Saturday, October 30, 2010

Is Gavin Henson most famous as a Strictly Come Dancing contestant or as a rugby player? On Tuesday, Newsround reported that he might soon be back playing rugby again.

Ricky: Good news now for Strictly Star Gavin Henson, who's waltzed his way into a new rugby team. Charlotte Church's ex has been doing more rumba than rugby recently. Er but by the end of the week the Welsh centre should be completing a move to London side Saracens.

Ore: Thing is, though, Ricky, he hasn't played rugby for more that 18 months. So he might need some time to toughen up again. He ain't gonna score any tries if he tries dancing down the wing - d'you know what I'm saying?

Newsround confirmed the move early on Thursday morning -

Leah: Now we might be used to seeing him in sparkly dance outfits, but get used to seeing Gavin Henson like this, in rugby kits. He's signed up to play for English team Saracens and will be straight into action once Strictly Come Dancing has finished.

Now we know that when a leading Welsh rugby player, Gareth Thomas, came out as gay last year, the story was ignored by Newsround. He's due to appear in a few days on 2nd November at the pre-launch event (pdf) for LGBT History Month 2011. Would Newsround ignore Gareth Thomas if he were a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing? Come to think of it, though, would Gareth or any other gay activist ever get invited to take part? On present form the BBC will certainly resist any move towards an LGBT-inclusive Strictly.

I've previously blogged about the reluctance of Newsround to cover youth democracy. More of the same reluctance yesterday when the UK Youth Parliament convened for a series of debates in the House of Commons. The first subject debated was Should sex and relationships education be compulsory from primary school onwards? Towards the end of the debate, Rosie Corrigan from North Yorkshire stressed the need for SRE to cover same-sex relationships in order to effectively tackle homophobia and homophobic bullying.

The second debate considered Lord Browne's proposals on university tuition fees. Detail of the whole session and results of all the debates are in the UK Youth Parliament Live Blog.

Debates are also available on the BBC iPlayer for the next few days.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

There has been a spate of suicides in the United States recently. Many of the young people who died had been suffering months or years of homophobic bullying. So far President Obama has done little or nothing to help LGB & T equality, but a few days ago he did issue a sympathetic message on YouTube as part of a campaign telling bullied kids that life gets better.

Obama admits he doesn't "know what it's like to be picked on for being gay." The video below, on the other hand, is from someone who knows what it's like. On 12th October Joel Burns spoke at a Fort Worth City Council meeting -

The "It Gets Better" campaign is obviously well-intentioned, but is premised upon homophobic bullying being an inevitable fact of life for some kids. That's precisely NOT how it should be. Today's Guardian includes an article showing how effective school lessons on gay history can be in promoting tolerance and reducing bullying.

Television also has a crucial role to play in championing a cohesive society, where all people are treated as of equal standing.

What, then, needs to be done?

During the last decade children's TV has steadily become less inclusive, and homophobic bullying and attacks have increased. So it's over to those responsible, the bosses at BBC Children's, to reverse that trend.

Anti-Bullying Week isn't far off. Two or three programmes combatting homophobic bullying would be a long-overdue start, but a complete change of ethos is needed as well. Instead of news programmes and children's dramas shying away from lesbigay portrayal and issues, programme makers need to go out of their way to treat all people fairly.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

This year CBBC's TMi has moved from Saturday mornings to Friday evenings at 5.30pm. Guests in episode 1 of the new series on 10th September were boy band The Wanted, who will, incidentally, also be guests on next Friday's show. Amongst viewers' questions put to the lads were "Which member of The Saturdays would you most like to snog?" and "Who do you have a crush on?" The Saturdays, in case you don't know, is an all-girl band.

Joe McElderry was a guest last Friday. I'd be astonished if CBBC didn't get any similar viewers' questions to put to Joe, but given the channel's misogynistic, heterosexist and homophobic ethos, it came as no surprise that Sam & Mark steered well clear of anything related to romance, crushes or Joe's sexuality.

We saw exactly the same thing when Joe was perfunctorily interviewed by Leah for Newsround.

A comparison between CBBC these days and events years ago is very revealing. In both TMi Friday and the interviews of Andrew Hayden Smith and Alex Parks, we can see that, according to CBBC's ethos (see above) it's OK to talk about crushes and who you'd like to snog if you're perceived as straight, but never if you identify as lesbian or gay.

Former BBC Director-General Greg Dyke got a lot of flak for saying that the BBC is hideously white. But I don't think it would be untrue or unfair to say that CBBC is hideously heteronormative.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mystery of the Missing Millions

Yesterday's Newsround at 5pm began with an attempt to explain the coalition government's comprehensive spending review.

Sonali: None of us like being told we're gonna have less cash to spend. It's not exactly fun having to be careful about how many texts you're sending out, or how many magazines you buy.

Ricky: But today everyone in the UK was told the Government's going to cut the whole country's spending money by a lot - over 130 billion pounds in the next four years.

Sonali: It is a very big deal because they spend that cash on things like hospitals, the police, the army, our roads, your schools ... the list goes on. Now many of those everyday things will have to run on far less money.

Ricky: So, why is the country suddenly so short of cash in the first place? Well here's money boffin, Evan Davis - you might recognise him from Dragons' Den - with the 'Mystery of the Missing Millions' to explain.

We then saw Evan's explanation - the clip on this webpage. If the Last Updated info on the page is "Wednesday October 20 2010 15:49 GMT" then just beneath the clip it may say "The government has announced big plans to cut the whole country's spending money by a staggering £130 BILLION over the next four years."

Apparently Evan was delighted with the production job on his video.

What is interesting here is that almost everyone believes that the spending cuts will amount to £81 billion over four years, but Newsround claims that it's £130 billion. So who's right? This seems suitable for Newsround Blog to investigate, and I emailed the BBC about it this morning.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Anti-Bullying Week begins on 15 November, which is less than a month away. This year the theme of Anti-Bullying week is Taking Action Together. The idea is for people to work together to build a society where everyone feels safe from bullying.

Last year Newsround broadcast a short docudrama for Anti-Bullying Week about the consequences of doing nothing when you see someone else getting bullied. The programme showed that if you don't actually try to prevent the bullying then, in effect, you're on the same side as the bullies.

Why didn't Newsround cover Anti-Bullying Week in 2008? This blogger believes CBBC was just a bit too uncomfortable with the theme for Anti-Bullying Week 2008 - Being Different, Belonging Together.

Now, why, you may ask, would CBBC be uncomfortable with that theme. The answer, if you haven't guessed already, is that some people at the BBC were worried that 'Being Different, Belonging Together' could readily be taken as supportive of diversity, and therefore of kids who identify as LGBT. So they simply decided to ignore Anti-Bullying Week altogether for that year (blog on 23 Nov 2008)

Some conservative groups in the United States have a very similar ethos. They want to prevent schools from directly addressing homophobic bullying, arguing that to do so promotes homosexuality. This YouTube video is a recent US discussion on the issue.

Bullying experts are clear that homophobic bullying cannot be effectively tackled unless it is tackled head-on. And as psychologist Emma Kenny said "when things are hidden they can't get dealt with."

Today is Spirit Day raising awareness of LGBT bullying and suicide. In London at the weekend there will be a vigil against hate crime.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Joe McElderry's been given the cold shoulder on CBBC since he came out in July - just one short interview on Newsround, where Leah put to Joe "the questions YOU want answered." As a result we know that if Joe were to be reincarnated as an animal, he would choose to be a dolphin.

Fortunately Newsround Blog has been onto Joe's case, and the way he's been treated by CBBC. Now he's been invited to appear on the next edition of Sam & Mark's TMi Friday.

Last Friday Joe was a guest on ITV's Paul O'Grady Live. During the 7 minute interview Joe said that he'd had the best year ever. Towards the end of the interview Paul asked Joe about what happened when he came out -

Paul O'Grady: .... they're [X Factor contestants] all over the papers. Talking of which - All that bit when you came out - first of all well done - because I have to say (audience cheers) Seriously, it's hard enough for any young kid to come out, but when you're in the public eye it's really unbearable, it's really tough. How did all that come about? Because I know one of the papers was gonna do a big exposé and all this.

Joe McElderry: Well, no and all...

Paul O'Grady: Get over yourselves papers will ya? Cos there's gay people in the world. There's gay people in telly - in fact if you got rid of all the gay people there'd be no telly! I can't bear it. Y'know what I mean - this is 2010 for God's sake. This is not 1961 - the Wolfenden Report breathing down our necks.

Joe McElderry: I was quite shocked it made front page news. It was ..

Paul O'Grady: Well done, you were very dignified

Joe McElderry: Thank you

Paul O'Grady: .. and I thought you handled it beautifully.

Joe McElderry: Thank you. Thanks very much.

Paul O'Grady: Who did you tell first?

Joe McElderry: It was my mum, yeah.

Paul O'Grady: Oh don't. What did your mum say?

Joe McElderry: It was on a train. We'd been coming back from visiting family and friends, and I just er - she knew there was something wrong - and I just told her. She asked a question (supportive audience interruption) and she was fine. Everybody was great and I'm so thankful for all the support I received from it. It was fantastic.

Paul O'Grady: Well done you kid.

Joe McElderry on Paul O'Grady Live (ITV1 15/10/2010)
Joe on ITV's Paul O'Grady Live (15/10/2010)

Joe mentioned some of the work he's doing including an appearance at G-A-Y on 23rd October, which he said he was quite excited about as it's his first real gig that isn't also on TV. Joe performed his single 'Ambitions' at the end of the show.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Once again, the BBC is looking for kids to take part in a new children's reality adventure series. This one is called Serious Explorers: Sir Walter Raleigh. As we've seen before with the CBBC Serious Series, participants have to be aged 12-15. Of course, needs must when the devil drives - so CBBC's target age range(6-12 yrs old) goes out the window.

Apparently CBBC are looking for eight young people to take part in an extreme adventure in the South American country of Guyana. As with Walter Raleigh, the expedition will sail across the Caribbean Sea from Trinidad & Tobago to the coast of Guyana. CBBC say they want young people who enjoy a challenge, care about animals and the environment and have the personality to come across well on camera. Applications by midnight tomorrow.

Not sure what they mean by a personality that comes across well on camera, but I think it's a safe bet that if, for example, a young lesbian applied, she would have pretty much zero chance of getting chosen for the expedition.

Basically homophobia is still the order of the day on BBC Children's. So much for the BBC Trust's recent instructions not to ignore or underserve particular audience groups.

Joe McElderry's single "Ambitions" was released at the start of this week, as was Pixie Lott's single "Broken Arrow."

Anyone notice that, since coming out as gay in July, Joe McElderry's been given hardly any coverage on CBBC? Just down to chance? No - there are just too many similar cases of BBC Children's keeping gay people and issues out of sight. Did you know Joe ran in the Great North Run in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust? If you did, it won't have been the result of seeing it on any CBBC Newsround report.

But, in contrast, let's see what Pixie Lott's been up to, courtesy of Newsround today. This is from the 8.30am bulletin -

Hayley: So, Pixie Lott - y'know singer, superstar, X Factor judge and maybe Number 1 this weekend - well Newsround heard that she was going to be giving a special performance at the House of Commons. So we thought it only right to send press packer Tom along. (Tom's press pack report)

And you can find a review of Pixie's single here on Newsround's website. There is, at the time of writing, no review of Joe's new single.

Newsround - Ricky Investigates
Discrimination on CBBC - Definitely a good topic for Ricky Investigates. But it's never going to happen, so Newsround Blog will investigate instead. I've asked the Director of BBC Children's a few questions.

Regrettably homophobia isn't just confined to BBC Children's. The Corporation, as a whole, isn't the most diverse-friendly of UK institutions. Remember my blog earlier in the year, when I said that BBC bosses were none too pleased with Tomasz Schafernaker? Well now he's been taken off-screen. A similar thing happened when CBBC presenter Andrew Hayden-Smith wrote a piece for a gay mag. Not straight away, of course, that would be a bit too obvious. But, to be fair, gay people can also do quite well for themselves at the BBC.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Not surprisingly the lead story on Newsround this morning was all about the rescue of miners in Chile. Viewers were told "while you were sleeping there have been huge celebrations as rescue workers started to successfully free the miners who were trapped."

Hayley: ... This is the moment the first man, Florencio Avalos, was winched to the surface just a few hours ago. As you can hear, there were loads of cheers. Florencio was quickly reunited with his wife Monica and eight-year-old son Byron, who were very pleased to see him. He seemed pretty happy too. He had to wear special sunglasses to protect his eyes from the bright lights and camera flashes because he had been in the dark for so long. ...

All three morning bulletins included that bit about the sunglasses. But - really - were those sunglasses to protect Florencio's eyes, or were they being worn for some other reason? The eye is more than capable of adapting to differing brightness levels within a few seconds. And anyway it's not as if the miners had been in total darkness for the 69 days they'd been down the mine.

Could it be that it was some kind of commercial deal to obscure all the miners' faces, so there can later be premium payments for photographs and interviews? That would account for the strange sight of miners greeting friends and family while still wearing sunglasses.

Newsround, and BBC News in general, shouldn't just blindly repeat what they've heard or been told. Isn't it the job of a journalist to investigate, find out the truth, and then report it? Perhaps Andrew Marr could learn a thing or two from us bloggers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Andrew Marr has apparently been rude about bloggers. He said: A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people.

I don't know why Andrew thinks my spottiness or otherwise is of any relevance. And I won't lower myself to Mr Marr's level by characterising his own appearance. Instead I will stick to the real issue.

Andrew Marr obviously considers himself to be a good journalist. Presumably the BBC also thinks highly of him, as he was the person chosen to front their impartiality seminar a few years ago, which resulted in From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel, previously discussed by this blogger on several occasions.

Mr Marr said then that "The BBC is a publicly-funded urban organisation with an abnormally large proportion of younger people, of people in ethnic minorities and almost certainly of gay people than the population at large.

"It depends on the state's approval at least for its funding mechanism and all this creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC ...."
When I asked about the evidence upon which his remarks were based, Andrew simply ignored all correspondence.

Here is the text of my penultimate email to Mr Marr, dated 28 March 2010:

subject Re: BBC Impartiality Summit

I must confess that I'm getting rather concerned about the fact that you have not yet responded in any way to my several emails. On the basis of your integrity as a journalist, I now look forward to a reply. Many thanks.

The BBC has now published its new editorial guidelines. Newsround Blog will comment more in due course.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The new BBC Editorial Guidelines are due out very shortly, and Newsround Blog will be taking a close look at them to see how much the BBC has taken on board remarks made in the consultation, which ended ten months ago. Also the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is expected to publish a major report tomorrow.

As for the BBC's LGB review, this blog is concerned that public opinion was given a decisive say about a diversity issue. This time round, though, most people were either "comfortable" or indifferent to portrayal of gay people on telly. However the BBC is planning another consultation in two years' time.

When the going is difficult and times are bad, minorities tend to be victimised and have to take the brunt of the blame for things going wrong. So it's possible that the next review of LGB portrayal will show greater "discomfort" than at present. If that is the case, what is the BBC going to do? More portrayal or less portrayal?

Ten years ago, BBC Guidelines told programme makers that LGB people should be treated fairly - and surely that's what the BBC really needs to do with all minorities.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Lynne Featherstone wrote, last year, that the BBC can't be trusted. Of course, that's nothing that Newsround Blog devotees don't already know. Here's one more example.

Sonali interviewed Michael Gove in July about funding for essential school renovation projects. Her report looked like quality journalism with the BBC taking a stand in favour of kids' interests. In fact I was quite surprised at the time, having discovered over the previous year that the BBC and the government have an unhealthily close relationship, fostered by officials at the DCMS.

Sonali vs the government was shown on 21 July 2010. Notice what Michael Gove said in Sonali's interview -

The way in which we used to give money to schools meant that there were some schools which were OK, but were getting loads of cash. And then there were other schools, like Highfurlong - which I've visited - which really needed extra cash, which weren't getting it in time.

Sonali warned Michael that Newsround would be checking up on him. At the end of the interview Michael told Sonali that everyone who needs it [cash for school renovations] will get it.

So what's been the result of Sonali's report?

Well on Tuesday 10 August 2010 Newsround reported that Zoe and her friends had secured the cash for their school in South London and that they believed Newsround had helped get it.

Whatever happened to Sonali's promise to check up on Highfurlong? What Newsround failed to mention, even in their web report: "School is given extra cash" was that Highfurlong School had not been successful. It seems that BBC Newsround and the government have, between them, effectively double-crossed Highfurlong School. My enquiries confirm that the school has not, as yet, received the funding.

More proof, if any were needed, that Lynne Featherstone was right; the BBC can't be trusted.

Monday, October 04, 2010

A piece in today's Guardian demonstrates how seriously discrimination can affect people's lives. Last year Arlene Phillips was dismissed as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. Newsround first reported rumours that Arlene might be replaced by Alesha Dixon on Thursday 18 June 2009. Age discrimination is one of the long-standing concerns of Newsround Blog, for example see this blog entry.

The BBC, of course, denied that Arlene's dismissal was anything to do with age, but most people thought otherwise. Lynne Featherstone, who at the time was a member of the House of Commons Equality Bill Committee, was very annoyed at what happened. So annoyed in fact that she felt the BBC should not be exempt from the Equality Duty. In her blog, Lynne wrote: And as the Equality Bill is not yet through its legislative processes – I will be considering bringing an amendment to the Bill which looks at the BBC’s exemption again. They clearly can’t be trusted.

In the event Lynne did not bring forward such an amendment - the reason being that the BBC wasn't granted any exemption - not in the House of Commons at any rate. What did happen, however, is that an amendment was put through this year at a late stage in the House of Lords, without there having been any debate in the elected Chamber of Parliament.

The public sector Equality Duty is being consulted on at present, and is due to come into effect next April. The consultation ends on 10 November 2010.

Lynne Featherstone is now Minister for Equalities at the Government Equalities Office. Despite Lynne's annoyance, it is very possible that the BBC will, in large measure, be exempt from the Equality Duty. This exemption for the BBC seems very unwise because, as Lynne put it, they clearly can't be trusted.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The BBC has published its long-awaited research report: Portrayal of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People on the BBC. (BBC download page)

I did not, as a matter of principle, respond to the online part of the Consultation, as I believe the national broadcaster should promote equality and community cohesion independently of any audience prejudice.

Newsround Blog will have something to say about the Report at some time in the future, but for now this link seems to be a fairly insightful take on it.