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.