Friday, May 29, 2009

A month ago, Newsround ended with a story about a sweet shop in Southampton which had run a competition to invent a new flavour sweet (see blog on 28 April 2009). Yesterday's programme, at 5.05pm, ended with a similar item. This time it was a press pack report from 12 year old Harry, who told viewers that he had the best job in the world - a sweet taster.

Taking into account the problems of child obesity and considering the harmful effect of eating too many sweets, the editorial decision to include another item about confectionery, presented in an unfailingly positive light, is questionable to say the least. The BBC believes that its editorial independence is sacrosanct - a subject to which Newsround Blog will be returning in due course.

However Newsround began yesterday with a more constructive report presented by Ricky, which looked at the curious topic of glowing monkeys, and more generally at arguments for and against animal testing.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

That's it. You're up to date with all you need to know.

How many times have regular Newsround viewers heard the programme end with those, or similar words?

So what do kids need to know, and how well does Newsround fulfil its purpose of providing that information? Well, kids need to know the truth, presented honestly and fairly. And when mistakes are made, they should be acknowledged and corrected as soon as possible.

There were some interesting stories on Tuesday's programme at 5.05pm, but one item about a skydiver falling 6000 feet without a parachute included an unfortunate error: "... This is the story of the skydiver who fell 6000 feet - that's almost a mile ..." In fact 6000 feet is somewhat more than a mile, as you can easily see from this wolframalpha search.

A great pity the launch of WolframAlpha wasn't reported by Newsround over the weekend, as it is obviously something of which schoolkids should be aware. It's not on Newsround's website either.

Tuesday's programme began with an item about Miley Cyrus who, according to Newsround, was being bullied.

Sonali: Our top story today is bullying. It's a problem we talk about on Newsround quite often because it affects loads of you. But as Gavin's been finding out, people who you really wouldn't expect to get bullied do too - and guess what, they can find it just as upsetting and hurtful as the rest of us.

Gavin: ..... It all started when Miley made a jokey comment about her legs looking a bit jiggly on the social networking site Twitter. Then loads more people added comments about her weight. But Miley hit back, saying that she's just a normal girl and that making comments about people being fat are really dangerous. ....

The on-screen graphic quoted Miley Cyrus as saying "My legs are too jiggly" whereas the tweet was actually "i just jiggled my thighs and they shook on their own for 3 mississipis no more late night lucky charms." In other words her thighs shook for three seconds, and Miley felt she therefore needed to stop eating breakfast snacks at night.

A few hours later Miley responded to other people's remarks with:

"talk all you want. i have my flaws. im a normal girl theres things about my body i would change but stop with calling me f*t in post. i dont even like the word. those remarks that you hateful people use are fighting words. the ones that scar people and cause them to do damage to themselves or others. people that are so okay with being so hateful diguist me and need to spend last time on a gossip website and more time a. reading your bible b. reading stories/articles about what happens when cyber abuse and name calling happens. kids hurt themselves. this is not something to be taken lightly. i know these "message boards" are "no big deal" to YOU but is to the victim. this has got to stop!!! oh and ps if your thighs don't jiggle go see a doctor. thanks. :)"

Miley also posted a link to this webpage about cyberbullying.

Four comments from Newsround's feedback were read out at the end of the programme.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

International Day Against Homophobia 2009

Michael Causer

17th May every year is International Day Against Homophobia. A lot of people aren't sure exactly what homophobia is, so what better day than IDAHO to talk about it.

Broadly speaking homophobia is a type of prejudice related to people's sexual orientation. And, as with racism, it can range from thoughtless hurtful language to violence and even to murder. But with racism there is a zero tolerance attitude in society, which is still far from true with homophobia.

When gay teen Michael Causer was murdered the judge and jury at the subsequent trial refused to accept that homophobia was the motive, even though it was the only credible explanation for what happened. As a consequence of the judge and jury's own prejudice one of Michael's killers, Gavin Alker left court a free man. Yet according to witnesses, Alker had used language such as "watch yourself, he's a poof" and "you little queer faggot"

Michael's murder was one of several homophobic attacks and murders in Britain in the past year.

It's the casual homophobia, such as name-calling and bullying common in both primary and secondary schools, which facilitates a climate of prejudice in which these serious crimes take place. Recently Jonathan Ross made a remark on his Radio 2 programme. He's reported to have said "if your son asks for a Hannah Montana MP3 player, you might want to already think about putting him down for adoption before he brings his...erm...partner home." Ofcom received some complaints, as did the BBC.

On Thursday I asked the BBC Diversity Centre what advice they had given the BBC about the Ross incident, but they didn't have a bad word to say about him. The Diversity Centre told me "these off-the-cuff remarks were made purely in jest and were not intended to be offensive. Jonathan is not homophobic in any sense and never meant for his comments to be taken seriously."

Teens thrown out their homes for being gay, or students who can't get a loan from their parents to study at college, would not see the funny side of Jonathan's so-called 'jest' and what's more the Corporation can hardly describe the unceasing innuendo about gay men on his Friday night TV programme as 'off-the-cuff.' The introductions to Friday Night with Jonathan Ross are carefully scripted, and every week include an innuendo-laden gibe about gay men.

If, as Jonathan claims, he is mortified about accusations of homophobia, he could make amends by going much further than a tweet in support of Peter Tatchell. He should put an end to all the innuendo and stereotyping on his Friday night programme, and choose a house band based on reasons other than their willingness to be demeaned.

And yes, Jonathan Ross does know that his innuendo about gay men is unacceptable. That was clear when, on 22 February last year, he compared himself with comedian/pariah Jim Davidson (see blog on 31 October 2008)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Equality Bill had its second reading on Monday and there were many good speeches explaining why equality is important. John Bercow pointed out that despite all the changes in legislation and, to a degree, in culture, children who are, or who are wrongly thought to be, lesbian, gay or bisexual are harassed and bullied on a monumental scale.

Lynne Featherstone said women in full-time work are paid 17% less than men, and 36% less if they work part-time. A disabled person is two and a half times more likely to be out of work. A person from an ethnic minority is 15.5% less able to find work. Sixty-two percent of over-50s believe they have been turned down for a job because of their age, and six in 10 lesbian or gay schoolchildren experience homophobic bullying.

Julie Morgan mentioned some initiatives in her constituency particularly the Skypad unit based at the University Hospital of Wales. It has special age-appropriate facilities for teenage cancer sufferers. The rooms are geared towards teenagers and there is a chill-out zone as well as computer games. That sort of development, said Ms Morgan, is exactly what we should be encouraging, because it is appropriate for the age of those young people. "They are not children, and they are not adults, but in the health service in general about two thirds of those who are at that in-between age are not in appropriate accommodation." Ms Morgan also talked about representations she had received from the Young Equals campaign (see previous blog)

Video about Skypad Unit

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Green shoots?

In its first few years of existence Newsround broke new ground and was prepared to be innovative. But in the last few years there's been a steady decline in Newsround's audience. The BBC Trust, in offering its views on children's services recently, attempted to put the blame on schedule changes and chose to ignore the likelihood that programme content and associated editorial decisions could be significant factors for the decline in interest. Complaints are continuing regarding the December 2008 message board deletions, and CBBC's unwillingness to take any notice of users.

The programme itself has become less willing to push forward the boundaries, precisely at a time when, with competing new media, BBC journalists need to be more prepared than ever to challenge and question. All too often Newsround is simply padded with the non-controversial and lazy option of sports news.

As a result Newsround has become boring and pretty much irrelevant to kids.

Despite a May 2007 promise to participate in Takeover Day, come November 2007 there was not a single mention of the event, not even coverage on Newsround's website. No coverage or participation in 2008 as well. And when last year a group of charities and young people launched the Young Equals campaign, including the Young Equals day of action on 28 August 2008, none of this was reported by Newsround.

Friday's Newsround programme, looked slightly more encouraging (Friday 8 May at 5.05pm)

Politics - row about MPs' expenses [1'48"]
Road safety [0'13"]
Neglected animals on a farm [0'13"]
Male primary school teachers [1'58"]
Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg [1'44"]
Preview of Sportsround [0'20"]

The first news item was about why MPs are under fire for expense claims - a good story choice because it shows the need for journalistic scrutiny.

Sonali: First to a row about politicians being greedy. Over the past few months people have been getting more and more angry about the amount of our money being spent on their homes. And today we found out the surprising things they're spending the cash on.

Sonali's video report which followed included an interview with the BBC's top political journalist, Nick Robinson.

The next report on Friday was about kids' road safety in the UK. Sixteen countries have a better record, and the government needs to do more. Then came another short item, this time about the Gray family who had neglected animals on their farm in Buckinghamshire. The fourth item considered the dearth of male teachers in British primary schools (see blog on 26 April 2009). Yet even on this report Newsround couldn't quite manage to steer clear of gender stereotyping.

Sonali: When Newsround asked you what job you'd like to do when you're older, becoming a teacher was the top choice for girls. But for boys it was way down list and it seems the same story in primary school classrooms around the country. Gavin's been finding out more.

Friday's NR showed signs of being a bit more willing to question the existing order of things. It showed that sometimes adults make mistakes or do things because of their own selfish interests. Ultimately though, if CBBC want to increase its audiences it needs to more frequently challenge viewers and make programmes more relevant. Are we seeing the green shoots of a renaissance? If so, there are a few things Newsround might want to look at.

Young Equals is unhappy that new equality proposals, to be debated tomorrow, don't go further to stop discrimination against children. Why not report what the four children's commissioners, children's rights groups and individual kids are doing to help promote equality and fairness? Earlier this year the commissioners gave evidence to the joint parliamentary committee on human rights, but regrettably nothing on Newsround. And what about those CBBC message boards? The criticism continues, and still not a whisper from Newsround. The UK Youth Parliament is due, this summer, to have a plenary session in the House of Commons but up till now Newsround has demonstrated that it doesn't do youth democracy.

CBBC needs to get out of the rut of management's rigid target ages, which were endorsed uncritically by the BBC's supine sovereign body.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Chas Newkey-Burden, co-author of 'Not In My Name: A Compendium Of Modern Hypocrisy' writing in the 25th birthday edition of GT magazine (page 122) argues that there's a lot of imaginary homophobia about in Britain. In his opinion gay people are disproportionately visible in popular culture, and have "never had it so good."

He believes that we look for homophobia where there isn't any. As an example Newkey-Burden refers an elderly couple who own a hotel in Cornwall and are being accused of discrimination. He then goes on to criticise an article in a previous edition of GT magazine, in which the BBC was "astonishingly accused of being a “bastion” of homophobia." (see blog 11 March 2009) Chas says that one of the key pieces of evidence "for this jaw-dropping allegation" was remarks made about Lindsay Lohan which, he believes, are no different in kind to the "harmless banter" commonly heard in the gay community.

Newkey-Burden then goes on to contrast this with what he regards as serious cases of homophobia - people who are tortured, imprisoned and executed in some Middle Eastern countries for their homosexuality.

His piece ends by stating that making accusations of homophobia against Brian McFadden or Boris Johnson is easy, because neither tends to bite back particularly hard. Opposing anti-gay brutality in the Middle East and elsewhere, he says, "might actually take some courage – a quality in increasingly short supply in British gay life."

I'm not sure what Chas Newkey-Burden is on about. Four years ago he himself criticised a joke on the BBC's Have I Got News For You. True - it would require a great deal of courage for someone living in say Iran or Saudi Arabia to oppose anti-gay brutality. But for people in Britain who rely on the media for their living it takes almost as much courage to criticise the BBC - and that's something that Peter Tatchell has in spades.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Changes at Newsround, and the BBC attack on diversity

There have been a few changes at Newsround, but whether for the better or for the worse remains to be seen.

More generally, as regular readers already know, the BBC is far from being comfortable with the principles of equality and diversity, and now it seems Channel 4 is assisting in a regrettable attempt to be exempted from some duties in the new Equality Bill.

According to the Guardian, the broadcasters are suggesting that their editorial independence would be compromised. Newsround Blog has been investigating, and will keep you informed.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Bullying questions

An article about the taunts endured by Tom Daley at his school appeared in the Guardian on 18 April 2009. Tom's bullying got worse after he took part in the Olympics last year.

"It's gone on a long time," he says of the hounding that now resembles bullying, "but it reached a peak after the Olympics and has just stayed there. They've been taking the mick for ages, calling me 'Diver Boy', but they now spend most of their time throwing stuff at me. I thought it would calm down but it hasn't."

Two days after the Guardian article Newsround began a week of reports about its investigation into the lives of children. The fieldwork for the investigation took place in January 2009, and presumably involved considerable planning. One of the principal findings was that children were most afraid of being bullied. But for some reason Newsround failed to report Tom Daley's bullying until the following Friday, by which time it had become a big story in the 'red tops'. Originally Newsround chose to minimise the issue of bullying as it affects kids at school.

On Tuesday 21 April:-

Ore: You spend nearly a thousand hours every year at school. It plays a big part in your life, but 1 in 4 of you think there's too much pressure to do well in exams. Bullying is a problem too, and more than half of the kids we asked told us they're distracted by badly behaved children. What's more 1 in 10 of you said that teachers are sometimes bullied or even attacked in class. Maddy's been investigating.

Kids bullying their teachers is a recognised issue, and it was the the focus of Maddy's report. However a "massive investigation" called All About You might be expected to look into the bullying problem as it affects kids themselves.

And then on Thursday 23 April:-

Ore: We all get scared sometimes and many of you share the same worries. The most frightening place for most of you is being in the dark. 4 out of 10 of you told us that it's where you felt least safe. But 1 in 5 of you said you feel unsafe on the streets. When we asked you what you were most afraid of, most of you said bullying but next on the list was getting stabbed or shot. 1 in 8 of you said that was your biggest fear.

Gavin's report followed, and as with Maddy's there was no mention of children who were concerned about bullying. So why did Newsround play down the problem of bullying? And why did CBBC remove the 'Bullying' message board and other peer help boards in December 2008? And why was all Aaron's expert help about bullying and growing up issues taken away as well?

CBBC's editorial judgement looks questionable if you ask me.