Thursday, June 30, 2011

Newsround launches its new-look website - continued

The Newsround website search engine is now working after a fashion.

These days CBBC rarely has much to say to the public about its editorial thinking. But yesterday, Newsround's deputy editor, Daniel Clarke, broke a long-standing silence and proffered an explanation for the changes made to their website.

Daniel says that Newsround as a programme was set up nearly 40 years ago with the admirable purpose of informing children about the world in a way that's relevant to them. If it's going to continue to do this, it needs to have the agility and boldness to follow the audience where they're going now.

How the site has changed? Last Friday the website reported that Max from 'The Wanted' had become engaged to Michelle Keegan (Tina on Coronation Street) This is how it looked before, but after the revamp the same story now looks like this. One of the disappointing things about the change is that timestamps are now absent.

When the CBBC site completed a makeover in April 2011 Phil Buckley, Product Manager for the BBC Children's portfolio, blogged about the relaunch, prefacing his reasoning with examples of kids who were very upset following changes made to CBeebies website in 2007.

All very well to get used to a website style, and be unhappy when things change superficially. But what about the case where things have clearly been spoilt and valuable content excised, yet it's described as an improvement? As I said in my previous blog entry, such happened with CBBC's Internet presence in December 2008. Check Newsround Blog entries around the end of 2008 for the lowdown.

Ricky's iPad 2
Ricky shows off his iPad 2 this morning

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Newsround launches its new-look website

Newsround's website has been given a "makeover" according to Ricky on this morning's 7.40am bulletin. He drew attention to bigger picture galleries, new puzzles, plus "all the best stories" - the latest news, sport and showbiz. He told viewers to "get online and check it out."

And at 8.15am -

Ricky: "If you log on to the Newsround website this morning you might notice a few changes. Yep, we've given the brand new site a new look. It's still got loads of the best stories, but now has bigger galleries, more games and puzzles, loads of new functions, and it's probably one of the best websites on planet Earth. Then again I am a wee bit biased. Right, check it out - BBC dot co dot uk forward-slash newsround."

Newsround Blog has checked out the new site, First impressions -

Yes - the pictures are bigger

Navigation is poorer, and at the time of writing the 'Search BBC Newsround' facility at the top-right of the page is broken

Is CBBC once again seeking to hoodwink kids by portraying what is, in reality, dumbing down as an improvement? Recall this more serious example from December 2008 .... a month later the Ask Aaron help for kids section was shut down completely. I'd be extremely surprised if Aaron Balick wasn't mortified by the betrayal of kids when that happened.

More in a few days.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My last blog included an extract from the current Oasis Community Learning Sex and Relationships Education Policy. If the relevance of the Oasis document wasn't clear, it is because Oasis is a large faith-based organisation working in the UK and around the world, founded by Christian minister Steve Chalke.

Oasis Community Learning was formed in the context of Tony Blair's enthusiastic support for faith schools and academies.

Oasis Academy MediaCityUK enjoys close links with the BBC.

As to the Oasis SRE policy, the current wording continues as follows:

However, avoiding sensitive or controversial issues does not make them go away and leaves children and young people confused and at risk. It is important to recognise the power of confusion caused by "informal" learning - from television, internet, DVDs, radio, magazines, newspapers, gossip, jokes, and various other sources. Education within the curriculum can do much to dispel myths, reduce fear and anxiety, clear up misunderstanding and counteract prejudice. All official documentation is in favour of the discussion of topics such as contraception, abortion, pornography, homosexuality, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

It is important that our students develop understanding and attitudes based on values which prepare them to view relationships in a responsible and healthy manner. SRE will be part of the curriculum and will not be taken out of context or overemphasised in any way. ...

Linked - Steve Chalke’s ‘faith academies’ – the claims and the reality (National Secular Society - November 2008)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Last September, during reports about Lady Gaga's meat dress, Sonali mentioned that Lady Gaga was a vegan.

A remark to that effect was repeated by Sonali the following day, Tuesday 14 September 2010, at 6.25pm -

"Well, as Gaga's a vegan herself, I had a think about something perhaps a bit more appropriate for next time."

I emailed Sonali afterwards to ask what evidence there was about Stefani Germanotta being a vegan, as I hadn't seen anything about it on the Internet. Unfortunately the email went unanswered.

Last Friday 24 June 2011 at 5pm (BBC Two) Newsround reported Lady Gaga's fundraising work in Japan. However Newsround has never mentioned her campaign efforts for gay rights, including marriage equality.

Here's an extract from the current Oasis Community Learning Sex and Relationships Education Policy:-

It is natural for caring adults to want to protect children and young people from information, attitudes and lifestyles which they themselves find distasteful.

So has BBC Children's been taking on the role of these 'caring adults' by protecting kids from information, attitudes and lifestyles which Director-General, Mark Thompson, finds distasteful?

Anyone might reasonably conclude that the Corporation doesn't fully support equality.

More on this in a day or two

Saturday, June 25, 2011

From this evening's Channel 4 News -

Krishnan: Same-sex couples will be able to get married in New York after it became the sixth and largest US state to vote it into law. (video clip) Celebrations continued well into the early hours after four Republicans joined Democratic senators to pass the measure to the delight of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who made it one of his top political priorities.

Governor Cuomo: New York made a powerful statement, not just for the people of New York, but the people all across this nation. We reached a new level of social justice this evening.

Statue of Liberty

A cycling banner on the My Hero Project home page links to LGBT heroes as part of the US LGBT Pride Month celebrations

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The football season has ended but instead of taking the opportunity to bring back a general sports programme like Sportsround, CBBC has taken the decision to plough on with Match of the Day Kickabout. With just over a year to the London Olympics and Paralympics it seems a rather bizarre decision. There might have been some point had MOTD Kickabout kept its original promise to cover all things footie.

This week new legislation was introduced in the Scottish Parliament intended to reduce prejudice-based hooliganism at football matches. But rather than report this important football news the programme seems more at home with vacuous banter. The lookie-likie section today ended with a rather hackneyed comparison of Wayne Rooney and Shrek. I imagine Wayne is past caring, but it sent the wrong message to kids who bully, or are bullied about their appearance.

One football player who didn't take well to prejudice and bigotry in football was Justin Fashanu. Match of the Day Kickabout had a chance to celebrate his life and achievement on Football v Homophobia Day - 19th February 2011 - the date which would have been his 50th birthday. However that was another opportunity sadly missed by BBC Children's.

CBBC routinely ignores homophobic bullying, but yesterday the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution which deals with sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. The Resolution removes doubt regarding the interpretation of Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights dated 10th December 1948.

I'm pleased to say that, following correspondence with the My Hero Project in the United States, they have now added a section on LGBT Heroes, which also includes a link to a copy of the aforementioned Declaration.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Match of the Day Kickabout

It's not quite clear why the BBC has refused to give details of their fantasy football scoring rules. I first requested details on the same day the Leaderboard was mentioned on Match of the Day Kickabout on 29th January 2011. Just over a month later, after some reminders, I received a simple explanation which suggested that the scores are compiled taking each player's total from the Official Premier League Fantasy Football figures. I was invited to write back if I had any further questions.

I did have a couple more questions, about the teams chosen and the scoring. The BBC then asked, in deferential terms, why I wanted to know. I explained that I wasn't particularly familiar with fantasy football and wanted to be able to check out how the scores are worked out. I mentioned in my reply that the Leaderboard scores had been used to back up an assertion made on the programme (29th January) that Ore was "rubbish at fantasy football."

The BBC responded that they do not adhere to official Premier League game rules. The BBC also defended the remark about Ore, claiming that "Under our editorial guidelines we would not be able to state that as fact if that was not the case." Their email ended with a refusal to answer any more questions.

After considerable persistence I was able to get some more details, but this time their response contradicted what I'd already been told regarding scoring methods. A few days later I received another email which basically closed down any further discussion of the issue.

More about MOTD Kickabout in my next blog.

Monday, June 13, 2011

It's a bit rich to promise one thing and then do the opposite. But unfortunately the BBC seems to make a habit of it. Whether the promise is to explain the rules of their Fantasy Football Leaderboard scoring system, or whether it's about helping kids understand the world around them, the Corporation has proved it can't be trusted.

The "results" of the Fantasy Football competition were announced on Saturday's MOTD Kickabout. After swapping between Sonali and Leah to tease the audience, we were eventually assured that Leah had won. However, perspicacious viewers will have noticed that the top two scores weren't revealed.

MOTD Kickabout Leaderboard - 11th June 2011
This year Jana Bennett is due to give a Keynote at the Banff World Media Festival. Four years ago Jana, as part of another keynote speech, told attendees to Showcomotion (now known as the Children's Media Conference):-
We help children understand themselves and their relationships in all their rich complexity and in particular, understand their world – begin to fathom their navigation of relationships, their situation, through the experience of others whom they can relate to.

We open the door for children to the wider world and its concerns whether that is science, history, fiction or the unlimited world of the imagination.

And in between all that good-for-you stuff we encourage children to have fun....

But Newsround Blog showed how, in reality, kids were betrayed by the BBC, their freedoms (of expression and right to information) being severely curtailed. Check out, for example, here, here and here. Richard Deverell, who incidentally bears a remarkable resemblance to Nyder from Doctor Who, was in charge of BBC Children's at the time.

Similar sentiments to Ms Bennett's were expressed last November at a meeting of the respected Voice of the Listener and Viewer. This time the invited speaker was the present BBC Director of Children's, Joe Godwin -
We need to fire the imagination of the next generation and help them make sense of the world around them with powerful storytelling that engages and enthralls them.

All drama and storytelling has the capacity to tackle social issues, to feature a range of characters that reflect the sheer diversity of society, and to help explain complex subjects to children.

So for quite a while the BBC has been putting out the same message about how it helps kids have fun, whilst preparing them for adulthood. But indications are that the interests of children are of secondary concern. Despite all the fine words intended for British ears, the truth is that world commercial markets are a major factor in deciding what British kids see on TV; and unfortunately another factor is heterosexism. CBBC's Leonardo is a blatant case in point.

The BBC performs a careful balancing act. When speaking to the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, its message is about homegrown content. When speaking to LGBT groups the message is about inclusion (at some unspecified time in the future,) and when speaking at media conferences abroad it's about how broadcasters can co-operate to make programmes suitable for an international market.

Joe Godwin is, I believe, presently attending the Banff World Media Festival 2011. Independent producers will get a chance to meet Joe and other "broadcast industry leaders and influential power-brokers" who are looking to discover "the freshest, hottest new ideas in television." (BANFF Connect: Cocktails with a Decision Maker) Then on Tuesday and Wednesday Joe is due to speak in two sessions about 'Kids and Animation'. Amongst topics being considered are:

Working with Canadian kids' TV producers.

What international broadcasters want, and how they want it.

What is up-and-coming in kids programming for each country?

What are the different countries looking for in terms of content?

Projects geared for U.S., U.K. and Australian distribution.

International funding and financing; optimal models for deal structures and budgets in the global market.

I won't be attending the Banff MediaFest. However Newsround Blog wants to know exactly how international broadcasters and the BBC are working to make public service programmes suitable for showing in Britain, where lesbian and gay people should be treated as full and equal members of society.

Mr Godwin told FTL that nothing is going to happen ‘tomorrow’.

Well, Joe, for some kids ‘tomorrow’ is already too late.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Still no word from Joe Godwin, Director of BBC Children's, in response to my email to him (see blog 31 May 2011) so I'm none the wiser as to who met the cost of his flight to last year's Banff World TV Festival and his accommodation there. All we do know is that the licence-payer picked up the tab for some pretty hefty cab fares, including one on his arrival in Canada of £409.27p

Banff Springs Fairmont
Fairmont Hotel in Banff Springs resort

In a couple of days Mr Godwin will once again be winging his way to Canada for the the Banff World Media Festival 2011, which takes place in the Banff Springs Fairmont Hotel.

How are British kids likely to benefit from Joe's trip to Banff, or from his February trips to the New York Hilton?

Joe, I know you're rushed off your feet at the moment, but why not spare a few minutes to get in touch and explain? Or, if you prefer, feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Controversial recommendations about banning music videos was the top story on this evening's Newsround at 5pm.

Ore: The music videos you could soon be banned from watching. The Government's trying to stop children seeing so much violence and nudity on screen.

Ricky: That's why movie-style age ratings could be introduced which would prevent you from watching some of the world's biggest stars.

(Video report - included an interview with Rachel Aston of the Mothers' Union)

After that, Ricky and Ore read out some of the early feedback they'd received.

Newsround's next story was about the result of Britain's Got Talent, won by Jai McDowall, with Ronan Parke in second place.

Ore: So well done Jai, but fear not Ronan, because coming second in the world of reality TV is always a good thing.

Ore said that JLS came second on the X Factor but they'd had four Number 1 singles and two platinum selling albums.

Ricky: Olly Murs was beaten by Joe McElderry. Since then Olly has had a string of hits and, unlike poor Joe, he's still got a recording contract.

Ore: Could be an opera star though, couldn't he.

One thing Newsround omitted to mention is that media bosses have enormous sway over the fortunes of reality show winners. Unfortunately things were stacked further against "poor Joe" as soon as he came out as gay.

Joe was completely out of his depth in the shark-infested and homophobic world of showbiz. He was subjected to repeated insults on CBBC, which should never have been allowed even once. Olly Murs had no such disadvantage, and is a favoured guest on children's TV. This news about Olly's less pleasant side went unreported by Newsround.

Joe McElderry - 5th June 2011
Joe McElderry awaits the Popstar to Operastar vote (5 June 2011)

Friday, June 03, 2011

Simon Cowell is in the news once again, and whatever the truth about these allegations one thing is certain: the media and showbiz worlds can be quite manipulative.

We saw a week ago how the BBC made use of an investigation by the Taxpayers' Alliance to shut down another story which had the potential to dent the BBC's image. And, it seems, they even co-opted Newsround - a children's programme - into their cunning plan.

In fact the BBC is quite adept at turning things around in its favour. Only this morning, for example, Miriam O'Reilly appeared on BBC One's Breakfast.

Miriam O'Reilly on Breakfast - 3rd June 2011
Having fought a legal battle to the bitter end and lost, the BBC immediately realised they needed to get Miriam on board in order to sustain an image of the Corporation as fair-minded and diverse-friendly in this twenty-first century.

Miriam O'Reilly
Miriam will co-present Crimewatch Roadshow