Monday, June 28, 2010

The Children's Media Conference - part 3

The BBC is involved in a rethink of its long term strategy objectives. One of the proposals relates to BBC Switch:
BBC Switch and Blast!

Neither of the BBC’s current teen offers — BBC Switch on television, and Blast! in the learning portfolio — is reaching its target audience effectively. The BBC will continue to serve teenagers through its mainstream services, but recommends that the Trust considers both Switch and Blast! for closure. Although the BBC should continue to offer high-quality programmes and services which appeal to teenagers, and should continue to commission some content in all media specifically aimed at younger teenage audiences, it should accept that its role in addressing the gap in public service television for this audience group will be secondary to that of Channel 4 and other broadcasters.

On 30 March 2010 I wrote to Jana Bennett to ask whether the BBC would, under the circumstances, be making available a fair proportion of the licence fee to Channel 4.

The Voice of the Listener and Viewer has published its response (pdf) to the BBC's Strategy Review. In it they say they're not happy that children's output so resolutely excludes material aimed at younger teens. They further make the point that, in the past, children's schedules have successfully included such programmes as the BBC's Byker Grove and ITV's Press Gang. The abandonment of entire age groups is characterised as an 'abrogation of public service obligations.'

I wrote to the Trust about an earlier consultation on editorial guidelines, asking why they no longer published responses to their consultations as they once promised to do. I wrote on 16 October 2009 (excerpt):
When the Trust was set up, it used to publish all responses including those from individuals. The reason for that policy was stated like this (in the "Complaints Framework" consultation document) :- The BBC Trust would like to publish as many submissions as possible in order to be as open and transparent as possible..
and on 29 October 2009 I was told: To be as open and transparent as possible, we will normally publish a summary of responses from individuals and the full responses from organisations and individual experts/specialists, alongside our conclusions, on the Trust website following the end of the consultation. ..

It's been reported that the BBC Trust will not be publishing responses to its strategy review consultation, but chairman Sir Michael Lyons will be talking on the subject in two days' time to The VLV.

On 1 May 2010 I blogged about a misleading programme, where I said ..'I have suggested to the BBC that Election: Your Vote breached editorial guidelines, and am waiting to hear what they have to say.'

CBBC insisted that there was nothing wrong with the programme and, bolstering their case, misquoted Angellica as saying towards the start of the programme: "This is the first CBBC General Election Special." In fact those words were never used. There wasn't even a hint of contriteness for the misleading information. It was suggested that I refer the matter to the Editorial Complaints Unit. The text of my last message to the ECU is here.

It might seem that this is making a mountain out of a molehill, but there are very good reasons for contesting the matter. Last December, Joe Godwin, Director of BBC Children's stated his belief that "we are serving the top end of our audience better than ever, especially in drama and factual." And presumably a claim for the 'first ever CBBC election' fits neatly into his contention.

The truth is that Election: Your Vote was not the first ever CBBC election, and neither does BBC Children's serve kids better now than it did in the past. This is not the first example of deceit from BBC Children's. Readers of this blog will recall the lie told by the BBC when Grange Hill was axed - namely that the decision to axe had the overwhelming support of their audience. In fact available statistics showed that most wanted Grange Hill to stay.

A recent series of six factual programmes called My Life is an example of an attempt to bring back cutting-edge informative documentary-style programmes like The Lowdown. But taken as a whole children's programming in the UK is in a parlous state.

It will be interesting to see whether First TV, a broadband-based kids' news magazine manages to make any inroads. It will hopefully be inclusive, diverse-friendly and not make artificial distinctions according to age, as CBBC/Newsround have done in recent years. Presumably Ofcom's junk food advertising regulations will not apply to the First TV service.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Children's Media Conference - part 2

In part 1 of the blog I promised I'd explain how the BBC has significantly weakened kids' TV. For an idea of what things used to be like in the 1980's, take a gander at this excerpt from the BBC Four miniseries Children's TV on Trial. Controversial issues were faced head on until about five years ago. For example the feature below is taken from Grange Hill's website, as it appeared in 2002:

I am 15 years old. I am an ordinary student here at Grange Hill; yes here at your school. Some of you know me; others don’t; some think you do. What none of you know is that I had sex with an older boy from this school; and I did not want to have sex.

It happened to me on an ordinary Saturday night at an ordinary party with someone I trusted - trusted until this happened that is. And I had loved him too; yes loved him. I won't go into details: that's not what this is for. Enough to say that we went to a room, things got out of hand and went too far. All of a sudden I was in a situation that I didn't want, hadn't planned and couldn't control.

Why didn't I say anything? Why didn't I scream? Why didn't I call out to my friends? They were only downstairs. The answer's not an easy one to put into words. I was frightened; I thought that maybe I'd led him on; maybe he would just stop. And I wasn't brave enough to say no.

He too was nervous, embarrassed and uncertain of what we were doing. And so he said nothing to me about what we were about to do; nothing about what he wanted or thought or felt; nothing about why we should do this thing. And then it happened.

Article 17 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child refers to the important role of the mass media in disseminating information and material of social and cultural benefit.

What motivated the changes to Grange Hill, which everyone must have noticed by 2006? And what motivated those people who formulated Creative Future to come up with this policy:

"...Kids & Teens: All children's output including radio, online and learning will eventually be consolidated under the CBeebies and CBBC brands which will be given tighter audiences targets – up to 6 and 7 to 11 years respectively. Create a broadband based teen brand aimed at 12 to 16 years, including a high volume drama, comedy, music and factual content."

On 03/12/2007, Richard Deverell explained:
Prior to 2006 CBBC did not, to the best of my knowledge, have a clearly defined demographic target. This was identified as a problem in the "Creative Futures" work done in late 2005. That project recommended a target age range of 6-12 for CBBC (CBeebies for under 6s and Switch for 13-17 year olds). This change was approved by the Executive and the Governors in early 2006.
[see also blog entry Thursday 8 May 2008] I wrote back to Richard Deverell on 5th December 2007 ...
I'm still rather unclear about what has happened.

As long ago as 2003 the BBC Statements of Programme Policy contained the following channel information:

BBC One a broad range of high-quality, popular British programmes
BBC Two innovative, challenging television programmes for a wide audience
BBC Three delivering news, information, arts and entertainment to a young audience
BBC Four the most intellectually and culturally enriching channel on television
CBeebies educative and entertaining programming for children under six
CBBC interactive, mainly UK programming for six to 12 year olds

So in reality there was no difference in the CBBC target age range after the announcement of 'Creative Futures' in 2006.

In May 2006, when Byker Grove was axed as one of the last remnants of the BBC's service to all kids, you said the BBC had identified a gap in services for older teens. Shortly afterwards CBBC began to further exclude that very age group (by dropping Newsround interviews with them etc) - this was more than a year before 'Switch' had launched.

At a time when the BBC is striving to save money, the idea of starting another kids' brand because of the BBC's own policies seems an unnecessary and completely avoidable waste of resources - though it's obvious that little funding goes on programmes for 13-17 year-olds compared to that spent on 6-12 year-olds or under 6 year-olds. For a guess, I'd say the BBC spends ten times as much on CBBC programmes as it does on older teens' programmes.

If I was one of those older teens I might well feel the BBC had something against me.
We can only speculate on the motivation and on the innermost workings of BBC bureaucracy, but I'll hazard a guess .. the combination of Jana Bennett's prudishness and Mark Thompson's religious fervour led inevitably to a neo-Victorian perspective. There is an alternative possibility, and that is a 'runaway train' mentality took hold whereby people just didn't think what they were doing. However that latter possibility is negated, to some extent, by the deliberate weeding-out of older kids' feedback to Newsround.

Richard answered questions from Newsround viewers after the announcement that Byker Grove was to be axed. He said at that time there were no plans to axe Grange Hill. So how come it was axed less than two years later? Mr Deverell is recognised in the Corporation and outside as a person of integrity, so I don't doubt there were no secret plans to axe Grange Hill when he answered Newsround viewers' questions.

I mentioned earlier that there were changes to Grange Hill which everyone must have noticed by 2006 -- those changes were certainly noticed by Grange Hill fans who wrote to the BBC protesting at the persistent dumbing down of storylines. It later transpired that Phil Redmond was engaged on a long-term project to revitalise the programme. He became so exasperated with the BBC's attitude that he thought they'd strangled his show. Redmond said: 'I think the BBC are downplaying the 30th anniversary of the hard-hitting, socially relevant, rites-of-passage teenage show. That's the brutal reality. It will be a different beast. My preference would be for it to have a new name because it is a new show and a new format.'

Phil Redmond is not, at present, listed amongst the attendees to the Children's Media Conference 2010.

Grange Hill was voted best ever children's TV show in 2008, and last March it topped a poll of kids' shows which most adults want to return. At the time of its axing Anne Gilchrist said "Part of CBBC's reputation for reflecting contemporary Britain back to UK children has been built upon Phil Redmond's brilliantly realised idea and of course it's sad to say goodbye to such a much-loved institution. The lives of children have changed a great deal since Grange Hill began and we owe it to our audience to reflect this."

In part 3 I will show how things have gone from bad to worse with the new leadership in BBC Children's.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Children's Media Conference - part 1

The Children's Media Conference, formerly Showcomotion, will be starting next Wednesday, so Newsround Blog will be taking a closer look at what needs to be done to rejuvenate kids' TV. Unlike many other industries its decline isn't simply a consequence of the economic downturn. Anyone involved will know that there were problems with kids' TV well before the credit crunch and the recession. So what exactly led to the current situation?

Let's start by looking at what Save Kids' TV were saying in 2006. They said that British children’s television had been widely acknowledged as amongst the most creative and innovative in the world. But they warned that changes in children’s viewing patterns, together with the threat of Ofcom's ban on certain types of advertising to children, would put a huge strain on commercial broadcasters.

SKTV noted that, despite there seeming to be an enormous choice in children’s viewing, the many channels available only offered a limited number of new high-quality programmes produced in the UK with British kids’ interests at their core. And importantly they said "We believe that our kids need programmes which reflect their lives back to them. This is a vital ingredient for a healthy, balanced childhood and to produce engaged and empowered citizens of the future."

Four years on, in 2010, there's no doubt that Ofcom's restriction on junk food advertising has made things worse for the commercial sector. And although the BBC is now one of the only markets for new kids' programmes, few appreciate that the Corporation has had a significant role in weakening British children's TV. How all this came about will be explained in part 2.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Being a Newsround reporter's a difficult job but someone's got to do it!

That's one of today's entries in Ore's World Cup diary. Apparently he's feeling overworked after getting back from a couple of weeks in South Africa.

Strangely for a diary about the World Cup there is no reaction to the outcome of the England v Algeria match on Friday evening. Ore's last entry from South Africa was put in before the match began, and then suddenly he's writing today from the UK studio. But don't worry, says Ore, he's not forgotten that the World Cup isn't over yet. It seems he just flew back to soak up the atmosphere with fans here. And anyway the weather's better over here.

Ore spent the afternoon watching sport on TV. As he wrote at 3PM this afternoon: It's all about channel-hopping! Which channel should I watch?!?!

Whether to watch France v South Africa on ITV1 or the Mexico v Uruguay match on ITV4? And to make the decision even more difficult, there was Wimbledon on the BBC with Andy Murray playing.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Newsround received quite a lot of feedback to their story about the dress code of a school in Harrogate (blog on 16 June) but apparently none from 15-year-olds. Newsround's erroneous link to feedback about a similar story in 2005 was corrected on 17 June 2010, the same day the topic was closed.

Newsround feedback webforms were changed a few weeks back. They still say "Thanks for your comment" but no longer include the promise to put up as many emails as possible.
Age distribution of feedback about skirt ban
The above bar chart shows the age distribution of the 157 published responses, not including two from classes. The average age was 12.11 with standard deviation 1.46 yrs.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Last night Prime Minister David Cameron held a reception in the grounds of Downing Street. Mr Cameron, paying tribute to the previous government, said they had made our country a more tolerant and compassionate society. David said there were things you shouldn't have to fight for - equality and equal treatment and respect.

David Cameron: ... I think the agenda now - yes there are still legal barriers and things that we should discuss and talk about - but I think a lot of the agenda now is about culture. The truth is we'll never really tackle homophobic bullying in schools, we'll never tackle homophobic issues in the workplace just by passing laws. It's culture change and behavioural change that is needed as well ...

Mr Cameron's full speech, provided by Pink News -

David Cameron gay pride speech by pinknews

The BBC is hoping to get certain exemptions from new equality legislation, but last year, in a Memorandum to the House of Commons Equality Bill Committee, I suggested that the media is vital in setting society's norms for promoting inclusiveness and diversity.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Newsround at 8.30am yesterday -

Ricky: First up to a school that's banned pupils from wearing skirts. Students at the school in Yorkshire have been told that, from September, they won't be able to wear skirts as part of their uniform. Instead boys and girls will have to wear trousers. It's because there were worries that girls were wearing skirts that were too short. Not everyone is pleased with the decision.


Ricky: Well what do you guys reckon about banning skirts? Let us know by heading over to the Newsround website.

But the 'Click here to have your say on this story' Newsround link is, at the time of writing, incorrect, and instead of linking to have your say about St Aidan's High School in Harrogate, links to (published) feedback about a similar story five years ago concerning a school in Dorset.

Luisa Baldini also reported the 2005 ban. I believe that Broadstone Middle School in Poole, Dorset reversed the trousers-only policy a short while later.

Regular followers of Newsround Blog will be interested to check out the differences in (published) feedback between then and now - including the dearth of feedback from 15-year-olds on the current story.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I'm on a few mailing lists and yesterday received an email from GetEqual - a grassroots organisation seeking equality in the United States. The email was about a policy which prevents gay or bisexual people in America from revealing their sexual orientation in the US Military. The policy is an infringement of human rights, because it unreasonably prevents freedom of speech and expression, as well as being discriminatory.

Efforts are underway to repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) policy, but it seems that Ike Skelton, a Democrat from Missouri and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is against the repeal because he is worried it would involve a national discussion, and children might become aware of homosexuality. Mr Skelton said "What do mommies and daddies say to their 7-year-old child?"

The email I received stressed that "Skelton wants to pretend that LGBT people don't even exist."

Sounds like this Ike Skelton's got similar worries to those in charge of the BBC. Mark Thompson took over as BBC Director-General in 2004. A year later new guidelines were published which no longer included long-standing advice that LGB people make up a significant minority, entitled to be treated fairly.

According to the BBC, David Jordan is responsible for the development and implementation of the BBC's editorial policy and standards. David wasn't in charge when the guidelines were revised in 2005, but I wonder why advice about treating LGB people fairly was removed in 2005 after it had been in place for ten years. Such a statement could not possibly do any harm, but has the potential to do a lot of good.

Some time ago Ofcom drew attention to the lack of content for older kids, and during last year's Showcomotion concerns were expressed about the lack of drama for those aged 10 and over. Speakers felt that earlier dramas like See How They Run and Grange Hill had been popular because they hadn't shied away from issues like drug addiction and abusive relationships. Participants wondered whether today's drama addresses issues children face in the modern world.

Showcomotion has been rebooted as The Children's Media Conference, and takes place this year from 30 June to 2 July 2010. I don't believe the conference has ever been mentioned on Newsround, despite its obvious relevance to Newsround's audience.

No doubt Save Kids' TV will be making their "jobs for the boys" case, but the real problem is the type and quality of programmes being commissioned - now almost exclusively by the BBC. Never has BBC Children's TV been more misguided than it is at present, and those in charge do not even seem to recognise the predicament.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

On Friday Sonali told Newsround viewers that we wouldn't see Ore and herself together in the studio again for a couple of weeks because "he's jetting off to South Africa tomorrow." Ore said he'd be reporting live next Thursday.

In pics: Ore is off to South Africa!

Yesterday's Newsround at 5pm began -

Sonali: Hey guys. You're tuned to Newsround. Tonight you've got me in our studio in London, and Ore in South Africa.

Ore: {via video link} Hi Sonali, and hello to all of you at home. Yeah I'm live here in Johannesburg, South Africa's biggest city, where the World Cup will kick off on Friday. It's four days' time guys.

Sonali: Now Ore I wasn't expecting to speak to you till later on in the week, but a big story has spoilt the excitement to the tournament in the lead-up to the tournament.

Ore: Yeah, that's right. I love talking to you Sonali, but unfortunately it has come under difficult circumstances. Yesterday Nigeria played North Korea in another warm-up game here in Johannesburg, and unfortunately 16 people were injured and er including two policemen as well. The tickets were free for the game, so unfortunately too many people turned up for the security to be able to deal with. And a lot people are saying that they .. more people could have actually died, so fortunately it hasn't been too bad.

Towards the end of Newsround, Ore answered question from viewers.

Ore suggested that Wayne Rooney is England's best player, and that Capello will want to mould the team around Rooney. Ore predicted the Netherlands could win the World Cup.

Ore's World Cup diary: Week 1