Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Newsround frequently includes stories about Lady Gaga, though her estimable efforts to end bullying have never been acknowledged on their TV bulletins.

Lady Gaga has been very supportive of lesbian, gay, bi and trans kids, but regular readers of this blog will know that children's TV badly fails this group. So when news came out that Lady Gaga had sent a video message to a school pupil in Canada, I was reasonably sure Newsround wouldn't report the story. And, indeed, it hasn't been mentioned on air. However - and to my surprise - the story did at least appear on their website yesterday.

Lady Gaga's message of support for Jacques St Pierre's anti-bullying campaign work was screened at a school assembly. Jacques, now 17, had been bullied with homophobic taunts at primary school.

The term 'gay' is often used as an insult at school, and the fact that the word is almost never heard in an affirmative context on BBC children's TV only adds to the widely-held but mistaken belief that being gay is something to be ashamed of. The BBC could help change things by treating all people fairly, by making inclusive kids' dramas.

Newsround has always been happy to report on animal rights issues. It's time they took human rights seriously as well.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kindle Entertainment has been receiving plaudits for, once again, winning the Independent Production Company Of The Year BAFTA. Kindle was the company behind Leonardo, shown on BBC children's TV this year.

Although Leonardo itself won nothing, any company prepared to censor LGBT people from history should not be rewarded in the way Kindle was last night. If a company were to treat racial groups in a similar way it would not be tolerated.

BAFTA should stand for the very best of British film and television, and in that respect the award to Kindle Entertainment was a serious mistake.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

CBBC Newsround receives a Children's BAFTA award later today. It's to celebrate the programme turning 40 in April next year.

Newsround was originally broadcast twice a week but, says BAFTA, "over the past 40 years it has grown and grown and now over 800,000 of you watch it." That claim is somewhat misleading because audience figures peaked years ago, and the number of people watching has been declining since then.

Celebs and others have been sending or tweeting their good wishes to Newsround, but not everyone has been quite so generous. Andrew Brown, writing for The Telegraph, called it "the programme all children want to switch off." Mr Brown suggests that the only award Newsround deserves is one for surviving such a long time.

There's no doubting that Newsround is, on occasion, outstanding children's TV - especially the investigative reports such as school funding cutbacks. And then there are the excellent Newsround Specials, the most recent of which helps nurture a spirit of understanding and acceptance for people with autism.

However in one particular respect Newsround has failed to move with the times and is still stuck in the 1970's when it was presented by John Craven. I wrote to John in January 2005 via the BBC Countryfile email address, to let him know that Newsround had not been inclusive, and that it failed to tackle homophobia and homophobic bullying. Unfortunately John did not reply, and since then there's been no improvement.

Showbiz is too insensitive to care about such details. In fact the industry prefers to hide these issues out of the way.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I hope that anyone who's never heard of Alan Turing had a chance to see last night's Channel 4 docudrama: Britain's Greatest Codebreaker. The programme highlighted Turing's codebreaking skills which helped win WW2. It also covered his post-war work on computing carried out at Manchester University, and his persecution as a result of being gay.

The person in charge of BBC children's TV, Joe Godwin, has an honours degree in History from the same University. I contacted Mr Godwin in January 2011 to suggest that the BBC might be interested in a children's drama about Alan Turing:

Excerpt from email to Mr Godwin dated 5th Jan 2011:
.. Might I suggest a drama on the life and work of Alan Turing would be a good idea? It could be done in time for the Turing centenary next year, and I hope would be a sensitive and nuanced portrayal, including Alan's affection for schoolfriend Christopher Morcom. ..

As far as I'm aware the idea has not been taken up. And regrettably, BBC children's TV chose to misrepresent another LGBT genius and hero.

I fleshed out my idea in an email to Joe Godwin on 10th Jan 2011 (excerpt):
.. I was thinking of a dramatisation of Turing's life for children's TV. I watched the remake of Just William over the holiday period, and noticed that romance and relationships were quite prominent. We see William's brother and sister dating, and William's teacher saying that "our society is founded on a man and a woman wanting to be together." By the fourth episode William's antipathy towards girls has gone, and he wants to be friends with Dorinda.

Of course kids have crushes at the age of 11, or sometimes at an earlier age. CBBC recognised that fact with programmes like Eliot Kid and Little Howard's Big Question, but I doubt that those stories turned any gay children straight. Using the same reasoning, a children's drama about an LGB person is not going to alter the sexual orientation of straight kids. However making children's TV inclusive is likely to encourage tolerance, as was recognised in past storylines in CBBC programmes such as Byker Grove and Grange Hill.

Alan Turing is an apposite subject for a British children's drama for 2012, which is the centenary of his birth and the year of the London Olympics. Alan was a top class runner as well as mathematician, codebreaker, gay rights pioneer and a senior figure in the development of the computer. He succumbed to the prejudices of a bygone age.

Turing's teenage crush on Christopher Morcom was no different to, say, six-year-old Eliot Kid's crush on Loretta or Little Howard's feelings towards Little Susan. And if the BBC is to represent everyone, with no group underserved, it needs to deliver for LGBT children and teenagers. What better luminary could there be for the CBBC to celebrate in 2012? ...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Highfurlong School update

Looks like I need to eat my words.

My blog dated 6 October 2010 effectively accused Newsround of putting the government's side and ignoring the plight of schools like Highfurlong which hadn't received the cash they really need for improvements.

But this morning Newsround did follow up Hayley's original report with this one by Leah. And it seems Michael Gove was indeed disingenuous when, in July 2010, he told Sonali every school that needs the funding will get it.

The BBC can be trusted, after all - well sometimes, at any rate.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

When asked whether the BBC has a duty to promote an ethical message, newsreader Jane Hill replied that the duty is not to promote a message but to reflect society. Our duty, says Jane, is to represent the UK in all its forms. Class religion, colour, disability and so on.

So I wonder how Jane's view squares with what appears very much to be a "help children in need" message that the BBC has been putting out recently.

Oddly enough the BBC children's TV news programme Newsround didn't mention Anti-Bullying Week on any of its bulletins, although there is something about it on this web page.

How does the Corporation decide which children are the ones in need? Because I still get the impression that gay kids are the ones losing out. Challenging gender stereotypes alone is not a substitute for directly challenging homophobic prejudice.

When David Bond interviewed Sepp Blatter yesterday, he didn't ask Blatter a single question about homophobia.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Surely the main purpose of a news programme ought to be to keep the audience up to date with current events. And Newsround often does that very well, for example with Leah's report on the financial problems in Greece. Her report was intended for kids, but I'm sure Leah also helped a lot of adults understand what's been going on.

Sometimes, though, Newsround is far too slow to respond. The occupation at St Paul's wasn't mentioned until five days after it began. And there's been nothing today about the escalating protests in New York.

Newsround has, for a while now, played down the issue of racism in sport, and has completely failed to acknowledge the existence of homophobia.

The John Terry/Anton Ferdinand racism controversy wasn't mentioned by Newsround until 2nd November - some ten days after the incident. And it took them over a month, until today, for any mention of the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra controversy.

At 8.15am on CBBC we had:-

Joe: Hi guys. Joe here with all the stories you'll be talking about with your mates at school today. First up - there's been an angry reaction to Sepp Blatter's claim that football doesn't have a problem with racism. During a TV interview, the international footie chief also said he thought racist incidents could be solved between players with a simple handshake. Well Rio Ferdinand says his comments were laughable, but Blatter says he's been misunderstood. Several former players have called for Blatter to resign, but current Premier League striker Jason Roberts wants more done.

Jason Roberts: He can resign - certainly. But if the relevant authorities don't act differently with the issues that are prevalent in football, then I think we will be in danger of telling society that it's not an issue we care about.

And at 5pm:-

Ricky: First tonight. A massive row over .. a handshake. According to the most powerful man in the footballing world, it's the best way to sort out racist abuse on the pitch. But lots of the game's biggest stars are furious with FIFA boss Sepp Blatter. They say they want him to quit, saying his comments send out totally the wrong message.

(video) Ricky: Racism in football is big news right now. England captain John Terry is being investigated for apparently making a racist comment towards QPR's Anton Ferdinand during a match - he denies it. And just last night the FA charged Liverpool star Luis Suarez with racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra. But Suarez says he's innocent. Now famous footballers have been queuing up to slam Sepp Blatter's idea to just shake hands over racist abuse. Rio Ferdinand tweeted the man himself. He said "I am astonished. I feel stupid for thinking that football was taking a leading role against racism." Blackburn's striker Jason Roberts said "I am absolutely disgusted - lost for words. I am absolutely fuming." Strictly Come Dancing star and ex-player Robbie Savage called for his head: "What planet is this guy on. That's a shocking statement from the leader of world football. For me Blatter should go. Blatter out."

Ricky: Strong stuff. And with me on the sofa is former Premier League star Mark Bright. Now Mark, he's saying he's been misquoted. But what do you think about this?

Mark: Well he hasn't been misquoted. I think we all saw the interview and we've heard it as well. He said that during 90 minutes players can say what they want to each other as long as at the end they shake hands and everything's good. That's not the case - you can't racially abuse someone on the football field.

Ricky: So you think he's sending out the wrong message - not just to us but to children too?

Mark: Absolutely. It starts at the top. He's at the top of the pyramid, the head of FIFA, the world governing body. And what he's saying to kids on a Saturday and Sunday morning: You can go out and you can say what you want to the other child while the games going on. But at the end of the game just shake hands. That's not right - no. In this country it's an offence to racially abuse someone on the pitch.

Ricky: And have you ever had any abuse on the pitch?

Mark: Everyone of my era who played had abuse. We had it every other week when we played away from home , from the fans from opponents. And I'm glad to say that all that has nearly been eradicated. We rarely get it from players. The fans are so much better now. And we've all embraced the Kick Racism Out of Football campaign. That's why it's so much better.

Ricky: Alright Mark. Thanks so much for joining us on the sofa today. Thank you for coming in.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The latest Newsround Special is called My Autism and Me. It was presented by Rosie King, who wanted to show viewers what it means to be autistic. Rosie said that although it can be a problem she wouldn't swap her autism for anything: "It makes me who I am. I just wouldn't be the same without it."

My Autism and Me featured a number of different kids besides Rosie.

Rosie: Because it's not always obvious that people have autism, some people think we're just mad or being naughty. This lack of understanding is one of the worst things about being autistic.

Ben: ... I was bullied at school because people didn't understand the fact that I had autism. ....... People figured I had an anger problem. They continuously taunted me, going at me. Most called me a bear. I was feared, I was hated. It wasn't fun. It wasn't fun at all. ...

Rosie's introduction to autism was easy to understand and very informative - another example of Newsround at its best. Lady Gaga's iconic Born This Way accompanied the closing title sequence.

Paparazzi is another song by Lady Gaga, and was chosen for the X Factor's Craig Colton on Saturday. Although it's been widely reported that Craig is gay and proud, it seems programme bosses wanted the words of the Lady Gaga song altered so that he was singing about fancying a girl. Many viewers expressed their dismay about this on Twitter.

In 2009 Dannii Minogue quite rightly drew attention to the X Factor's unnecessary changing of song lyrics. But unfortunately anti-gay prejudice is still frequently encountered in the showbiz industry, as well as in society at large.

Today is the start of Anti-Bullying Week, and the theme this year is Stop and think – words can hurt

The Anti-Bullying Alliance website says that derogatory language – words and expressions that are homophobic, racist, sexist or disabilist, that seek to demean particular groups and individuals - are far too common in our schools, colleges and communities." The website suggests some aims for the week:-

  • challenge the casual use of derogatory language in our schools, colleges and communities

  • raise awareness of the consequences of using demeaning and harassing language through technology

  • encourage schools, colleges and other settings to create language charters that makes it clear what is and isn't acceptable

  • give children and young people the tools to challenge others when they use derogatory language, to find new ways of expressing how they feel if they are angry or upset, and to make a conscious effort to speak positively and to compliment others

  • encourage adults to consider how they model the use of language with children and young people (this includes all practitioners working with children and young people but also celebrities and people in positions of power)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Anti-Bullying Week 2011 begins in three days, on 14th November. The theme this year is Stop and think – words can hurt

A major exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings opened this week at the National Gallery in London. The exhibition runs until early February which, in the UK, is LGBT History Month.

Perhaps the London exhibition is one of the reasons why the BBC decided to repeat its fantasy adventure series about the life of the young da Vinci. The first episode will be broadcast on the CBBC Channel this afternoon at 1.40pm - though exactly why BBC is still using licence payers' money to broadcast children's programmes during the day in school term-time escapes me. How many are actually watching, I wonder.

The BBC Mission is to enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain. There's no denying that CBBC's Leonardo is entertainment - and to be fair it is often quite enjoyable entertainment. But as for the mission aim to inform and educate, I'm afraid the Corporation fails badly. The drama is packed with misinformation about the painter, inventor and all-round genius.

Here is an example. Leonardo is set in 1467 when the eponymous hero would have been 15 years old. But in one episode he's seen in competition with Michelangelo. The fact that Michelangelo wasn't even born until 1475 doesn't seem to bother the writers of this drama series. Incidentally Michelangelo, unlike Leonardo himself, is portrayed as somewhat effeminate. And this brings me to the last point - BBC Values.

One of the BBC's Values is to "respect each other and celebrate our diversity." But if that really is a BBC Value, I think we need to know why the BBC decided to have Leonardo fancying the opposite sex. This distortion of the truth doesn't sound much like a celebration of diversity to me. In fact it seems to be a very good example of disrespect. See blog on 28 July 2011.

If I worked at the BBC I'd ask for an apology.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Newsround wants to know whose face should be on banknotes.

A clue to my own preferred person can be seen on the right hand side of this blog. But my guess is that if any kids suggest Alan Turing they will not get their messages put up on this feedback page.

Next year being Turing's centenary makes him a particularly apt choice.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

It was very foolish of Newsround to try and pretend that prejudice doesn't exist. But presumably that's the reason why they've only now decided to cover the John Terry / Anton Ferdinand racism controversy.

Newsround at 7.41am today

Nel: First - the England captain, John Terry's been investigated by the police after he was accused of calling another footballer a racist name. It's believed a fan complained about a word the Chelsea defender used in an argument with QPR's Anton Ferdinand during a Premier League game last month. Terry says he did not use racist language, and has welcomed an FA investigation. That's now been put on hold while the police look into it. But if he's found guilty, he could be stripped of the England arm band for a second time. ...

The Newsround report went on to give details of last night's Champions League match in Genk, but there was no mention of the chants from some Chelsea supporters.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

BBC editorial judgement is often questionable, and last night children's TV seemed to lose any sense of proportion. Blue Peter centred on a Hallowe'en quiz hosted by Ore Oduba. The contestants were Blue Peter presenters Helen Skelton and Barney Harwood. The scoremaster was Richard Quincey from the London Dungeon. Before the quiz began we found out about Helen's worst fear:

Helen: Oh everybody knows that I hate rats.

Barney: You don't like rats?!

Helen: It's not that I don't like them - I know some people have them as pets and think they're cute. But I genuinely feel a little bit sick whenever I even see them.

Barney: Well then, you're gonna hate this. This is what's known as the rat coffin! Yes it's an ordinary coffin that we're going to lie in - well one of us is - and then they're gonna fill it with rats.

We never did get to find out what Barney feared most, although he said he didn't mind rats at all.

It turned out that Helen picked up fewer points in the quiz, and then got carried off over Quincey's shoulder to undergo her ordeal.

Helen Skelton in a coffin with rats - Blue Peter 31st October 2011