Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Switch - the BBC's service for teens - broadcasts about two hours of TV programmes per week. Most of BBC Switch TV air time consists of programmes made in, or about North America. Last Saturday one of the offerings was a new documentary series called Teen America, available here on the iPlayer for a short while. Nineteen year old Louis Bhose (Flash Louis) presents the series, and he began by saying that he'd been spending far too much time living in his own little world.

Bhose: So I've decided to spread my wings and checkout what other teens my age are up to across America. This week I'm going to find out if the life of a devout Christian could be for me.

Louis then proceeded to hook up with a group of fundamentalist Christians at a weekend 'Acquire the Fire' convention in Richmond, Virginia. He seemed quite at home with the group's enthusiasm when they shouted "Yes, yes, yes we do, we love Jesus, how about you?" Inside the convention hall he met up with guides Mani and Charlotte. Bhose listened to Christian rock, a group prayer, and a tearful session which he said made him feel a little uneasy.

Bhose: It's very interesting. They've created Christianity for the MTV generation. This is it. This is the big screens, but then they're relating it back to Christianity. They've found the formula and people are getting caught up in the hysteria and in the moment, and crying almost for the sake of it.

Bhose said he was a bit confused by it all.

Next we saw the groups founder Ron Luce dish out advice, with a prayer which was repeated a phrase at a time by those at the convention.

Luce: Lord Jesus make a covenant with my eyes. I refuse to let Hollywood tell me what sex is really about.

Then Luce demonstrated their attitude to pornography and lust by having a computer monitor smashed to pieces with a baseball bat, to wild cheering and applause of onlookers including Bhose himself.

Bhose chatted to Charlotte about her all-girl 'abstinence' class. Bhose said that Charlotte seemed to truly believe that God would find the right one for her.

After discussing the commercial side to the operation and then a short chat with Ron Luce, the documentary concluded with Bhose chatting to guides Mani and Charlotte. "This weekend hasn't converted me to Christianity," he said, "but it's taught me a lot more respect for it, speaking to people like you two and seeing that you're not crazy." Louis asked them to keep him updated because he wanted to know how the journey goes. He ended by joining Mani and Charlotte in a group embrace.

I was a little concerned about that particular programme because it seemed to me that Louis too readily embraced a fundamentalist religious movement, failing to look at it with a sufficiently critical eye.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Commercial channels can't advertise unhealthy food and snacks during programmes watched by kids. But that doesn't mean BBC children's TV can't include news items about sweets and chocs. In fact Newsround covered three separate chocolate-related stories between Monday 2 March and Friday 6 March this year.

Today's programme at 5.05pm ended with a story about a sweet shop in Southampton. The shop called The Sugar Shack is a traditional sweet shop which opened in November last year. The owner, who incidentally has sold sweets online for about three years, came up with the idea of a local competition for kids to think up their own new sweets. Emily and her brother Adam were late entrants to the competition, but they invented the winning flavours. Ricky carried out a taste test himself and slightly preferred Emily's Banana Sherbet over Adam's Blueberry Explosion.

After the news story Ore asked those who thought they might have better ideas to head over to the website and let Newsround know.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Two Newsround All About You surveys have been reported in the last 18 months. A press release for the 2009 survey included several doubtful claims about differences which have occurred since the 2007 survey, due to the margins of error with the sample sizes involved. So, for example, where the press release states that: This year sees an increase in the number living with both mum and dad (68%, up from 65% in 2007) and also those with siblings (84%, up from 80% in 2007) in reality there may have been no change, or even a decline in the numbers. The regional comparisons in the press release are even more doubtful because of the smaller sample sizes and consequent greater margins of error.

Newsround itself didn't dwell on these trends, although Wednesday's Newsround did, it seems correctly, report that kids are spending more time with their families than before. The first programme on Monday dealt with concerns about money and the report ended with Evan Davis' rather optimistic view of future prospects for jobs and the economy.

Tuesday's programme was about school. Sonali said "most of you reckon it's important to get good exam results, but bullying is a big issue too." According to the BBC press release one in three 9 & 10 year olds said they'd been bullied. Maddy's report concentrated on disruptive kids and included an interview with teacher Jean Roberts who talked about being kicked by a boy who had previously been excluded. One in ten children had mentioned that their teachers are sometimes attacked or bullied.

On Wednesday we saw Adam going to meet Joe's ten brothers and sisters, and their mum and dad, all living in a house in Blackpool.

The topic on Thursday was about kids' worries. Bullying topped the list of things kids were most afraid of, though this was only briefly mentioned during the introduction. Instead the main report concentrated on fears of gun and knife crime. The message from Chris Preddie of Crimestoppers was that children are much safer if they don't carry a knife.

The last programme of the week looked at what kids wanted to do in the future. The favourite job for boys was to be a footballer, and for girls it was to be a teacher. Teachers are expected to challenge stereotyping * so the programme could have included a female footballer and a male teacher. Instead it kept with tradition - we saw 27 year old Rebecca talking about her teaching job, and Mark Noble who plays for West Ham United.

I'll come back to the issue of bullying in a future blog.

* The Code of Professional Values and Practices [GTC 2002] & Draft Code 2008 - Principle 4, Promote equality and value diversity

NB Following info from the BBC my blog entry of 26 March 2009 has been amended with an edit note.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

CBBC's website and message boards

In the face of obduracy most kids have given up complaining, but a few are still questioning the changes to CBBC's message boards and website. This was posted a couple of days ago:-

Why won't you answer our questions PROPERLEY and giving a full explaination why you ruined the boards? I say why: you are heartless and cruel, not caring about any of us, as well as being scared that we know more than we get credit for.

Furry Time Lord: You should have been here when the boards were worth going on. It was more happy and relaxed. It ruined and will never be how it used to be.

On 5 February 2009 the BBC told me:-

We consulted other expert bodies outside the BBC (such as the NSPCC, Anti-bullying Alliance and CEOP) and have developed a number of social web products and services which are more appropriate and relevant to primary age children, such as myCBBC, Me & My Movie and Bugbears.

However I was particularly concerned about the withdrawal of peer help message boards such as the CBBC 'Bullying' and 'Your Life' message boards, as well as the withdrawal of all expert help about growing up problems which used to be provided by agony uncle Aaron. In a lengthy response to my further enquiries the BBC provided more details of their reasons for the changes.

As far as the expert help is concerned the BBC said that "provision of suitable information of complex issues for vulnerable kids is always best delivered by a sympathetic adult who can help put these concerns into context."

So I contacted the NSPCC to ask what they had to say about the withdrawal of expert online advice and they told me that they "would welcome more places where children could find support if they have a problem." They added that it's a shame the service is no longer available and said the NSPCC and Childline believe it is important that every opportunity is taken to provide vulnerable or worried children and young people with as much information and help as possible.

Newsround could have had the scoop if they'd decided to investigate, but when I asked on 5 January they told me the changes could be viewed as improvements "because it will allow more effort and resource to be put into the remaining boards and will allow more focused discussions." They had no plans to cover an investigation into the issue as they had already committed to another subject.

On 7 April 2009 I emailed the BBC to let them know the NSPCC viewpoint.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The third anniversary of the BBC's specious Creative Future policy is approaching. I blogged about my first age analysis of feedback to Newsround on 13th April 2006.

A new summary of Newsround feedback, based on data from six different topics late March/early April 2009, can be seen below: years on, by hook or by crook, it seems that CBBC has succeeded in ousting many of its teen viewers. Thirteen, 14 and 15 yr olds constituted over half of all feedback, but now they're less than a quarter.

Teens now have a meagre couple of hours of TV per week on Saturday afternoons, including repeats of Kyle XY which, a few weeks ago, was greeted in the Switch studio with loud cheers for a returning programme.

So much, where kids are concerned, for the BBC and Public Service Broadcasting. Is it any wonder that audiences are dwindling. The BBC Trust would like to put the blame on scheduling changes. The Weakest Link may be one factor, but the REAL weakest link is the BBC itself.

Monday, April 13, 2009

TV licence fee evasion rates, according to the BBC Trust, are predicted to increase slightly in the current economic climate. Maybe they're right but it's also possible that evasion rates will get much worse. So how should the Corporation respond?

Things have changed a great deal since the Review of TV Licence Fee Collection began last autumn. Back then, there were concerns about the harsh tone of advertising - a few sensitive people had been offended by the 'we know where you are' campaign and decided to boycott the fee. But now there are millions of people worried about losing their jobs and their savings.

The BBC needs to demonstrate that it deserves our money. And that means using the licence fee responsibly. So let's look at some examples from Newsround last week.

Monday 6th April - Was it really necessary for a Newsround reporter to travel to Italy to cover the earthquake story? That was already being done perfectly well by Louisa Baldini ... a few thousand pounds saved without really trying. Unlike Louisa, Newsround's reporter wasn't seen speaking a word of Italian and just seemed to vanish from the disaster area after a couple of days. Her web report of the trip has, at the time of writing this blog, a final entry mistakenly dated Tuesday 7th April at 3pm.

Thursday 9th April - Newsround at 5.05pm began with a report about children being locked up in detention centres. 15 year old Meltem had to spend three months in one of the centres. Meltem said it was depressing being locked up without seeing friends and family. She said people in government should think what it would feel like if their children were in the same situation. Newsround's report also included a short interview with Lyn Homer of the UK Border Agency, who put the government's side, and an interview with Caroline Slocock of Refugee and Migrant Justice, who said that refugee children shouldn't be locked up and treated like criminals. For once Newsround dealt with a controversial issue relevant to the rights of children. This is the kind of thing Newsround should be prepared to do much more often.

The fifth item on Newsround last Thursday was a report about buying and downloading music. Ricky said that downloading tunes off the internet is more popular than ever before and that you can now download songs for as little as 29p. He spoke to a music expert who said because prices were lower, more kids would be buying online. Ricky ended his report by saying that "for many of you, the only option you have is to buy a CD." He failed to mention that you can listen to, although not download, music tracks legally for free with a programme like Spotify. In the context of Newsround's report this was a significant omission.

The last report was about seven year old agony aunt Elaina (see my previous blog)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Help from agony aunts and uncles

Everyone needs help with their problems from time to time, says Newsround, on the webpage caption to a story about seven-year-old agony aunt, Elaina. Ore introduced the report on this morning's programme at 8.25am -

Ore: Who do you turn to when you need advice? A parent? a friend? The problem page in a magazine perhaps? Well one radio station in the Midlands has just hired a new agony aunt who's only seven, yes seven years old. Here's Adam

Adam began by mentioning a few problems kids might have - things like too much school work getting you down, not being selected to play on the team, or Adam's pet peeve - being nagged by someone. "Then you need Elaina," said Adam.

Elaina: I like helping people. When I grow up I wanted to help people even more by being a nurse, and then I changed my mind to being a radio producer.

Andy Goulding, who's the DJ she works with, says that Elaina is completely open and honest and that's what you need sometimes.

More about agony aunt/uncle advice to come. See also blogs on 8 Jan 2009 and 18 Jan 2009