Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Half a century ago black people in the United States often suffered discrimination. Today there is a black President in the White House. But despite all the hard work Obama personally put into achieving this, he wouldn't have become President without the efforts of Americans, of all races, who recognised injustice and were determined to put things right. Martin Luther King was not alone, and he was by no means the first.

In 1996 Obama was a Democratic Party candidate in a local election. He was sent a questionnaire to find out his views on LGBT issues, and replied in an unequivocal way. Amongst his promises was to support same-sex marriages and "fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." In the 2008 Presidential election campaign, however, his stance was somewhat less positive. In fact he had reversed his 1996 position. A month before the Presidential election, his running mate, Joe Biden, was asked if he supported gay marriage. The answer was: "No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining, from a civil side, what constitutes marriage. We do not support that." (YouTube video)

A significant figure in the struggle for equality, and a friend of Martin Luther King, was Bayard Rustin. Towards the end of his life, Rustin came to believe that the gay community was a barometer of human rights - it was, he said, "the community which is most easily mistreated." (blog 3 February 2007)

Since becoming president last week, Obama has put a statement of his civil rights beliefs and policies on the White House website. Much of what he says looks encouraging.

Newsround Blog will be marking UK LGBT History Month, which begins in just a few days.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ofcom’s Second Public Service Broadcasting Review

Ofcom has published its recommendations for the future of public service broadcasting in the UK. The Government is expected to respond to the recommendations tomorrow.

Ofcom's report, called Putting Viewers First, recognises the central role of the BBC, but also says that there is a "significant reason to be concerned" about the provision of programming for older children and young teens.

Channel 4, Ofcom says, is appreciated for its innovative content and representation of diversity and alternative viewpoints; and its younger viewers are more likely to rate it higher on a number of elements, as are ethnic minority audiences.

The full PSB2 report can be downloaded here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ethical policies

Last Tuesday Newsround carried a report about the Primark clothing chain. Sonali told viewers that the store had been asked to remove notices which had promoted Primark's ethical trading policies. It seems that the Newsround report was based on a BBC investigation into the trading practices of Primark which was broadcast one day earlier on the BBC News at Ten.

Yesterday was the third Monday of the year, which according to some researchers is also the saddest day of the year. Last year, on Monday 21 January, Newsround included a report on this subject with advice from agony uncle Aaron.

This year the programme had advice from psychiatrist Dr Mike Isaac, who said that feeling a bit gloomy this time of the year is very common, and sharing feelings with others can help. Many kids, especially vulnerable kids, found the CBBC message boards an ideal way of talking to each other and sharing their problems. I came across this message - one of hundreds from unhappy kids - a few weeks ago:

This is the best place ever.
When I felt down about something, I came here, I have fantastic e~buddies here!
It's bad enough I am bullied and so on, but now you've taken away one of the few places I've felt safe.
*cries silently and remembers horrid things...*
I am so upset.
I hope you find it in your hearts to keep this fantastic board.
And all of the phenominal people that contribute to the ficcies, and so on.

Why? That's a very good question, and one to which I'm trying to find an answer. And I'd also like to know the BBC's explanation for telling kids that the message board changes in December are an improvement. No one believes that, and again it seems that the BBC can't be trusted to tell the truth.

Not long ago the BBC got into serious trouble about deceiving people. It apologised and spent about £500,000 of public money on the Director-General's Safeguarding Trust initiative. But for what?

It's not only Primark which needs to get its ethics in order.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

It looks like the end of an era. Aaron has posted a farewell message on CBBC's website, and once again he has some valuable advice for kids.

After all the fine words by Jana Bennett about BBC helping kids, it looks like the Corporation can't be trusted even by children. Few, if any, have been taken in by claims of improvements to the CBBC site and message boards, and all that the BBC has succeeded in achieving is to demonstrate its contempt for younger audiences. It's still not too late for Newsround to show some guts and investigate why this happened.

As Aaron's advice won't be on the CBBC site for much longer I'm giving his farewell message a place on this blog:

Farewell and good luck from Aaron

Since the Ask Aaron site and message board are closing, I wanted to take a moment to tell you all how fab I think you all are and how impressed I am with the way you reach out and support each other.

Always remember that when you are having a hard time, there is SOMEBODY around who will listen. The trick is to find that person, and make sure they hear you. The worst thing about suffering or worrying about something is to think that you are all alone – YOU ARE NOT! If you look, you’ll find that person who can lend a hand.

Sometimes that will need to be a grownup, but other times your mates will be a great support to you too. I’ve seen you all reach out to others that are hurting, and I hope you continue to be good friends to each other, and try to treat everyone with kindness and respect – just how you’d like to be treated yourself.

Don't forget that there is still going to be a place on CBBC where you can share your thoughts and problems, and help others too - visit the BugBears site and take a look.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Racist and homophobic language

Opinions about Prince Harry's language on the recently released video vary widely - some people believing that the issue has been blown out of all proportion, whilst others saying that there should be a zero tolerance attitude to racism. A BBC News report of the News of the World story has a warning - "Guidance: This video contains some strong language" but there are no swear words.

Newsround, too, has reported the story although its reports carefully avoided actually repeating the terms used by Prince Harry. Feedback from young people is on Newsround's website.

When it comes to homophobic language, the BBC has been somewhat less cautious. Take, for example, Jonathan Ross. Would the BBC countenance him employing a house band which called itself Four P*k*s and a Piano - I doubt it. Yet 4 P**fs and a Piano appeared regularly on what was considered a flagship BBC programme.

It will be very interesting to see whether or not 4 P**fs and a Piano continue to be the Friday Night With Jonathan Ross house band (see blog 31 October 2008)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

In the closing moments of the first episode of CBBC's Half Moon Investigations Fletcher Moon says: "A good detective doesn't do the job for thanks, he does it for truth and justice." The same sentiments should equally apply to journalists.

Newsround has had some interesting and worthy reports to begin 2009:

Ricky's warning about pouring fat down kitchen sinks was left till after the Christmas holidays, but even so the advice should serve well for the future.

Wednesday's Newsround included a report about sports enthusiast Joseph Pritchard. He was born with only two fingers and a thumb on each hand. His dad and stepmum wrote to several companies to see if they could help, and eventually one company said they would love to make a pair of sports gloves specially for Joseph.

On Thursday we were given the lowdown on how recycling has been affected by the economic crisis. It seems no one wants to buy recycled waste nowadays, so warehouses are overflowing with the stuff. Last year paper and card fetched £70 per tonne but now it sells for £20 per tonne, and cans which sold for £200 per tonne now sell for just one tenth the price. Despite this evidence Ricky, reporting from Greencycle's warehouse in the North East of England, said that the company was confident things would improve, and we should carry on recycling.

But then there are other things going on, not a million miles from the BBC itself, like the CBBC message boards changes in December which caused so much disquiet. And another story, surely of interest, is why would the BBC spend over £45,000 of the public's money (Channel 4 News report by Emily Reuben, 16 December 2008) on a lavish launch party for Merlin, and then deliberately give so much free publicity to its direct rival - ITV's X Factor (see blog 6 January 2009) The BBC's Chief Operating Officer Caroline Thomson, speaking on Channel 4 News: "We don't party for parties' sake. We choose the programmes we're going to promote at launches very carefully. We only did three BBC1 dramas last year. When we do it, we do it because we're very proud of the programmes .."

Thursday, January 08, 2009

CBBC has betrayed kids

It's long been a theme running through this blog, since it began in 2005. But the depth of CBBC's betrayal of children has never been more obvious than over the last month. We're not just talking about discrimination against LGBT kids, and not just covert discrimination against teenagers which was uncovered by Newsround Blog.

Thousands of ordinary school children are now left with just a minimal CBBC message board service, and the Agony Uncle service which used to provide expert personal advice is about to disappear. Yet the people in charge at the BBC know exactly the damage they're causing by these so-called improvements. BBC Director of Vision, Jana Bennett acknowledged the importance of peer help when she told Showcomotion in July 2007 that kids learn through the experience of others with whom they can relate.

Newsround gets a lot of feedback about children's worries, but the programme isn't willing to investigate what has happened. Newsround's journalists, it seems, are too timid to show some independence and hold the BBC to account. This wasn't always the case, and I've been informed that the last but one Newsround editor left the programme on account of proposed changes which he wasn't prepared to accept.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

As mentioned yesterday, it seems that Newsround won't be covering the story about message board closures. The stories it's reported at 5pm so far this year are:

Monday 5 January 2009

Conflict in Gaza [2'10"]
Obama family move to Washington [0'16"]
Stewart Downing has handed in transfer request [0'16"]
Cold and flu info [1'44"]
What to look out for in 2009 [1'58"]

Tuesday 6 January 2009

More kids worrying about family splits - ChildLine [2'20"]
Mountain rescue operation in Guatemala [0'14"]
Jermain Defoe returning to Spurs [0'19"]
Search for yachtsman Jean Le Cam [0'17"]
Cold weather in Britain [1'32"]
Fat poured down drains blocks sewers [2'00"]

Sonali began the programme on Tuesday:
More kids worry about their parents splitting up in the new year. If that sounds like you, we've got lots of advice.
Here's my advice to the BBC:
Put back all the growing up help on your website, updated where necessary. And reinstate the message boards so that kids can chat about their lives and their worries, and help each other.
Newsround isn't responsible for the operation of the message boards, so if the BBC doesn't quickly reinstate the boards I think it would be a good idea for the programme to investigate the truth behind the closures. Newsround is, after all, supposed to be FOR children. What's the point of it otherwise?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

It seems, unfortunately, that Newsround will not be investigating the message board closures which took place late last year (see previous blog entry)

The closures have, with a very small number of exceptions, been condemned by kids, and the BBC continues to insult the public by labelling the changes as improvements. It has been suggested to me that the changes were to save money, but if that's the case why didn't the BBC simply take the opportunity, handed them by Jonathan Ross, to save £18 million.

One of the few surviving Newsround message boards is intended for the discussion of showbiz topics. So it's interesting to note that, for some reason, Newsround gave no coverage at all to last year's I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here! But another popular programme, which did get a lot of coverage on Newsround, was The X Factor.

The X Factor final was on 13 December 2008 and it was scheduled directly against the concluding programme in the first series of Merlin. But strangely it was ITV's The X Factor, not the BBC's Merlin, which was afforded a 1'30" Newsround report on the day. Of course the BBC, including Newsround, never missed an opportunity to promote another Saturday night favourite - Doctor Who.

Unusually for Newsround nowadays, their website was updated late that night in order to cover the X Factor result.

On Monday 15 December, two days before the release of her CD, Newsround screened an interview with Alexandra Burke. Viewers were told that "most people reckon" she is heading for superstardom. Next came the interview itself, lasting 1'50" but more is available on the website. With all this reportage, a person could perhaps be forgiven for suspecting that X Factor actually had someone working for them in the Newsround team. And as recently as yesterday Newsround reported that Alexandra is still at number 1 in the singles chart for the third week.