Sunday, June 28, 2009

Expense claims

On Thursday 21 May 2009 Newsround told kids about some of the outrageous claims MPs were making.

Sonali: More news. And the row over politicians and money is still going on. This man spent more than £1,600 of our money on a floating duck island, like this one, for his garden pond.

Sonali presenting Newsround on 21st May 2009

Sonali: Lots of people are now so fed up with it all, that they want an election straight away so everyone can decide which politicians they want to keep and which ones they want to kick out.

Yes, Sonali really did stress that it was "our money." Newsround was mistaken because, like Frank Cook's charity expense claim mentioned in my last blog, this claim by Peter Viggers MP was rejected. None of "our money" was involved in that instance. But the same is not true of BBC management's unconscionable expenses. Perhaps Newsround should establish editorial integrity by putting a few pertinent questions to those senior managers, all of whom earn much, much more than MPs.

Senior mangers, whilst apparently concerned not to "short-change licence-fee payers," at the same time spend "our money" on flowers, partying and gifts. Is there any other word than hypocrisy? Where is Newsround's investigation?

Friday, June 26, 2009

The media, including the BBC, have been doing a good job holding politicians to account for their expense claims. Not surprisingly, BBC management saw which way the wind was blowing, and decided to reveal their own expenses before they were required to do so by the Information Commissioner.

One of those BBC expenses was for a £100 bouquet of flowers, given by Jana Bennett to Jonathan Ross. Ms Bennett thought it appropriate to use licence fee payers' money to buy her gift to Mr Ross ... reminded me of Frank Cook MP, who claimed back £5 for a donation he'd made to charity. There was one significant difference though - in the case of Frank Cook his claim was rejected, but in Jana Bennett's case the BBC paid out.

MPs are rushing to pay back all those outrageous expense claims. The question is when are BBC management going to pay back all their outrageous expense claims? At least Members of Parliament can be voted out of office if we don't think they've behaved properly.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Taste, Standards and the BBC

Following the furore last year over the behaviour of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, the BBC today issued its study - Taste, Standards and the BBC: Public attitudes to morality, values and behaviour in UK broadcasting

BBC Creative Director, Alan Yentob was interviewed this afternoon on the BBC News channel. Short excerpt -

John Sopel: If you think of the debate that took place .. twenty years ago in the era of say, Mary Whitehouse, it was all about swearing, it was all about nudity - when could you show these things. Has the debate sort of changed now - that it's not so much that, it's about the respect that you maybe show individuals, rather than kind of humiliation and things like that?

Alan Yentob: That's absolutely true. It's true. For instance, it's very interesting in this report that sexual behaviour or the presentation of sex on screen - nobody thinks it's a problem ......

The report makes clear, amongst other things, that BBC programmes must never condone or celebrate intimidation and humiliation for the purposes of entertainment. New guidance, it says, is needed to ensure that everyone involved in programme making for the BBC understands that malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation are unacceptable.

I'm doubtful whether this report will have any bearing on the way people and issues are treated. In May 2009 Jonathan Ross suggested, on Radio 2, that parents with a gay son ought to perhaps have their son adopted. I've written to Alan Yentob to ask him if, in his opinion, the report will help judge the acceptability or otherwise of Ross' remark.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Jonathan Ross, the bully (continued)

Some months ago Jay Hunt, Controller of BBC One, sacked Carol Thatcher from the One Show after Thatcher had referred to a black tennis player as a "golliwog." On 5 February 2009 Jay Hunt explained, in an interview on Radio 4's Today programme at 8.10am, why Carol had been sacked. This excerpt follows from Carol Thatcher's remark:

Interviewer: And they complained did they - Adrian Chiles, Jo Brand [and] the charity worker?

Jay Hunt: The conversation was overheard both by them and by other people in the green room at the time. And the next day it was raised as an inappropriate piece of behaviour with the executive producer of the [One] Show.

Interviewer: So somebody complained and said "I want something done about this" ?

Jay Hunt: People were hugely offended. Jo Brand was offended at the time, Adrian was offended at the time, and they decided to raise it with the executive producer and to make it completely clear that they did not think that was an appropriate way for somebody who was being employed by the BBC at the time to speak in what was effectively a public space.

Knowing what Jay Hunt had to say about Carol Thatcher's remark, you might reasonably expect Ms Hunt to be concerned about offensive remarks made against gay people. But week after week Jonathan Ross pokes fun at his house band, and the BBC doesn't do anything about it. In fact Jay says that the house band "enjoy the weekly banter between themselves and Jonathan."

The weekly banter "between themselves and Jonathan" is one-way, with the band simply grinning or giggling in response. It's basically an employer/employee relationship, the abusive employer being Jonathan Ross and the BBC, and the employees being the members of his house band.

Secondly, it's doubtful that the band do actually enjoy Jonathan's digs at them. Doubts stem from a screen capture taken at the moment Jonathan finished saying the phrase ".. who wants a house band that spends most of its time sniffing your crotch and trying to hump your leg?" (see previous blog) At that instant some of the band members appear to be trying hard to put a brave face on the remark. This is the moment in question.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jonathan Ross, the bully

Jonathan Ross is a bully. According to the BBC he is "not homophobic in any sense.." I disagree.

Let's look at the principal characteristics of a typical bully:-

He or she will pick on people who are less able to defend themselves.

He or she makes use of differences between people as the focus of insults

He or she believes that their behaviour makes them popular

He or she is a coward

Jonathan Ross has all of these attributes. Here's why:-

In May 2009 Jonathan Ross suggested, on his Radio 2 programme, that parents would not want a son to be gay and should get him adopted (see blog 17 May 2009). After the Radio 2 comment, and complaints to Ofcom, Ross said he was mortified that anyone would think he was being homophobic. Had that been a one-off remark about gay sexuality it would be possible to overlook it as a very unfortunate mistake. But the truth is that week after week Mr Ross insists on putting down the gay men in his house band. No other minority group gets such treatment on the BBC.

His house band may have chosen their name unwisely, but that does not entitle Jonathan Ross to demean them in the way he does. As one user of the Pink News' message board put it:-

If you are so mortified, Ross, then insist that those four gay men who sing on your program every week are called, by you at least, by some other name than "Four Poofs" . . . so that you will no longer be able to begin your weekly show with a show that implies gay men are focussed solely on having sex with each other and others.

Ross fosters the impression that such behavior is the norm and reasonable, and of course the band members always giggle at his joke. But has Ross considered how many gay people are subjected to similar treatment at school and at work. No doubt most people in similar situations will also laugh off the remarks, but inside they may be deeply hurt, and powerless to do anything about it.

Bullies like to choose vulnerable targets - and that's exactly what Ross does, with full backing from BBC management. The rapturous welcome he gets each week reassures him that he's cool and got loads of friends - bullies always like to think they're popular. Finally, Ross is a coward. He knows that if he were subjected to reasonable scrutiny he would have to drop the homophobia. But he will carry on as long as he's able, because at heart he's a bully, and a homophobic one at that.

This is what he said on last Friday's programme:-

Ross: ... I'm very pleased to announce some special news in my house. My dog, Mr Pickle - the apple of my eye - he has received a job offer. He has been invited, by a lady called Janet, to join a new musical group she's forming called 4 Pugs and a Piano. But as you can see it's not working at the moment because at the moment they've only got three. They've got three adorable pugs there - that's Ernie, Stanley and Dudley, OK. I already know their names - it took me years to remember that lot over there [Ross points to the members of his own house band]. Which is great news for Mr Pickle, not such good news necessarily for my current house band, because you know it's a difficult choice. Do I stick with them ... do I go with the pugs? Though of course who wants a house band that spends most of its time sniffing your crotch and trying to hump your leg? [to his band] Which is why I might have to replace you with the pugs. Don't tell me ... don't tell me you didn't see that coming.

House band and 3 pugs
Screen shot of Friday's programme

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The BBC is supposed to inform, educate and entertain. Children's programmes used to do those three things as was clear from the enlightening BBC Four series Children's TV on Trial (see blog on 9 April 2008) However, a once vibrant department has, with a few exceptions, been reduced to a wasteland of mediocrity. Whilst the BBC Trust has been candid in presenting the stark figures of declining audiences, nevertheless it has avoided the wood for the trees - i.e. it has largely failed to investigate whether programme content might have a significant bearing on the decline in reach.

The Trust say:- In terms of delivering the public purposes, we are concerned at the apparent decline in usage of BBC News by young people. We also continue to believe that the BBC could do more to provide output that is original and different and shows fresh and new ideas .... (p.25) It fails to draw the appropriate conclusions from the huge discrepancy in audience reach between CBBC and BBC Switch.

An example, taken from the 1980's Children's TV on Trial, shows that programmes used to be relevant to the needs of kids. Check how the BBC kept in touch with its young audience:-

Narrator: ... television's first agony uncle, Phillip Hodson talked viewers through the serious business of growing up.

(archive film clip) Phillip Hodson: You are still at primary school. You've already finished your puberty. You're only 10, and you've finished. (reads letter) I'm tall and broadly built, but I have to wear a bra.

Narrator: But it wasn't all about hormones and heartache. Uncle Phillip tackled some of the thornier issues of the day.

(archive film clip) Phillip Hodson: Because AIDS is a disease that can kill, because we're afraid of diseases that can kill, and because there's no cure for AIDS - so what happens is that rumours fly and there's more ignorance about AIDS than almost anything else.

And the same programme showed how drama dealt with issues of the day:-

Lee Macdonald (actor from Grange Hill): The issues that were tackled with Grange Hill would be within normal schools anyway - especially comprehensives schools that I was brought up in. You've got bullying, your shoplifting, there was pregnancies within school kids. And I think that was where the stories were so strong and they were taken so seriously....

Steve Woodcock (actor from Grange Hill): We had things like the National Front that you had to contend with, and you'd be going to school with children whose parents were members of the National Front. So yes, Grange Hill was, I think, very true to what was going on at the time ....

What with the recent election successes of the BNP, perhaps it's time for kids' TV programmes to again be honest and forthright. The BNP should be identified as a racist organisation, and therefore beyond the pale. Newsround failed to do this in Adam's report last Monday (see blog 8 June 2009)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

BBC Trust Review of services for younger audiences

At last the BBC Trust has had the courage to face up to the truth, at least in part. For example they recognise that BBC Switch on TV has not been very successful, and also that teenagers deserve better news services. Little is said about drama for young teens, although the Trust do acknowledge "that it is important for the BBC to provide older children and teenagers with some targeted output on television."

The Trust Review, published today, includes the following:

The BBC delivers some of its public purposes well to young people but faces challenges to deliver news to them, and to serve teenagers on television. BBC Switch "has not yet reached many teenagers on television. We continue to think that it is important for the BBC to provide older children and teenagers with some targeted output on television."

The Trust regard BBC News’ reach to young people as a very important performance indicator. A decline in the numbers of teenagers watching BBC television has driven an overall fall in BBC reach amongst teenagers. In response to its decline in reach to teenagers, the BBC launched BBC Switch but teenagers’ viewing of Switch on television is still low.

The Trust recognise that BBC Switch is "still an emerging proposition," but their view is that "its performance to date has been variable, with its television programmes in particular not yet reaching high enough volumes of the target audience." In fact the figure given by the Trust is 36,000 in the target age range 12 to 17 (0.8 per cent of the people in this age group)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Politicians aren't exactly flavour of the month, but there is a profession even more deserving of opprobrium. If journalists had been doing their jobs, the country might well be in a better position than it is. It's all very well for financial commentators like Evan Davis and Robert Peston to patiently explain the credit crunch, but we should have been warned years ago about the consequences of unbridled greed.

Greed is the cause of MPs' current plight, and it's also the root cause for the collapse in our economy. Goods are manufactured cheaply in countries where workers have few rights and little pay. All this helped to bring in bigger profits for shareholders, and so the 'economy' appeared to grow. Journalists should have warned us about the 'bonus culture,' but BBC management was party to this greed.

Good journalists are good for Britain. One of the best, who incidentally started his career on Newsround, is Krishnan Guru-Murthy. On Channel 4 News last night Krishnan asked a newly elected BNP Euro MP: Do you think that the impact of all immigrants and their descendants has been bad, or do you think that some of us are OK?

More on journalists and editorial independence shortly.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Yesterday this blog proved that the BBC is disingenuous regarding one of their six core values - We respect each other and celebrate our diversity so that everyone can give their best. I quoted part of an email from the BBC Trust in which it is clear that the BBC not only wish to be excused from a duty to promote equality, but they also want exemption from anti-discrimination legislation.

Newsround today included an item about elections to the European Parliament. During his report on the 5.05pm programme Adam said the following:

For the first time ever a group called the British National Party has won places in the European Parliament, and that's caused a huge fuss. They say they don't want any more people from abroad moving to Britain. They've been accused of being racist, but they say they're standing up for white British people.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Diversity has been in the news recently, including in this report on Newsround's website. Diversity, however, is not just the group who won Britain's Got Talent last week. Quoted on the back of BBC staff identity cards, you'll find a set of six core values including: We respect each other and celebrate our diversity so that everyone can give their best.

In the first weeks of 2009 Newsround included reports about the first black President of the United States, a boy who has only two fingers and a thumb on each hand (7 January), Prince Harry's controversial remarks about race (12 Jan), difficulties for Travellers' families (22 Jan), Nintendo Wii used to help with physiotherapy for disabled kids (9 Feb), Paralympian gold medalist Ellie Simmonds received her MBE (18 Feb).

But in recent years there haven't been any reports at all about LGBT issues.

With the Government finding itself in such dire straits, it's clear that the new Equality Bill may not make any further progress. However one thing the proposals have achieved is to tease out the BBC's true position on diversity. The Corporation, as we've seen before, blatantly discriminates against some groups, including teenagers.

Now the BBC wants to ensure its discrimination is put on a formal basis, with an exemption to the proposed legislation. Or in the words of the BBC itself:

"... the commissioning, content and broadcasting of programmes and other output should be excluded from the positive duty to promote equality and also from the non-discrimination provisions."

So there you have it - what the BBC really thinks of diversity.