Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The BBC is the world's most trusted, it is in many ways the world's greatest broadcaster. But people have frighteningly high standards of all of us. They demand the best and particularly in an age of scrutiny, my view is we have to be very open, very honest, we have to confront our issues, but we have to live up to the standards of clarity and honesty which the public demand of us.

Not my words, but those of BBC Director-General, Mark Thompson.

If clarity and honesty are as important to the BBC as Mr Thompson claims, the Corporation let children down when it broadcast Election: Your Vote last Thursday at 4.35pm on BBC One. The CBBC programme, introduced by Angellica Bell, would have misled many viewers in important respects.

Angellica: On May 6th adults will vote in the general election. But today we've put children in charge of politics, and you want answers .... You've taken advice from top celebrities .... You've been grilling some of Britain's leading politicians .... and now you're getting to vote on the issues that are most important to you .... in the very first CBBC Election Your Vote

The programme was carefully crafted to propagandise that BBC Children's is helping to empower kids by giving them a say in politics in the run-up to the general election. It's likely, from listening to Angellica's introduction, that kids would believe this was the first time kids had ever been involved in a CBBC election programme. The reality is that the programme's audience did not have a vote of any kind.

One of the top issues for kids is the economic situation. Akhil was put in touch with Evan Davis from the BBC to be briefed about the economic meltdown. But, not surprisingly, Evan didn't tell Akhil that economics journalists, including himself, had failed disastrously to scrutinise politicians and bankers in the lead-up to the credit crunch and economic collapse. See this blog entry for more discussion. Other countries such as India were more circumspect, and didn't follow the Wall Street path of deregulation. What happened in Britain, America and many other countries wasn't an inevitability.

CBBC's Election: Your Vote didn't mention that the LibDem's Vince Cable had been warning for some time of the consequences of economic deregulation. Akhil asked Alan Johnson: Why should we pay for your [the older generation's economic] mistakes? But because of the way the programme was structured, the differences between the political parties (on the four issues discussed) were blurred.

There was a vote on which of the four issues was most important to kids "in our first ever CBBC election." The results were: Economy 53 votes - War in Afghanistan 41 votes - Crime 32 votes - Environment 14 votes.

The fact is that BBC children's used to give kids a much more real say in politics than it does today. And to imply otherwise was deceitful. The clip below from Children's TV On Trial shows the way things used to be done:-

As you can see in the video, during earlier general elections Newsround organised a parallel election for kids much more along the lines of the real election. And back then kids were able to support real parties and campaign on real issues in their school hustings. But as time has passed the BBC's regard for children seems to have diminished, and now kids are treated with disdain.

Here is the link to Newsround's current general election web coverage. Newsround Election '97 was a mock general election open to all primary and secondary school pupils, which took place in the week before the real thing. See the Newsround Election '97 webpages for more details. You'll see a link to the results of previous Newsround elections going back to 1983.

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