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Doctor Who and Harry Potter, and occasionally got important scoops on developments in those series. His enthusiasm for the Harry Potter books and films was something of a legend.

As a presenter Lizo was generally OK, but when things went wrong on live TV he was often unable to cope as well as some of his colleagues at the time, such as Ellie Crisell. Ellie, accompanied by her newborn baby and fellow presenter Laura, sent her good wishes when he left Newsround to become the BBC's Entertainment Correspondent.

Lizo started well at his new job, but more recently has been seen making a hash of things.

Last week, speaking on the BBC News channel, he reported that Ofcom wasn't intending to do anything about complaints over the Dannii Minogue remark (see blog on 11 October 2009) but unfortunately his reportage came across as sympathetic to the complainants.

And Yesterday morning, in a live interview with David Furnish who was attending Stephen Gately's funeral, Mzimba asked in general terms about a newspaper article that had appeared the day before. Furnish began to reply, mentioning Jan Moir and The Daily Mail by name, at which point Lizo became flustered and cut short the interview.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Quite a lot has been written recently about Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor. But there was another controversial programme at the weekend which received little attention from journalists - Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. It might seem that the programme is only controversial in this blogger's opinion - after all my dislike of Jonathan Ross is well known. However there are some rather curious edits to the latest edition of Friday Night with Jonathan Ross on the BBC iPlayer.

Mr Ross still introduces his house band with lewd innuendo pertaining to their sexual orientation. So far the band have endured his innuendo without complaint. However one of the band members, Ian Parkin, has recently made it known that he is endeavouring to stop homophobia, so I don't really think the BBC can allow Ross to continue in this way.

As part of the 'welcome' to his second guest, an American actor called Jeremy Piven, Jonathan posed a carefully crafted question: "Er we do things slightly differently here Piven. You lot may have your PR agents and your Botox technicians and your hair wranglers and your assorted fluffers and buffers. But you haven't got 4 Poofs and a Piano have you?"

Piven responded "No sir, I do not - thank God!"

The audience jeered - falteringly to start with, and then more loudly - without appreciating that, no doubt, Piven has reservations about the homophobia surrounding Ross and his house band, rather than intending his reply as a slight on the band itself.

The start of the programme, as it went out last Friday night is available here on YouTube, and the programme with two edits can be viewed on the iPlayer until this Friday. The cuts occur at approximately 4'59" and 5'06"

In the first cut Piven's "What I meant to say is I celebrate your four poofs and your pianos." was changed to "What I meant to say is I {CUT} and your pianos."

The second cut altered "By no means. I'm just trying to understand where I am and what's happening" to "By no means. I'm just trying to understand where I {CUT}" (sudden audience applause)

So it seems that with the BBC iPlayer the unmissable is missable after all.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

X Factor heterosexism row

Dannii Minogue took a lot of stick after last night's edition of X Factor. Danyl Johnson had sung a rendition of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."

The fuss surrounded a change to the lyrics from "You're the best man I've ever known" to "You're the best girl I've ever known" and Dannii suggested that if we're to believe everything we read in the papers he needn't have changed the gender reference in the song.

Many people were critical of her comment, believing that Dannii had 'outed' Danyl as gay or bisexual. But the truth is that Danyl had already spoken about his sexuality. Danyl spoke to the press in August to claim that he'd dated men and women. He said "I wouldn't rule out someone just because of their gender."

So why did he change the lyrics of the song? Perhaps it was because his mentor, Simon Cowell, asked him to change them. After all, as Simon Cowell is well aware, we live in a prejudiced society where it's often easier to succeed by conforming to the rules. And that could also explain why many took what Dannii said as a put down, when in reality we shouldn't see it in that way.

I hope that in future no one will be asked to change lyrics for "aesthetic" reasons.
Boyzone star Stephen Gately dies

Newsround reported the death of Stephen Gately today on the CBBC channel

Gavin: First up .. lots of people have been paying tribute to Boyzone star Stephen Gately who's died. The singer was part of the boyband who had six number 1 hits in the 90's.They say they're completely devastated. It happened while the 33 year old was on holiday with his partner on the Spanish island of Majorca. .. (video begins) Stephen Gately rose to fame with Boyzone in the 90's, with hits like "No Matter What" and "You Needed Me." The band had a string of number ones, and thousands of fans. Their manager was X Factor judge, Louis Walsh. Before they split in 2000 the singer became one of the first stars of his time to openly say he was gay. Boyzone got back together a couple of years ago for a tour, and Stephen also starred in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and ITV's Dancing on Ice. It's thought he died in his sleep. The rest of the band, including Ronan Keating say they're flying out to Majorca later today.
The National Equality March is taking place in Washington, DC

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Strictly Come Dancing racism row

Strictly Come Dancing has been in the news quite a lot this week following revelations in the News of the World about racist remarks made by Anton du Beke.

On Monday 5 October Newsround reported it like this -

Sonali: Strictly Come Dancing star, Anton du Beke, is in trouble after using a racist word about his dance partner Laila Rouass during rehearsals. He's said he's sorry and insists he's not a racist. Laila says she's accepted the apology and they've moved on. But anti-racism campaigners have called for him to be booted off the show.

A response to complaints from the public was published on 6 October. The BBC said that it "does not condone offensive language in the workplace," and went on to say that the matter had now been dealt with. A statement on behalf of Anton du Beke categorically denied that he was a racist or that he had used racist language. There was, according to Anton's statement, "no racist intent whatsoever."

Surely if Anton's apology was sincere it would have acknowledged that he was being racist and made clear he would be more respectful in the future. Newsround, this afternoon, played a clip in which Anton tweaked his apology.

As you can hear, Anton used the phrase "I am mortified ... " which rather reminded me of the words used by Jonathan Ross when he was in deep water last May (see also blog on 15 June 2009)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Rarely does it look like Newsround has taken leave of its senses. But that was the case yesterday with the top story in the 5pm slot. Here's how the programme began -

Ore: This is Newsround.
Hayley: Tonight I'll be on the lookout for the garden bird that you could soon kill.

And things didn't get any better in Hayley's report. We were told that the birds are becoming a pest in some areas and that "from next year, just like crows, rooks and magpies you'll be able to kill them without permission." Apparently some people are really upset because "now they're here they're not going away." But Hayley cautioned Newsround's audience that they "can't just come to a park and strangle a parakeet ... before you do anything there's a few rules you have to abide by ... "

Don't take my word for it - judge for yourselves.

Natural England's statement on monk & ring-necked parakeets

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Valuing respect and diversity (part 3)

When Newsround reported on the European Parliament (blog 8 June 2009), Adam Fleming told viewers that a group called the British National Party had won places, and that's "caused a huge fuss." Adam said the BNP didn't want any more people from abroad moving to Britain, and Mr Fleming said the BNP "have been accused of being racist."

The BBC is supposed to be impartial, so surely Adam should have been honest and straightforward, and told kids that the BNP is a racist political party. After all, they ban millions of Britons from belonging to the party. Adam ended that section of his report about the BNP with ".... but they say they're standing up for white British people."

Oh well, that's alright then isn't it? So much for the BBC being sticklers for impartiality.

The BBC has decided that the BNP, principally because it won two seats at the European elections, has become a respectable political party, entitled to the same courtesy as the mainstream parties.

So I've put a hypothetical question to the BBC Trust:

Dear BBC Trust,

Please allow me to put to you a hypothetical question, which is pertinent in view of a forthcoming edition of Question Time, and the fact that, for example, the BNP limits its membership to certain ethnic groups.

In a response to complaints about the programme the BBC said ... There is evidence of electoral support after the British National Party won two seats in the European Elections so like any party in this position the BNP may appear on programmes like The Andrew Marr Show and Question Time.

And BBC Chief Political Advisor, Ric Bailey said "... So how do we decide what are appropriate levels of airtime for the different political parties? Our starting point for that judgement - though not the only factor - is how real people vote in real elections."

In 1930 the National Socialist Party won 107 seats in the German Parliament behind the Social Democratic Party's 143 seats.

Now if the Corporation were the national broadcaster in 1930's Germany, would it conflict with the BBC's current Values and Public Purposes to issue an invitation to the NSDAP to participate in a political discussion programme?

Thank you for your help.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Murdochs and British politics

Last night, Sky News reported that The Sun will be supporting the Conservative Party at the forthcoming general election. The Sun's political editor said that Labour have failed the country and are letting people down.

My blog on 31 August criticised Rupert Murdoch and his family, especially James Murdoch's MacTaggart Lecture. Rupert Murdoch was a frequent guest of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and current PM Gordon Brown has refused to divulge his own contacts with Murdoch. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's press secretary, wrote in his diaries that TB said he didn't fear them [the press] coming at him about me, but about the relationship with Murdoch. And he didn't fancy a sustained set of questions about whether Murdoch lobbied him. ('The Blair Years' p.287)

Lance Price, one-time director of communications for the Labour party, wrote I have never met Mr Murdoch, but at times when I worked at Downing Street he seemed like the 24th member of the cabinet. His voice was rarely heard (but, then, the same could have been said of many of the other 23) but his presence was always felt.

After a careful investigation Ofom concluded in June 2009 that Sky has an effective monopoly, which it was using to unfairly pressure other independent media companies such as Virgin. Ofcom believes there is a need for remedial action. The decision was put out for further discussion - the 3 month period recently ended.

As Polly Toynbee noted: Ofcom's boldness drew an amazed intake of breath from industry players and observers. This is the first time a regulator has seriously challenged Murdoch's market power. Those who stood to gain – BT Vision, Virgin Media, Top Up TV and others — were delighted their protests were so bravely answered. .....The battle is on, since historically Murdoch's empire has stooped to manipulating regulators and avoiding taxes. How has he done that? By leaning hard on politicians, who – knowing only too well his dominant voice in newspapers – are frightened for their lives.

A few days after Ofcom's determination that Sky was acting in an anti-competitive & quasi-monopolistic way David Cameron committed his party to clipping Ofcom's wings ... As Toynbee put it: All Tory and Labour leaders canoodle with the Murdoch apparat with a social desperation that demeans them and their office. This political corruption is rather more alarming than duck islands.

Is there any merit in Sky/News Corporation's fightback against Ofcom's conclusion that it has been abusing its position? Sky says that if Ofcom succeeds in imposing wholesale prices which do not fully reflect the risks and costs in their business, the effect is a tax on Sky to subsidise BT and Virgin Media.. but - talking of tax - it's well known that News Corporation has made use of every discredited trick in the book to avoid paying tax. And Sky's competitors believe they have a strong case.

Was there any merit in James Murdoch's MacTaggart lecture? A modicum, yes: Ofcom's micro-management of broadcasters is on occasion hard to justify, or just plain wrong. And, yes, the BBC is far from perfect, as readers of this blog well know.

Recently politicians of left and right have been lining up to criticise the BBC Trust, for example Ben Bradshaw's sudden realization that it's wrong for the BBC Trust to be both cheerleader and regulator. In an October 2007 consultation about a revised Complaints Framework, the Trust said (page 67) it "would like to publish as many submissions as possible in order to be as open and transparent as possible." Pity it didn't stick to the promise. No responses from individuals were published.

In my submission to the Trust's consultation on children's services (see blog 16 August 2008) I said explicitly that the Trust acts in cahoots with BBC management, because the way that the consultation had been structured was clearly not at all independently minded. The Trust's consultation, for that reason, was risible.

The fact that Newsround & BBC children's TV generally is in such a parlous state is substantially a result of management's ideologically motivated meddling, not helped by BBC Trust's typically craven attitude towards management (see blog 10 May 2009)

However many the BBC's faults - and there are many - this country needs no lectures from the would-be monopolist Murdoch clan. Robust plurality and diversity should be the way forward. Judging from recent opinion polls there will likely be a Conservative government by next summer. Conservatives would be unwise to make the same mistake as Labour by grovelling to the Murdochs and further debasing UK politics. The omens, however, do not look good.

Valuing respect and diversity (part 3) to follow in a few days

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Valuing respect and diversity (part 2)

The BBC doesn't only discriminate on grounds of disability. Experienced newsreaders, such as Moira Stuart have been edged out, and recently one of the judges on Strictly Come Dancing, Arlene Phillips (66), was sacked, to be replaced with someone less than half her age, and without an in-depth understanding of the subject. In contrast, the judge who was sacked, Arlene Phillips is a choreographer with loads of experience.

Following its hubristic decision to schedule Strictly against The X Factor, BBC Director-general Mark Thompson hurriedly announced that a more mature female news presenter should be recruited. There's suspicion, in some circles, that his action is desperate 'news management' to counteract the BBC's discomfiture over the Strictly debacle. Incidentally the issue of "BBC employment discrimination" was dealt with by Newsround Blog almost exactly three years ago, on 29 September 2006.

Part 2 of my "BBC employment discrimination" blog on 30 September 2006 pointed out that: In the early days of BBC tv, some children's presenters, like Annette Mills and Johnny Morris were much older than the current presenters. In fact, Annette Mills was over 50 when she started presenting Muffin the Mule on 20 October 1946, and Johnny Morris was still presenting a BBC children's programme when he was nearly 70 years old.

But look at CBBC today. How many of its presenters, if any, are over 30 years old? A clear example of age discrimination.
Why is Ed Petrie no longer presenting CBBC? Perhaps, at the age of 31, BBC management considers he is too old for the job.

It appears that age discrimination has also returned to Newsround's feedback pages. Last week I told the communications regulator, Ofcom: The discriminatory policy seemed to have been abandoned early in 2008, but I have reason to suspect that, once again, a similar policy is in operation, acting to limit published responses from 15 year-olds.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Valuing respect and diversity (part 1)

My last blog showed the shabby way deafblind charity Sense was treated by Newsround. On Wednesday I asked Owenna Griffiths, Newsround's editor, about this and am awaiting her reply. It was a great pity as the BBC claims to celebrate diversity.

Recently there have been a lot of questions about how much the BBC really does value diversity. Certainly BBC reporter Gary O'Donoghue knew better than to trust his employer. Gary must have been very upset when, because he is blind, he was passed over to present his scoop on the BBC's flagship 10 O'clock news.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

For some reason best known to Newsround's editor, an item about deafblind kids was severely curtailed yesterday. It was originally due to go out on Friday at 5pm, but that was cancelled and a short piece went out yesterday morning.

Sonali: Now to helping kids who are both deaf and blind. As you can imagine it can be difficult to communicate with people, but now a new gadget is making that a lot easier. Leah's got the story.

An interview with Liz Ball from the deafblind charity Sense wasn't screened in Leah's report. Unfortunately Leah concentrated too much on the technology side of things, and not enough with helping to raise deafblind awareness.

A week before, on 15 September 2009, Newsround was telling viewers that they could be prevented from appearing on the programme -

Sonali: Hello there, I'm Sonali. First up to why you could be stopped from having your say on telly. The Government is looking at the rules on when kids can appear on TV shows like Newsround. Right now all we need is your parents' permission, but it might not be as easy as that in the future. Leah's been finding out more.

One of the kids interviewed said "I think that children should be allowed to express their opinions just as much as adults, because they don't know what we're feeling." Another said "I don't think it's very fair because adults always have their say but kids never get a chance."

Leah ended her report telling us that "the Government are still deciding exactly how the law should be changed, and BBC bosses are working with them to make sure you still have your say on TV."

If they're so keen to let kids have a say, perhaps those very same BBC bosses could let us know why:

1) .... in the face of enormous opposition, so many kids' message boards were shut down last year;

2) .... messages from older kids have been secretly filtered out from Newsround's feedback;

3) .... in 2007 the BBC broke its promise for Newsround to participate in Takeover Day, and why they continue to shun the event;

4) .... in recent times there has been no Newsround TV coverage about the UK Youth Parliament.

The UK Youth Parliament is due to convene for the first time ever in the House of Commons chamber late next month.

Takeover Day, this year is on 6th November. If the BBC were to fully participate then kids would have a chance to run Newsround and have a real say in what news is reported, and the way it is presented.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A number of stories have been in the news recently concerning the topic of gender issues, including a sports story and headlines in The Sun about problems for a couple of schoolkids.

Those stories weren't covered by Newsround, but sometimes the programme does include stories which break gender stereotyping.

Yesterday, for example, we saw some builders dancing in tutus, and on Monday Ricky reported on Cuddington & Sandiway Junior Football Club (U12s) who, this season, are wearing pink strip.

Ricky: ".. your eyes aren't deceiving you, these guys play in pink, a colour that's normally reserved for - well as old fashioned as it might sound - (whispered) for girls."

The team coach idea came up with the idea to raise money for Cancer Research

Friday, September 18, 2009

Three years ago, on IDAHO Day (17 May) I blogged:

Why has Newsround failed to report on homophobic bullying and efforts to stamp it out? Why didn't it report the Football Association's work to combat homophobia in the sport or Spurs' initiative to stop homophobic chanting? Why was there no mention of civil partnerships? Why is all LGBT news filtered out? Why is "gay" a four letter word on CBBC message boards? ..

In summer 2007 some LGBT-related messages were allowed on the boards, although this tolerance didn't last. In October 2007 Newsround's website put up this story. Then we went for nearly two more years with not a single LGBT-related item on Newsround.

Last Sunday's edition contained something of a surprise. There was a short report about a celebrity bid to adopt a child from another country. This time, though, it wasn't about Madonna or Brad & Angelina. What was surprising about this particular story was that .... well here is the way it was reported at 14.55 on the CBBC Channel :-

Gavin: "Sir Elton John says he and his partner, David Furnish, want to adopt a toddler from Ukraine. (short film clip) The singer met the 14 month old boy called Lev when he performed at an orphanage."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

There have been a few great stories on Newsround recently as well as loads of the usual stuff like sports stories and freaky weather.

One of the most powerful and moving stories came last Thursday. It was about George Higginson, who died after a traffic accident. He was only 10 years old but had told his parents that he wanted to be an organ donor after watching a TV show. A few weeks later a truck collided with his bike and George tragically died the following day. Here is Ricky's report.

Last Friday's Newsround at 5pm began with a story about controversy over a school's lamb called Marcus. Some weeks ago kids in the school council voted to kill the sheep and use the money made to buy other animals. Lydd Primary School's headteacher, Andrea Charman, seemed determined to have Marcus butchered. I imagine quite a lot of Newsround's viewers were upset when, on Monday, the programme reported that Marcus was no more. (Published) feedback to Newsround is almost 90% against killing the lamb.

The Independent quotes Ms Charman: "When we started the farm in spring 2009, the aim was to educate the children in all aspects of farming life and everything that implies."

Newsround really ought to follow up the story and ask the headteacher:

1) Why wasn't the school allowed to see how Marcus was killed?

2) Why didn't the school take up Paul O'Grady's offer to buy Marcus? After all the school could have made a lot more money that way.

More Newsround stories shortly. Watch this space.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Alan Turing (continued)

Susan Watts updated her blog with more about Turing's nephew and nieces thoughts about Alan's life and work.

The Government issued an apology to Alan Turing last night. ... Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction. ...

Thanks go to John Graham-Cumming for all the work he put into the petition. BBC News reported the apology and interviewed Dr Sue Black who, like John, is concerned to save Bletchley Park.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Alan Turing (continued)

No sign yet of any Newsround report about Alan Turing, but on Thursday Newsnight included an interesting report by Susan Watts.

The importance of Alan Turing cannot be overstated. I wrote about him in one of my earliest blogs.

So why is he such a significant figure?

Well, he was gay. Now, that fact alone doesn't make him better than anyone else. But importantly, it doesn't make him worse than anyone else either. That message is fundamental to understanding what this blog is all about. Because there are still loads of people in the real world - including people working at the BBC - who think it's not OK to be gay. And there are those, like Jonathan Ross and Chris Moyles, who think it's cool to laugh at, or make fun of gay people.

Yes, Alan Mathison Turing was gay. But unlike many others at the time, he was gay and not ashamed of it. In addition Turing was honest - these days a rare quality in public life.

Alan Turing arrived at Bletchley Park on 4 September 1939, just as Bletchley's population was swelling due to Operation Pied Piper.

In 1941 Turing and three of his colleagues sent a letter to Churchill (pdf) explaining what had already been achieved but at the same time requesting more staff and resources to help with codebreaking. Churchill recognised the importance of their work. He responded with a memo: ACTION THIS DAY - Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this had been done.

It is reckoned that the deciphering work carried out at Bletchley Park helped shorten the war by about two years.

Excerpt from Breaking the Code

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Alan Turing

Yesterday Newsround reported the 70th anniversary of Operation Pied Piper - the evacuation of children from town and cities in preparation for the outbreak of World War II. I wonder if Newsround, or in fact any BBC Children's TV programme, would ever consider a report about the wartime work done by Alan Turing at Bletchley Park.

Despite being a mathematical genius, whose codebreaking skills greatly helped Britain win the war, I believe the BBC would still prefer to keep its children's audience in the dark about Turing in order to avoid mentioning the homophobic bigotry which led Alan Turing to take his own life in 1954.

I would be delighted to be proven wrong, and perhaps see a Newsround press pack report by someone supporting the recent campaign to universally recognise the importance of his work, and in so doing acknowledge the injustice and prejudice against LGBT people which continues to this day.