Monday, May 31, 2010

David Laws

Peter Tatchell was in Russia over the weekend and took part in Moscow Pride, contrary to the wishes of the local mayor who had banned the event. Peter also achieved a significant success this weekend, when the President of Malawi pardoned two gay men. Tatchell was instrumental in drawing the world's attention to the case - a fact not mentioned in this BBC report.

Yesterday Tatchell was one of the guests on The Politics Show via a live link from Moscow. The topic under discussion was the recent resignation of David Laws, and the surrounding circumstances.

Tatchell: .... on the issue of him saying that he wanted to keep his homosexuality secret - well, I believe that someone's sex life is a private matter. But I don't believe, in this day and age, a person's sexual orientation should be a private matter any more than their race, their religion or any other aspect of their lives. You know, we've moved on from the 1950's. We're not in the Dark Ages any more ....

Jon Sopel asked Peter Tatchell if David Laws had brought the downfall upon himself.

Tatchell: I think he really has. And also I feel a slight anger because, while he remained in the closet, he benefited from the more liberal progressive pro-gay atmosphere that many others have fought for, and won because they did come out. You know, others came out and made the atmosphere more gay-friendly. He's benefited from that, but he'd decided himself that he wasn't willing to make a contribution, but he wanted to gain and benefit from what others had done.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wednesday's blog was about the diversity of modern family life. We saw how Newsround sometimes gets it wrong. But sometimes Newsround gets it right too. On the 5pm edition that day there was a press pack report from Jade about caring for her mum. Jade is a member of York Young Carers Revolution.

Blogs on 10 May and 15 May referred to Nick Robinson's politics in the 1980s, and the suspicion that he was a supporter of Margaret Thatcher's beliefs. I'm still waiting to hear back from Nick, but since those blogs a well respected journalist has acquainted me with Cherwell, the Newspaper for Oxford University students, which also has an online edition.

In the 1980s Nick Robinson was awarded the epithet of Red Robbo by some of his Thatcherite contemporaries. Conservative politics was in a state of considerable flux at that time as discussed in a 2006 BBC documentary called A Burst of Freedom, part of which can be heard here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Perfect families (part 2)

Shortly before the general election Gordon Brown answered questions on a BBC radio phone-in presented by Nicky Campbell. One person wanted to know why Gordon so often talked about support for decent hardworking families. Why was Gordon so keen to mention hard-working families, and not simply hard-working people? The caller took Gordon's repeated use of 'families' as an affront to those people who were on their own, or perhaps didn't have kids living at home.

In part 1 we saw how Newsround presenters Leah and Ore imagined a 'perfect' Olympic family logo - it would comprise mum and dad holding hands, surrounded by a clutch of happy kids. That, according to Leah, was all about inclusion and including everyone.

Sorry Leah, but that, in itself, is not about inclusion.

Families are diverse. Many families are made up of a mum, dad and kids, but many aren't. What about single-parent families, families with no kids, families with two women or two men, or families in which children are the carers?

Moments later, perhaps realising the truth, Ore proclaimed: "Now we're talking rubbish."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Perfect families (part 1)

Newsround at 5pm on BBC One, Friday 21 May 2010:-

Ore: Hi guys. We are live. It's just after five, and you're watching Newsround. Leah, What is your forecast for tonight's show?

Leah: Ore, I think the heat is definitely on, because we're up close and personal with Iceland's volcano.

Hayley: And I'm on the beach in Blackpool because we're set for a scorcher this weekend.

Leah: But first - you've been bombarding the Newsround website with mascot designs for the London Olympics. We've been asking you for your ideas to rival these two [Wenlock & Mandeville]

Ore: Wenlock and Mandeville are going to be the official mascots, and if you guys didn't have the fortune of catching last night's show - this is the artistic masterpiece that Leah and I came up with.

Leah: I'm really proud of this.

Ore: Well you would be. Leah talk us through this bit.

Leah: OK so my idea was to have a mum and a dad, OK. And in their T-shirts you can see the London Eye and Big Ben ...

Ore: ... big landmarks for London

Leah: ... yeah. There's a balloon. And your idea was to have these bouncing children, yes?
Leah and Ore's design for the London Olympics
Ore: It makes up the perfect Olympic family. And of course you can see the heads there are the colours of the Olympic rings. I think we've got ourselves onto a winner, LG.

Leah: I'm really positive about this because it's all about inclusion ...

Ore: Yeah .... YEAH, totally

Leah: ... and including everyone, because that's what the Olympics are about.

Ore: Now we're talking rubbish.

Discussion in part 2. Meanwhile here is Out of a Rainbow, Michael Morpurgo's story of the genesis of Wenlock and Mandeville -

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Coalition: our programme for government

The Coalition has published its aims. The Government has committed to push for unequivocal support for gay rights, and to tackle bullying in schools especially homophobic bullying.

BBC children's services have, in recent times, almost completely avoided lesbigay issues, treating the word 'gay' like a four-letter word. As far as I'm aware homophobia has never been mentioned on Newsround, despite evidence that homophobic bullying is one of the most common forms of bullying in both primary and secondary schools. Furthermore messages asking for help about homophobic bullying were excluded from the relevant CBBC message board, which was peremptorily closed down in December 2008.

Clearly a lot more needs to be done to combat homophobia, but as psychologist Emma Kenny remarked: "when things are hidden they can't get dealt with." (blog on 17 May 2010)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Save Kids TV has written to Sir Michael Lyons (Word doc) at the BBC Trust requesting more funding for UK-made programming which, they say, reflects the diverse lives British children lead today, representing society and the world around them in a way imported shows never can. The letter is signed by:-

  • Anna Home, Chair Save Kids' TV, Children's Film & Television Foundation and former Head of BBC Children's Programmes
  • Anne Brogan, Director, Kindle Entertainment
  • Anne Wood, MD, Ragdoll Productions
  • Bernard Ashley, Screenwriter and Author
  • Bernie Corbett, General Secretary, Writers' Guild of Great Britain
  • Biddy Baxter, Former editor Blue Peter, BBC Children's Programmes
  • Billy Macqueen, MD, Darrall Macqueen Ltd
  • Carole Tongue, Chair of the UK Coalition for Cultural Diversity, Former MEP
  • Christine Payne, General Secretary, Equity
  • Edward Barnes, Former Head of BBC Children's Programmes
  • Estelle Hughes, MD, 3Line Media
  • Floella Benjamin, Broadcaster and producer
  • Gary Pope, MD, Kids Industries
  • Gillian Cross, Author
  • Isabelle Gutierrez, Research & Press Official, Musicians Union
  • Jacqueline Wilson, Author
  • Jocelyn Hay, President, Voice of the Listener and Viewer
  • Jocelyn Stevenson, Creative Director TT Animation
  • John McVay, CEO, PACT
  • Lewis Rudd, Former Controller of Children's Programmes, Thames TV, Central TV and Carlton TV
  • Lord Rix
  • Nigel Pickard, Director of Family Entertainment and Drama, RDF Media, former Controller BBC Children's,
  • Oli Hyatt & Daniel Isman, Blue Zoo Productions
  • Owen Atkinson, CEO Authors’ Licensing and Rights Society
  • Philip Pullman, Author
  • Professor David Buckingham, Director, Centre for the Study of Children Youth and Media, London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, University of London
  • Professor Jeanette Steemers, School of Media, Arts and Design, University of Westminster
  • Professor Máire Messenger Davies, PhD, FRSA, Director, Centre for Media Research, School of Media, Film and Journalism, University of Ulster
  • Professor Sylvia Harvey, Chair, Citizens' Coalition for Public Service Broadcasting
  • Russell T Davies, Producer/writer
  • Sarah Baxter, Broadcasting Group Secretary, Society of Authors
  • Sophie Chalk, Director of Campaigns, International Broadcasting Trust
  • Stephen Garrett, Executive Chairman, Kudos Film and Television
  • Susan Stranks, National Campaign for Children's Radio
  • Tony Robinson, Actor, broadcaster
  • Will Brenton, Founder and Director, Wish Films

    Newsround Blog agrees with the sentiments of the above letter, but with the following additions:

    Funding is not insubstantial, yet the service provided at present by the BBC is skewed, with little or no provision for teenagers and those kids from vulnerable groups. The BBC has been shown to surreptitiously discriminate, especially against older children. There's no point in extra funding for TV if that funding is merely to entrench the status quo.

    See also this blog about Phil Redmond's RTS lecture. Phil was not one of the signatories.
  • Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Very disappointed to see nothing about combatting homophobia on Newsround yesterday, yet time expended on this puerile piece about the volcano ash problem.

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    International Day Against Homophobia 2010

    In some parts of Britain there's been a disturbing rise in the number of homophobic hate crimes.

    What do we really think, as a nation, of same-sex relationships?

    That was what Welsh rugby player, Gareth Thomas wanted to find out on Tonight an ITV programme broadcast at 7.30pm last Thursday, and introduced by former Newsround presenter Julie Etchingham.

    Julie: Tonight. We like to think we're a tolerant nation, but are we really? .... How easy is it to change hearts and minds?

    A survey for the programme showed that 1 in 4 people in Britain thought the sight of a same sex couple holding hands offensive, and nearly half would be offended if a gay couple kissed in public.

    Nathaniel and Nick took part in an experiment, in which they walked hand-in-hand down a street in Wigan -

    Emma Kenny (psychologist): The thing I found most shocking about today is that, whilst I found lots of people making homophobic comments walking past our couple, very few of them were willing to go on camera and, for the record, state them. And that represents to me an undercurrent of feelings that are hidden, and that's the problem. Because when things are hidden they can't get dealt with.

    Tonight - Afraid to be Gay is available to view on the ITVplayer for another 3 weeks or so.

    Saturday, May 15, 2010

    If you've been checking the end credits on Newsround you'll have noticed over the last week that Simon Goretzki hasn't been credited as Deputy Editor. Simon was expected to become the programme's Editor after the surprise departure of Sinéad Rocks last year, but in the event the top job went to Owenna Griffiths, who was parachuted in from Radio 4's Today programme. Ms Griffiths has a proven ability to unquestioningly carry out instructions from her bosses.

    Like many, both inside and outside the BBC, Simon Goretzki had voiced concerns about the BBC's poor service for teenagers. According to this article, kids' newspaper First News intends to start a rival to Newsround - an internet-based television current affairs show aimed at 10-15 year-olds, starting this month. It remains to be seen whether anything will materialise.

    The Independent revealed in 2006 that Nick Robinson was once nicknamed Blue Robbo. However it seems that Mr Robinson has been putting it about to colleagues at the BBC that he consistently opposed Margaret Thatcher's agenda. I've not yet heard back from Nick (blog on 10 May 2010) but since my email to him last Saturday afternoon a Facebook page appeared with the aim of having him sacked, and #sacknickrobinson became a trending topic on Twitter.

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Over the last month or so I've been in correspondence with a senior Lib Dem Parliamentarian regarding implementation of the Equality Act, and this morning I also raised with him my concerns over a proposed constitutional change. Excerpt from my email -

    I look forward to your response to my earlier correspondence, but another matter came up yesterday which I would also like to raise with you.

    As part of the published coalition agreement between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, there is a proposal that 55% of the elected House of Commons will be needed to bring down the government and force a general election.

    The change seems to be unfair because it would effectively mean that the votes of MPs belonging to the government are worth more than other MPs.

    With a 55% target for a no-confidence vote and 306 MPs, the Conservatives cannot be removed even if the Lib Dems and every other MP were to vote against them. Surely that can't be right?

    My year-long FOI enquiry (blog 1 May 2010) regarding the broadcasters' request for an opt-out from legislation was granted on Monday, though there are still some loose ends.

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    As part of Newsround's election results coverage on Friday (5pm on BBC2) Sonali and Ricky reported three 'shocks' of election night. One of those shocks was the Green Party success in Brighton Pavilion. "Caroline Lucas," said Ricky, "became their very first MP ever."

    Trouble with CBBC is that they used similar language about an election programme broadcast on 22 April this year. The presenter described it as "our first ever CBBC election." (see blogs on 27 April 2010 & 1 May 2010)

    The BBC should sort out its problem with honesty and journalistic integrity, especially on kids' programmes.

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    It seems that Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, used to work as a reporter for Newsround. Ricky interviewed Nick last month -

    Ricky: You once worked for Newsround. And now you are the big chief political editor of BBC News. What's better?

    Nick: (laughs) Of course, Newsround.

    Ricky: I thought you might say that.

    Nick: I got to interview the Blue Peter tortoise in the Blue Peter garden. And that is much better than interviewing prime ministers and presidents.

    Most kids will probably realise that Nick Robinson wasn't serious there. But on Saturday Nick Robinson was on a BBC News channel discussion about the election, and at one point implied that in the 1980's young people including himself were against the policies of Mrs Thatcher. This seems a strange thing to say because it is known that in the 1980's Robinson was a senior member of the Young Conservatives. I've contacted Nick to ask if he can explain this apparent anomaly, and am awaiting his reply.

    The BBC Press Office page about Nick doesn't mention that he was a member of the Young Conservatives. Perhaps, under the circumstances, it's about time that the BBC was more forthcoming and honest with the public, especially about the past and present political affiliations and financial interests of their senior journalists - eg Nick Robinson, Andrew Marr and Evan Davis. Without more honesty and openness, the BBC is in danger of becoming as mistrusted as politicians.

    Tuesday, May 04, 2010

    BBC general election coverage marred by bias?

    This blog has been critical of the BBC for some time. We've seen discrimination on BBC children's services including Newsround, and we've also found examples of dishonesty with audiences and the public.

    So could the Corporation's general election coverage be biased?

    Ed Balls thought not when he said: "The BBC has fought valiantly to be fair and balanced, but Sky News and most of the newspapers are deeply partisan." But others believed that Andrew Marr was too willing to support Cameron on last Sunday's Andrew Marr Show. We saw the day's newspapers apparently strewn on a table, possibly sending a subliminal message from the Mail on Sunday headline: Gordon won't be getting my vote.

    Andrew Marr Show - 2 May 2010
    Andrew Marr Show featuring The Mail on Sunday

    Now The Mail on Sunday was responsible for publishing 'leaked' details of the BBC impartiality summit on 22 October 2006. And a week later it was the paper chosen by BBC Director-General Mark Thompson to deny that the impartiality summit was ever intended to be kept under wraps. In his attempt to prove the point, Mark wrote:

    Far from being secret, it was streamed live on the Internet.

    Ever cautious, I wrote to ask further details. Below is part of my email to Mark Thompson sent on 2 November 2006:

    You told the Mail group that far from being secret, the summit was streamed on the Internet. Please can you let me know when and where details of how to watch the summit were made available to the public? Also, is there any chance of the stream being made available again for those who missed it first time around?

    Not having received a response (see also this blog entry) I chased up the matter on 8 November 2006 with Helen Boaden:

    I have been trying, so far without any success, to find out when and where Internet streaming of the BBC's "impartiality summit" was made public. You commented about this in your recent blog, and some people asked for more information. Mark Thompson repeated the assertion in an article for the Mail group of newspapers.

    A reply was received on Thursday afternoon, 9 November 2006, from Katherine Humphreys of the BBC Governance Unit (excerpt):

    The seminar was indeed broadcast live on the Internet via the BBC Governors website. It was a one-off, live broadcast. The seminar is part of a wider project to identify the digital and 21st century challenges to impartiality in broadcasting. The project demonstrates the BBC's continuing commitment to delivering independent, accurate and unbiased programming. The project report will be published next year and key inputs to the project (including the seminar transcript) will be published as appendices.

    My follow-up (in part):

    Please could you tell me where the BBC had previously publicised the Impartiality Seminar, and was there a publicly visible web link whilst the
    Seminar was in progress?

    The BBC responded on 13 November 2006 that "there was a publicly visible weblink to the webcast, this was on the Governors website at where it was publicised in advance."

    However a check of the archived copy of the Governors site does not confirm that claim. The events diary makes no mention of the impartiality seminar which took place on 22 September 2006. Neither, as far as I can see, was there any visible publicity or link on the BBC Governors' website in September 2006.

    When the BBC eventually published their report on impartiality, From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel, many people noted a comment by Andrew Marr. He said 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." All this, according to Mr Marr, "creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC."

    I have asked Mr Marr about this comment. I was interested in his reasons for believing the BBC employs a higher proportion of gay people than is to be found in the general population, and I also wanted to know why, if true, that would help to create a liberal bias inside the BBC. Despite several reminders Andrew Marr has not replied to correspondence, casting doubt on the integrity of one of the BBC's most senior journalists and the value of their impartiality seminar (pdf) as a whole.

    In her blog, Helen Boaden wrote: When I first joined the BBC I asked a very experienced and subtle journalist what was meant by BBC impartiality. "It means we don’t take sides," he said. "We don’t take sides either explicitly or implicitly. We test all opinion toughly but fairly and we let the audience make up their own minds."

    According to From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel, "The BBC’s impartiality is now part of the scenery during a general election – accepted, expected and taken for granted."

    Edit note 4 May 2010 (6.05pm): It has been brought to my attention that the Impartiality Seminar was mentioned the day before it took place in an article by Michael Grade about how to achieve impartiality in the digital age.

    Saturday, May 01, 2010

    It's now exactly a year since I contacted the DCMS to find out why they wanted to give broadcasters an exemption from the Equality Bill. I'm still waiting for the information and a deadline has been set for 6 May 2010.

    Readers of this blog, and others will know that the BBC is not a particularly trustworthy broadcaster. Quite apart from the competition irregularities on Blue Peter, I have shown that CBBC has

  • surreptitiously filtered out kids' messages from Newsround feedback pages and CBBC message boards
  • failed to take account of almost all kids wanting them to stay re: the message board changes/closures in December 2008
  • removed expert help for kids contrary to best practice expressed by the NSPCC
  • been untruthful in replying to the public about the axing of Grange Hill

    The latter impropriety was raised with BBC management at the highest levels, but without success. The BBC Trust was also aware of this, but on 9 May 2008 gave management their full support, stating that the Trust was "satisfied that the public can be justified in maintaining its confidence in its BBC."

    My last blog was about an election programme on CBBC.

    Election: Your Vote (BBC One 4.35pm on 22 April 2010)
    A vote is cast into the ballot box

    Votes are counted
    Andrew Neil counts votes in the 'first ever' CBBC election

    Angellica asked: Which subject is most important to children and will get the most votes in our first ever CBBC election?

    But, as I showed in my last blog, it wasn't the 'first ever' CBBC election. In fact the BBC has been doing this sort of thing back as far as 1983. I have suggested to the BBC that Election: Your Vote breached editorial guidelines, and am waiting to hear what they have to say.

    From the above it can be seen that, far from meriting immunity from anti-discrimination legislation, the BBC needs to be kept under constant scrutiny.