Saturday, April 28, 2012

News of Lady Gaga was carried on most of yesterday's Newsround bulletins, including the ones at 7.40am, 8.15am and 3.20pm, as well as on the website.

From the 5pm programme on BBC One

Leah: Music news now, and Lady Gaga's kicked off her world tour in controversial style this afternoon ..

Joe: This is the star arriving in South Korea for the first leg of her 'Born This Way' tour. But authorities there have banned anyone under the age of 18 from going to watch the show, because they think her act isn't suitable for kids.

Newsround failed to give any detailed reasons why the Korean authorities thought Lady Gaga's concert was unsuitable for kids. However this report from the BBC News channel is more helpful.

To date, Newsround has never mentioned Lady Gaga's support for LGBT youth, nor her considerable efforts in the fight against homophobic bullying.

Friday, April 20, 2012

My open letter to the BBC Trust, sent this morning -

Thank you for your reply to my enquiry about the appointment of a new BBC Director-General (Ref: 1398002)

Naturally, I'm quite disappointed to learn that the appointment process will not be as open and transparent as I'd hoped.

The reason for my interest is a particular concern relating to diversity and inclusiveness failings since, in 2005, BBC management constituted its Diversity Board and substantially weakened editorial guidelines.

Some members of the Trust may recall that BBC journalist Gary O'Donoghue was paid a large sum to call off an employment tribunal hearing in 2008. The legal case would have exposed the speciousness of the Beeb's diversity policy.

The BBC settled with Gary before he went to court, but this wasn't the way things worked out more recently when Miriam O'Reilly sought redress over her age-related sacking from Countryfile. The BBC's solicitors fought the case to the bitter end ... and lost.

Then there is the matter of LGBT representation. In recent years, under the current Director-General, there has been a combination of discrimination and negative portrayal in programmes and online services. The Trust will note that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has made it clear that, on the contrary, an important role of the media is to combat prejudice.

I noticed that there is very little that is relevant in the Role Specification for the new Director-General. It says simply: ".. Candidates will have worked in organisations that have to serve diverse segments of the UK population" and ".. Candidates will be able to inspire employees and create an environment in which creativity thrives, but also build teams that have a diversity of skills and experience."

In view of the above, the Trust should ensure that the BBC is unequivocally committed to the furtherance of equality and diversity, and also ensure the Director-General coordinates this new steer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Seems Miriam O'Reilly had a rather disappointing return to the BBC. But, of course, it came as no surprise to Newsround Blog which, some months back, suggested that the Corporation's motives for asking her back were disingenuous.

The BBC is a discriminatory organisation, and I'm concerned that won't change until leopards lose their spots.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Newsround recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Newsround has been criticised for dumbing down the news with too many showbiz stories and other trivia. This was an issue considered in the latest edition of Newswatch on the BBC News channel.

Raymond Snoddy: ... Now it [Newsround] has several editions a day on TV, including Specials on subjects such as autism and domestic violence, and a significant online presence. Some, though, take issue with the programme's agenda: (email) I am a Year 7 Tutor in a secondary school and have found Newsround very celebrity-heavy and packed with irrelevant news, such as the story of a cat wandering away from home, yet it lacks reports about politics and other relevant news. Sometimes a major event will not even be mentioned. As a result, most sixth formers do not know who David Cameron is. Children would gain a lot from a daily news programme that is actually aimed at informing, rather than encouraging them to follow reality TV shows.

A 14-year-old who had enjoyed Newsround over the years nevertheless felt that the 12-16 age range is not being properly catered for by the BBC. Incidentally, children's drama has been criticised on the same grounds. Projects such as BBC Switch have come and gone, but there has been no overall improvement in teen services.

A 12-year-old from Edinburgh said Newsround is good, but doesn't give an in-depth view of the news that 12-16 year-old people expect. He wanted more "real current news." He felt that about half his school are satisfied with Newsround as it is at present, but the other half were interested to know more about economics, politics and current affairs. He suggested a new programme in addition to the current Newsround could meet that need.

The person in charge of BBC children's services, Joe Godwin, was invited on Newswatch to answer these criticisms.

The BBC has a duty to represent all groups in society - no group can be underserved. We've seen how much time Newsround has been devoting to news items about religion. But what about when religious bigots attack a section of society? Shouldn't kids understand that hate isn't just something promoted by racists?

On Thursday Pink News revealed that two 'Christian' groups intended to run a homophobic campaign on London buses. Within hours of this news coming to light, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, intervened to stop the advertisement: "London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance. It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses."

The 'Christian' groups behind the advert want to persuade people that lesbian and gay people can become straight. This false hope sometimes causes young people a great deal of distress, leading to depression and even attempts at suicide.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Appointment of new BBC Director-General

It seems that the BBC Trust's promise to set new standards of openness and transparency does not stretch as far as the appointment of the new BBC Director-General.

I asked the Trust about it in January, but their reply (Ref: 1274181) failed to answer my specific enquiry. I sought clarification earlier this week:-

I was not entirely clear from your email [10th February] whether, as part of the commitment to set new standards of openness and transparency, the appointment of a new Director-General will be made in this spirit.

It is now clear that Mark Thompson will be leaving the BBC shortly, and I've read Chris Patten's Statement about this on the Trust website.

Please could you let me know whether

(a) the public will be given the opportunity to put questions to candidates?


(b) transcripts of Trust interviews with candidates will be published?

The BBC Trust reply today (Ref: 1398002) implied that the public will not have any say in the appointment process, and stated there is no plan to publish transcripts of interviews with candidates.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

It's Easter and it seems the BBC has gone into overdrive promoting the religion agenda. Yesterday's Newsround reported the views of Cardinal Keith O'Brien, and today we were given chances to see both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

There was a short clip from Rowan Williams' Easter sermon on the 1.55pm bulletin -

Rowan Williams: Younger people, while still statistically deeply unlikely to be churchgoers, don't have the hostility to faith that one might expect.

Perhaps if Newsround didn't keep giving religion such a high profile, kids might better appreciate that it's not always a good thing. For example, bearing in mind the hateful way Cardinal Keith O'Brien talked about marriage equality and gay people, was it reasonable for Newsround to quote him yesterday?

I suggest that all BBC editorial staff think about the harm that can be done by unquestioning acceptance of religious bigotry. A 2009 film called 'Prayers for Bobby' is a stark reminder of what can happen. It is based on the true story of Bobby Griffith.

Clip from Prayers for Bobby
Ryan Kelley & Sigourney Weaver in 'Prayers for Bobby'

Thursday, April 05, 2012

According to Newsround, kids find religion more important now than 40 years ago. The website states that "Children are now twice as likely to say that religion is very important to them compared to kids 40 years ago - when Newsround first went on air."

Newsround based their assertion on a survey of 1,000 six to 12-year-olds.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was surprised by the finding, as is Newsround Blog.

However one person who would not have been surprised by this result is BBC Director-General Mark Thompson. Recall that in 2008 he presented a lecture on the subject Faith, Morality and Media, where he told attendees that, quite simply, religion is back.

Whereas the Archbishop's surprise is probably based on his lifetime of direct personal experience, Newsround Blog's surprise is based on rather more technical issues based around the underlying statistics.

The BBC has a special duty of care not to mislead kids.

A claim such as the above needs to be based on robust methodology and convincing statistics. How does Newsround know the percentage of kids (aged 6-12) who thought religion was "very important" in 1972? Was an equivalent survey carried out in 1972?

Until the BBC publishes full survey details, there is reason to doubt the claims.

But there is another, more general, concern about this survey. How and why was the survey commissioned? Was the purpose of the survey simply to inform Newsround's audience of differing attitudes, or was it part of a wider agenda on the part the Corporation? If so, that would also have serious implications for the BBC's standards of journalistic ethics.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

It's Newsround's 40th anniversary. Each day this week the programme is looking at a different decade between the 70's and now. Today it's the turn of the 90's.

Newsround Blog is celebrating the 90's by giving you a chance, courtesy of YouTube, to watch an entire episode from the classic Grange Hill series. This episode was from March 1993 - almost two decades ago.

In those days there was all kinds of prejudice against LGBT people. The age of consent for gay men was 21. And gay people were often discriminated against, or sacked from their jobs. In this episode, Grange Hill kids have recently found out that teacher, Mr Brisley, is gay. We see the attitudes of the other staff and the children at school.

Such overt prejudice is less likely these days. Today, there are laws intended to prevent all that nastiness. But what is really strange is that, whereas twenty years ago the BBC led the fight against prejudice, these days it has actually become part of the problem. Now it's the BBC that treats LGBT people unfairly. Think about it - when was the last time you heard a word like 'lesbian' or 'gay' on a BBC children's TV drama? Why isn't children's TV inclusive these days?

Newsround has carried out a survey into children's attitudes. Wonder if they asked about prejudice? And, if so, will they publish the findings?