Friday, July 30, 2010

The Catalan parliament voted to ban bullfighting, and that was the first story on Wednesday's Newsround at 5pm.

Ore: Some people call it a traditional Spanish sport. Others just say it's animal cruelty. We're talking about bullfighting. It's been popular in Spain for centuries.

Leah: But now people in one part of the country, Catalonia, in the north east of Spain say they've had enough. And today they voted to ban it. (video report followed)

Leah: Well we're joined now by Mike Baker, Head of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, who's been campaigning to get bullfighting banned. So Mike, Catalonia: we've seen the ban there. Are you hoping that it spreads right across Spain?

Mike: Well yeah, very much so. One of the encouraging things about this is that 180,000 people from Catalonia petitioned their parliament. They got them, forced it onto the agenda, and got their politicians to change their minds and ban the sport. And we know that it's not popular in the rest of Spain too, so we hope that that will follow.

Ore: Well what would you say, Mike, to the people that say bullfighting is a traditional sport - it should stay?

Mike: Well tradition isn't really an excuse for cruelty, we don't think. But also traditions and cultures change. And that's what we're seeing now. The new generation don't like them, they don't want be associated with that. That's why we're seeing people like Carles Puyol, the World Cup football star, coming out and supporting a ban.

Leah: But for people whose jobs are now ended, and schools that have to close - bullfighting schools - what d'you say to them?

Mike: We can actually see what happens. Because there have been other places that have banned it in a smaller way, in towns and cities in Portugal, Ecuador, Colombia, even the Canary Islands. And we know for a fact there that the economies haven't suffered. And they've done that without cruelty.

Ore: Mike, thank you very much for coming in. Cheers.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From this morning's Newsround :

Ricky: School's out for the summer but some kids will be working really hard over the holidays, like the actors in the new CBBC series Just William. Filming starts this week, but Newsround got a peek behind the scenes as they got ready for the cameras.

(Video) Daniel Roche: I'm Daniel and I'm playing the main character. I love my hair but I have to get it cut because Just William is set in the 1950's and schoolboys at that time didn't have hair like mine........

Checking out the BBC's Press Office shows that Just William was actually commissioned over a year ago by the then Controller of CBBC, Anne Gilchrist. If you recall hearing the name before it could be because Anne Gilchrist is the very same person who axed Grange Hill on the pretext that "The lives of children have changed a great deal since Grange Hill began and we owe it to our audience to reflect this."

So an iconic kids programme was axed on the basis that it doesn't reflect "contemporary Britain," and now we have a series set in the 1950's.

Maybe the present Controller of CBBC, Damian Kavanagh, might like to explain.

When Stonewall published Tuned Out in 2006, the BBC appeared to go to some lengths to minimise the news. Unfortunately for the BBC however, Newsround Blog was onto the case. So when Unseen on Screen was published last week, the BBC was more open and honest with its reporting. Also see their review How TV's gay characters shape up

Unseen on Screen confirms Newsround Blog's own finding - that the BBC hasn't been treating LGB people fairly. Twenty of the programmes most watched by young people on terrestrial TV were examined. As before, the BBC came off worst in LGB representation.

Earlier this month the BBC Trust made clear that the BBC should not ignore or underserve particular audience groups. Making kids' programmes set in the 1950's is hardly going to do much to help turn things around. And axing Grange Hill, especially at a time when its creator, Phil Redmond, was hoping to make it even more relevant to today's generation, was reprehensible.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

It seems clear that Newsround, with all its faults, doesn't yet have any serious competition as a UK kids' news programme. And over this past week there have been some significant improvements, especially as regards making it more relevant.

One of the week's reports was Michael Gove being interviewed by Sonali about funding for school renovations. Sonali challenged Michael about Highfurlong School, and he conceded that is was a school in urgent need of extra cash.

Sonali: So is Highfurlong going to get the cash to expand its corridors - to expand its classrooms?

Michael Gove: We're looking now to make sure that all the schools that are in most need get the cash.

Sonali: Cos you know that Newsround's gonna be checking up on you.

With the new Academies Bill being rushed through Parliament, Newsround ought to be sure to check up on Mr Gove next week to see if the coalition government can be trusted.

My next blog will look at Stonewall's Unseen on Screen report.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

First TV review

On initial viewing, First TV, which officially began Internet broadcasting last Friday 16 July, seemed quite a success. One difference between First TV and Newsround was that teens were not sidelined - in fact they were possibly too central to the presentation and the content. This is more a magazine-type programme than a news programme; probably more of a rival to CBBC's Blue Peter than to Newsround.

After a while I started to think a little more carefully about the show, and further doubts entered my mind.

Items on the 35 minute-long programme included:

01 Introductory section
02 Twin presenters Fran & Nic interview Jedward
03 studio chat
04 Jack Brockbank from Guinness World Records
05 Barney walking on water
06 Piers Morgan interview
07 Viewers' competition
08 Chef Ben Ebbrell
09 News
10 Twins Fran & Nic visit Xscape, Milton Keynes
11 Guest Jason Bradbury from The Gadget Show on Five
12 Studio goodbyes

This Blog is never slow to point out CBBC's problem with inclusiveness and diversity. And, on reflection, that could be a problem on First TV too. Look at the presenters - none from ethnic backgrounds. That's not necessarily a problem in itself. But now look at the content as well. How many black or Asian people were interviewed or appeared in stories, or even in the studio audience? If things don't change, and pretty quickly, this project will seem to be targeted only at a limited section of society.

First TV kicked off with introduction from presenters Emma, Charlie, and twins Nic & Fran. We heard a little about the presenters themselves, plus reading out a few letters and jokes they'd received.

In Item 2 twins Fran and Nic met up with Jedward. The main topic for discussion was whether twins have any special psychic link.

Back in the studio Fran and Nic talked about the experience of meeting John and Edward. After that Charlie attempted a world record of typing the alphabet into an iPad in the fastest time ever. After three attempts Charlie managed to achieve a time of 6.31 seconds - a world record according to Guinness adjudicator Jack Brockbank, who immediately went on to present First TV with the award certificate.

First TV gets Guinness World Record award
The next item was the first of their 'viewer reports' from Barney in Spain, who showed us how to walk on water in a giant plastic ball.

Former editor of the Daily Mirror, Britain's Got Talent judge and all-round 'living legend' Piers Morgan was interviewed by Emma and Charlie. Piers is also the man behind the First News and First TV ventures.

Excerpt from interview

Piers Morgan: What I love about First News is that, when I was a newspaper editor, the biggest challenge was to try and get young people to buy the paper. Because you know we're in a modern age where TV and the Internet has taken over from traditional newspapers, and young people just don't really read papers. So how do you get news to young people in a way that they're gonna find exciting? And we've done it with First News in the printed form, and I think through the TV form now, it's a really exciting new development where I think we're gonna get young people interested in news, and what we have to offer in the paper. And that's great.

Item 7 was a competition with two Razor 360's being given away as prizes.

Next chef Ben Ebbrell showed his recipe for broccoli and peanut butter soup. I did try this recipe and found it quite nice.

Eventually we came to the 'news' section. This began with a story about the Twilight Saga: Eclipse UK premiere, which had been reported on Newsround in early July. Next Henry Winkler talked about his Hank Zipzer books series. Henry and First News editor, Nicky Cox are touring the country to raise awareness for the First News My Way! campaign. The third 'news' piece was an interview with Logan Lerman, star of Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief.

Which is better, skiing or snowboarding? Sounds like something Harry Hill might ask, but it was a question Fran and Nic considered when they visited the SNOzone at Xscape in Milton Keynes.

Back to the studio, celebrity guest of the day was Jason Bradbury from The Gadget Show on Five.

So how does First TV compare with what's on offer on CBBC?

Apart from the issue with diversity and inclusiveness already mentioned, I think they have got a few good ideas. But there is plenty of room for improvement, especially if the channel is, as Piers Morgan suggested, intended to get young people interested in news. The next programme on First TV isn't due until 6 August, which means the channel updates are, at present, far too infrequent as a news source.

In contrast CBBC Newsround has scored very well recently, for instance with this report from Monday's programme and this report yesterday about Hayley's visit to Highfurlong School in Blackpool. More about this in my next blog.

Indications are that CBBC may have begun to take heed of the BBC Trust's remarks (blog 6 July 2010)

So First TV needs to urgently think through its format. Perhaps it could be more edgy? What about studio debates on news issues of the day? What about inviting the UK Children's Commissioners to have a say from time to time? First TV is just a bit too cosy. Shouldn't it challenge kids to think through issues, and how they can improve society for themselves and those around them. Out of date showbiz news doesn't really cut the mustard, does it?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Friday night - part 2

In April this year The Guardian quoted Jonathan Ross as saying he couldn't wait to leave the BBC. As Friday Night With Jonathan Ross drew to an end, Jonathan made a speech thanking just about everyone he could think of, and was generous in his praise for the BBC.

Ross: ... the experience I've had here with the BBC has been just a blessed one. I've been very lucky. I felt very honoured. Sometimes the papers might have made me out to seem a bit arrogant and a bit kind of out of control; but you know that's not the case. I've never come in here feeling anything but grateful and lucky and honoured. ..

Jonathan's peroration had the same whiff of insincerity as his Sachsgate apology when he returned to BBC One on 23rd January 2009.

Many people, including some in the LGB & T communities and at the BBC, believed that Jonathan Ross was gay-friendly. When he was accused of homophobia after a Radio 2 broadcast in May 2009 the Corporation immediately came to his defence, saying: "Jonathan is not homophobic in any sense and never meant for his comments to be taken seriously."

I was interested in the implications of this statement, especially with regard to the BBC's interpretation of the word homophobia. Correspondence with the BBC and with Ofcom ensued. Later, and it appeared to Jonathan's surprise, the BBC didn't initiate negotiations for the renewal of his contract.

Ross, himself, claims he was mortified that some thought he was homophobic. So, what is the truth?

Jonathan Ross employed David Roper, David Wickenden, Ian Parkin and Stephen de Martin, four men who publicly describe themselves as 'poofs' and seemed happy that he introduced them like this at the start of his Friday night shows. Is that evidence that Jonathan is pro-gay? Does it help that he once, in a tweet, called them "some lovely men?" And Ross also commissioned Friday Night guest, Tim Minchin, to write a song with lyrics about "those four lovely guys," implying that the people against them were homophobic Daily Mail readers.

If Ross really is gay-friendly might he actually do something to combat homophobia? Well, his last chance at the BBC to address the issue came when he interviewed David Beckham. Jonathan could have asked David why football has such a poor reputation when it comes to this particular form of prejudice. But even at that late stage it wasn't something he was prepared to raise. Ross wimped out, and all we heard instead was persiflage about footballers giving each other hugs.

At one point in the interview Beckham mentioned he was a good friend of James Corden. Last year Corden, Beckham and several of his footballing chums collaborated on a film for Red Nose Day. I suggested they could have got together to make an anti-homophobia video for the FA. Yet it looks like all of them are too cowardly to stand up and be counted in the battle against homophobia. Will it ever happen? To date no top British footballer has spoken out against the prejudice, or gone as far as Cristiano Ronaldo did when he supported gay marriage in Portugal recently.

Jonathan Ross has a lot of time on his hands between now and when he starts his show on ITV. Let's hope he puts that time to good effect and thinks through a fresh and more inclusive style.

Reports that Graham Norton is to take over from Jonathan Ross are far from encouraging.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday night - part 1

Michael Harper came out as gay on this evening's episode of the BBC One sitcom My Family. As far as Newsround Blog is concerned, if this 'coming out' was supposed to show the BBC as gay-friendly, it was misguided. Here's why:

BBC guidelines in 1996 stated that "Gay and lesbian people, and those who are bi-sexual, make up a significant minority entitled to be served and treated fairly by the BBC." But when devout Catholic Mark Thompson became Director-General in 2004 programme guidelines were revised, and amongst the changes made the following year was the deletion of that advice. A new 'Diversity Board' was created, chaired by Thompson himself, and within months there were noticeable changes to children's TV - LGB characters and storylines disappeared.

With that background in mind, it is interesting to note that this tenth series of My Family is currently going out at 9pm. Previously it had been shown before the watershed. Of course, in line with outdated attitudes, now that Michael has revealed he's gay we're likely to see a lot of humour based around sex and his sexuality. This gay theme begins just as Jonathan Ross, together with his obsessive prurient innuendo, leave the BBC.

More about Friday Night with Jonathan Ross in part 2 of this blog.

Anyone who's watched My Family over the years will have appreciated that the Harpers are a middle-class family with pretty liberal and easy-going values. Would someone from such a family wait until they were 22 before telling their parents they were gay? Maybe they would a generation ago, and maybe some still would. But children today will hopefully feel able to come out in their teens.

Whilst on the topic of 'coming out' isn't is about time that BBC scriptwriters decided whether Ben from Eastenders is, or is not gay? Don't some kids know they're gay at the same age that others have crushes on the opposite sex?

Abi & Jordan - Eastenders 24/11/2009
13 yr-olds Abi & Jordan (EastEnders, November 2009)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

At its best Newsround can be a good programme. Sonali's reports from Haiti a few weeks after the earthquake were an example of journalism at its best.

Today Leah brought home the situation in Northern Ireland. Leah said that people there had been used to violence, but what makes this different is that children have been involved in the riots.

Sometimes, though, it looks like Newsround is far too lax. Should a news programme allow its presenters to behave like wannabes? I don't think Newsround's audience deserve be patronised with the likes of Chad von Cheeseburger, or inane foolishness like this, this and this.

The people behind First News are due, within the next few hours, to launch an Internet channel - First TV. The initial intention is to update content once a week. Presenters are Charlie McDonnell and Emma Pollard. Will they give Newsround's presenters a run for their money?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

With the start of the International Year of Youth four weeks away, Newsround Blog looks at what the BBC is doing to put right its discriminatory teen policies of recent years. Following the BBC Trust's initial conclusions to the BBC Strategy Review (blog 6 July 2010) some publications have been putting a spin on comments made at the Children's Media Conference.

On 8 July 2010 Broadcast magazine reported "BBC Children’s to target teens with extra budget." However, reading a little further into the piece it becomes clear that the headline is somewhat misleading. What the Director of BBC Children's reportedly said at the Conference was "We won’t change our target audience, but a lot of what we do already attracts older children." Apparently the intention is to "better serve the top end" of CBBC's audience, which will, by association, attract teens too.

Joe Godwin also spoke to Broadcast about children's TV in April this year. It seems that CBBC is on the hunt for a long-running, issues-led kids’ drama that skews towards the older end of its target demographic. Broadcast suggested that Grange Hill, which was axed in 2008, fitted exactly that description. But be warned, "don’t go telling that to Joe Godwin."

Joe does get rather irate at any hint that BBC management got things wrong in the past. As with others in the Corporation, he turns a blind eye to the fact that the BBC lied about audience reaction to the axing of Grange Hill and never put the record straight.

Despite attempts to get the BBC to detail its rationale, they have yet to give a credible explanation for the teen policy. Broadcast has Mr Godwin as saying that the fuss around Grange Hill has more to do with the chattering classes being stuck in the past than the current state of children’s television. And he is not even fully prepared to acknowledge the gap in services for teens. The basis for his reasoning is that "As many 10 to 15 year-olds watch CBBC as six to nine year-olds, which really puts away the argument that we don’t do stuff for older kids. That’s a fact."

In December Mr Godwin emailed me: "we are serving the top end of our audience better than ever, especially in drama and factual." So presumably the reason for children deserting CBBC in droves has nothing to do with mismanagement - it's the fault of children themselves?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Paul the Octopus may be a top celeb at the moment, but Winston the Octopus seems destined to miss out on a life of stardom. Winston failed to display any of Paul's 'psychic abilities' when he appeared on Friday's Newsround at 5pm.

Ricky: You've had your chance, Winston. I mean you're not able to predict this, are you? You're not psychic and you've made Newsround look really stupid. So, you will NEVER work in TV again!

Looks like the media world can sometimes be pretty unforgiving.

The next item was a live report from South Africa, ending with -

Ore: Now what you guys have got to do is tune into Newsround over the CBBC Channel all over the weekend because I'll have all the news and build-up as this World Cup comes to a thrilling climax. So, who's it gonna be in the final? Well we'll find that out on Sunday but there's also the issue of Uruguay / Germany. Who's gonna come in third place. I'll give you all you need to know from that too. So I'll see you guys soon. Bye bye.

What was that all about? Surely kids would hear the World Cup news on other channels, well before they hear it from Newsround. Perhaps it was a hapless attempt to justify the BBC sending Team NR out to South Africa for a third time, at the expense of both the environment and licence-fee payers.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The BBC Trust says that it aims to get the best out of the BBC for licence fee payers. Here are some excerpts from the BBC Strategy Review / Initial conclusions published yesterday:

Whatever future circumstances arise, the BBC cannot opt out of its obligation to serve all audiences. The Trust therefore rules out any suggestion that the BBC could do fewer things by ignoring or underserving particular audience groups. .... And even where targeted areas of programming (such as BBC Switch for teenagers) are to be discontinued, the Trust will expect the BBC to continue to serve all parts of the population through its mainstream programming and occasionally through more specific output. Our audience research and consultation responses demonstrate strong public support for this approach.

We do not believe the BBC should define boundaries in terms of audience groups as it has a duty to promote the public purposes amongst all audience groups, and we will expect the BBC to continue to serve teenagers on television in different ways.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Children's Media Conference - part 6

The BBC Trust is due to issue its provisional conclusions to the Strategy Review shortly. The Citizens' Coalition for Public Service Broadcasting is a broad mix of civil society groups, charities, community groups, unions and arts organisations who believe public service broadcasting to be a public good, worth preserving. They believe the BBC should increase investment in the depiction of contemporary British cultures as these are experienced by children living in the UK. They say there is a particular gap in the provision of programmes for older children, and this should be remedied by the BBC (see also part 3).

This blogger has drawn attention over the years to the quite obviously misguided attempts by BBC management to hive off services for older kids to a separate 'brand' - Switch - which (given the limited funding available) was never in a million years going to be capable of achieving much, other than unnecessarily draining resources from an already cash-strapped organisation. The motivation was opaque, and my request for the rationale was met with platitudes.

John Farmer, responding on behalf of the Director-General, stated (1/4/2008) that: "Creative Futures spent a year researching the breakdown in age groups and it seemed sensible and obvious to segment the offerings in this way and in fact these age segmentations are very common across different industries and educational providers." Further, I was informed: "The BBC is dedicated to providing a more wide and varied output for 12-16 year olds, including television, radio and online content. The launch of BBC switch has proven a great success and will long continue to provide programming for this target age range."

It is quite astonishing that those working at the coalface have expressed few reservations publicly about what's been happening over the past few years. Last year's Showcomotion was an exception, as there was some discussion and concern about the absence of drama for older kids. But it seems, from the Conference blogs available, nothing like that concern was reflected at the Children's Media Conference 2010.

Now the chickens have home to roost, and the BBC seeks to withdraw, to all intents and purposes, from proper provision of services to teens. This should be resisted by all who value the principles of public service broadcasting. I did receive a response to the email to Jana Bennett mentioned in part 3, but the question of providing a proportion of the licence fee to Channel 4 was not addressed.

In summary, the BBC needs to get its house in order, especially regarding openness and honesty with the public. The rationale for Creative Future has never been satisfactorily explained; it was self-evidently a mistake from the get-go. What is needed, once again, is a diverse-friendly and inclusive approach to children's services. This will be difficult to achieve unless those responsible are prepared to admit they goofed badly.

As this is being published, Team Newsround is heading back to South Africa to report on the World Cup (see last two paragraphs of blog on 1 July)

The latest Newsround Special, Living With Alcohol, will be broadcast at 4.55pm tomorrow on BBC One.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Children's Media Conference - part 5

A significant segment of children's TV has become a global marketing exercise. This is a depressing assessment, but there's no doubting, especially in our straitened times, the economics of global sales can have a crucial bearing on the likelihood of a script or concept making it to the TV screen. So national quirks and culture is all too frequently sacrificed in order to help sell to a larger international audience.

In an earlier blog I wrote about The Bill, a London based cops show. The Bill used to deal with controversial issues in a diverse-friendly and inclusive way. These included LGB cops etc, but Australian politicians and media are conservative in outlook, and it seems that production values were gradually but firmly altered to facilitate sales in the Australian market. The new Australian prime minister has restated the Labor government's opposition to same-sex marriage, despite opinion polls indicating public support.

One of the sessions at the Children's Media Conference was about a new blueprint for children's media. It's reported that speakers underlined the global nature of children's television, and the importance of marketing and distribution. But Joe Godwin said British children want British content. Lyndsay Grant said it's important to give children more of a say.

The International Year of Youth starts next month. In the early 1990's Dr Patricia Edgar conceived the idea of a World Summit in media for young people, and the first summit was held in Melbourne Australia. The most recent was held in Karlstad Sweden last month. It called for young people to have more of a say in youth media production. The UK Youth Media Council sent a delegation to Sweden. In a timely article in The Guardian Richard Lemmer from the UKYMC said a survey of over 250 found that 88% of young people thought they were misrepresented by the media.

The Second world summit was held in London, and was chaired by Anna Home. For the first time there was a parallel children's event. They said many programmes intended for young people didn't allow kids to express themselves, and their opinions weren't always respected. It's notable that when the BBC closed down a load of CBBC message boards at the end of 2008 they completely ignored the wishes of the overwhelming majority of kids, who hadn't even been consulted about the closures. See also my analysis of Newsround's half-hearted efforts at giving kids a say in the lead-up to the general election, especially blogs on 10th, 13th and 17th April 2010.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Children's Media Conference - part 4

Henry Winkler was the keynote speaker last night. Winkler had struggled with dyslexia at school and was despised by his parents because of his poor academic performance. Eventually he became a successful actor and decided to use his experience in overcoming adversity to bring up his own kids better and, through the fictional character of Hank Zipzer, inspire other kids with similar difficulties.

The idea of covering growing up problems like those in Winkler's books is not new. Grange Hill began in 1978. That programme portrayed all kinds of children and the difficulties they had in their lives. In 2008 Anne Gilchrist axed Grange Hill, saying that children's lives had changed a great deal since it began.

Earlier today Jonathan Shalit from ROAR Global was interviewed on BBC News and he was careful to heap praise on the Corporation as the world's greatest broadcaster. Jonathan might even be right, but the trouble is that far too many people are frightened to criticise the BBC when it gets things wrong, as it did with Grange Hill. Professor Phil Redmond was a notable exception in that he stood up to the BBC and condemned the Corporation for its treatment of Grange Hill (see part 2 of this blog). It is worth mentioning the disparaging way the current Director of BBC Children's, Joe Godwin, referred to Phil's views (10 Dec 2009): "... just because a professor of something says so, doesn't mean it's true."

At about the same time as Winkler's keynote lecture to the Children's Media Conference, Sir Michael Lyons, Chair of the BBC Trust addressed a London meeting of the Voice of the Listener & Viewer. Sir Michael seemed intent on getting across how the BBC will be more careful about providing value for the licence fee payer. For example, a 25% cut to the total pay bill for senior management will now take place within 18 months rather than the 3 years proposed previously.

Election: Your Vote, mentioned in part 3 of this blog, was broadcast on 22 April 2010. It gave 140 children the chance to vote on the subject they were most concerned about. It was interesting to see that the economy topped the poll. Obviously, with a result like that, it would be reasonable to expect Newsround to have something to say about the Budget when it took place on Tuesday 22 June 2010. During his introduction that day Ore said: "Here's everything you need to know after a long day at school." But not a single word about one of the most important economy-related news items which will affect people's lives for a generation. Newsround's editor is, incidentally, a registered delegate at the Children's Media Conference.

There was a climate change summit in Denmark last December. Newsround said they wouldn't be reporting from the summit because they had considered the increased carbon footprint involved in sending someone to Copenhagen. Newsround's concern for climate change had clearly diminished by the beginning of 2010, with Ore flying out to South Africa to talk about World Cup preparations. And furthermore it seems that was only the first of three Newsround trips out there this year. According to his World Cup diary Ore will be flying out again in time for the semi-finals.

Last week on Tuesday 22 June Ore wrote "Being a Newsround reporter's a difficult job but someone's got to do it." But at a time when so many people are losing their jobs, and possibly struggling to pay the BBC licence fee, the BBC should be a lot more sensitive - and not just about climate change. Are three trips to South Africa absolutely essential? These are issues that the BBC needs to think through more carefully.