Sunday, September 30, 2012

One of the main news stories last week was about runaway pupil and teacher: Megan Stammers & Jeremy Forrest. The news was reported by Newsround on Tuesday 25th September -

Leah: Next to a story about a schoolgirl who's been front page news ever since she ran away last Thursday.

Ricky: Many thousands of kids run away from home every year in the UK. But what makes this different is that Megan Stammers is thought to have gone all the way to France with one of her teachers.

Leah: Police are looking for both of them. And the 15-year-old's parents are begging her to come home, saying she won't be in trouble. Watch out for the flashes coming up.

Ricky: Last Thursday Megan Stammers told her mum she was off to stay overnight at a friend's house. Her family have not seen her since. Yesterday Megan's parents begged her to get in touch, and come home.

Megan's mum: Sweetheart - I don't care what you've done or why, but you can tell I'm in pieces and I just want you home.

Megan's stepdad: Megan - we had a date on Saturday and we didn't make it. Babes that offer's still there sweetheart. I just want you to come home - safe.

Ricky: This is the man Megan is with. 30-year-old Jeremy Forrest, a maths teacher at her school in Sussex. They boarded a ferry to France on Thursday night. They had booked to return by the same route on Sunday, but never did. The school said there had been concerns about the relationship before this happened. On a previous school trip they were reportedly seen by another pupil holding hands. UK police are now working with the French authorities to try to find the pair and bring them home safely.

Police officer: We believe you believe you left of your own accord with Jeremy. But we need to hear that you're OK. Your family and friends are extremely worried, but you are not - and I stress you are not - in any trouble.

Ricky: Because Megan is 15 she is legally still a child. Her teacher's been criticised because part of a teacher's job is to look after children on behalf of their parents.

Ricky: Now although it's important to have a good relationship with your teachers at school, we've been looking into this story today. And we've got in touch with a former teachers' union leader, and she told us that the trust children build up for their teachers is very important, this is clearly an abuse of that trust.

Ricky: Police are now asking friends of the missing teenager if they have any information about where she might be. But in the meantime her family can only hope she returns home safely.

Friday's Newsround at 5pm began with a report that Megan Stammers had been found in Bordeaux. They said Megan was being looked after by police, but that her teacher had been arrested.

The main Newsround TV bulletins yesterday reported that Megan would return to the UK. Her dad said the family were overjoyed at the outcome.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Click is a BBC TV programme about developments in technology. This week it began with a report from a remote location in South America, where internet communication is now possible. Spencer Kelly introduced the report, explaining that many of the developing nations have skipped expensive wired telephone networks, and gone straight to wireless.

Spencer Kelly: ... that means there aren't actually many places in the world where you can't get a signal these days. But one such place, until very recently, was 300 miles up the Amazon River, in Brazil, deep in the heart of the rain forests. And that's where we sent Dan Simmons - nothing personal - he was there to report on one of the last places on Earth to get a signal.
(Dan's report)

Yesterday's Newsround (2pm) included a short item based on the BBC Click report. The programme was introduced by Ore. "Here's what's coming up - Kids in Brazil get connected for the first time. And why we won't be seeing our Becky in Rio. First up: Liverpool have kicked off against Manchester United in the first game at Anfield since findings were published from an investigation into the 1989 ...."

(Newsround studio with Amazon River on backing screen)
Ore: There aren't many places left in the world where a mobile signal and cheap readily available internet hasn't yet been reached. But here is one place that just got connected. A new project in the Amazon has seen people in isolated villages get in touch with the digital world for the first time. Watch this.

Ore: Three hundred miles up the Amazon River, deep in the heart of the rain forest, it's about as remote as you can get. Until recently the idea of getting mobile phone coverage around here was barely believable. The cost and effort to run the cables and navigate the signals through the dense rain forest would have made it almost impossible. But now 4 bars! (signal strength indicator)

Giant masts have been built here to send phone signals for the local communities. And for the first time - wireless internet too! This school has now logged on for work and play. People here are finally enjoying the benefits of modern technology.

School pupil (translated): We can now take pictures and videos of our circus, and show others what we do. We'll be able to ask people for what we need - more resources to expand and improve.

Ore: The project has already seen pupils' reading improve as a result. But there are benefits beyond the classroom. They say the improved communication has helped save lives too.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lesbians can be heroes, too

Anne Gilchrist announced the axing of Grange Hill in 2008, saying that "the lives of children have changed a great deal since Grange Hill began and we owe it to our audience to reflect this."

Four years on, how well is CBBC reflecting the lives of children today?

Well, the second series of Leonardo begins this afternoon on CBBC. It's set in 15th century Florence. So, basically, not the ideal way to reflect the lives of 21st century children.

How about the brand new flagship series, Wolfblood? Yes, great at reflecting modern times, but only provided kids these days are secretly wolves.

Of course, Wolfblood could be seen as an allegory. Maddy and Rhydian might, for example, represent two gay kids who are worried that others at school won't accept them if they knew about their sexuality.

But if the BBC is serious about reflecting the lives of children today, bosses need to stop treating being lesbian or gay as something unmentionable. After all lesbians can be heroes, too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More needs to be done to kick out racism from football, says a report published by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee. News of the report was covered on Newsround's website as well as most of its TV bulletins today.

The Commons Select Committee report also has quite a lot to say about the problem of homophobia in football. In fact it says that homophobia may now be a bigger problem in football than other forms of discrimination. A high-profile campaign, according to the report, would highlight the damaging effect of homophobic language and behaviour in and around football.

Newsround failed, once again, to mention a word about homophobia, adding to evidence that BBC children's television is not doing nearly enough to combat prejudice against LGBT people.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Hillsborough independent report was released on Wednesday, and David Cameron's apology made the first story on Newsround's flagship 5pm bulletin that day -

Ricky: It's rare for a prime minister to stand up and make a public apology. But today that's what he's done. David Cameron said he's sorry to the families of Liverpool fans who died in the worst disaster in British football history.

The disaster is a personal tragedy to each and every one of the families who lost relatives and friends. And laying the blame on the fans themselves must have made it that much harder to bear. The truth has come out and the people of Liverpool may start to get justice.

But there's a family in Liverpool who may never see justice. A boy named Michael Causer was born just months after the Hillsborough disaster. Michael died in August 2008 as a result of a vicious attack. He was kicked in the head and died in hospital a few days later. It was a hate crime - Michael was murdered because he was gay, and for no other reason.

Yet despite the brutality involved the case went virtually unreported by the national media - including the BBC.

The person primarily responsible for Michael's death walked free from Liverpool Crown Court in what is every bit as much an injustice as each of the families of the 96 Hillsborough deaths has suffered. Overwhelming evidence from a thorough police investigation had been presented by the prosecution, so the acquittal, in a 10-2 majority verdict, was likely the result of prejudice by many members of the jury, taken together with Mr Justice Timothy King's pusillanimous summing up.

Perhaps the media should be concerned about all cases of injustice.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

“Continued trouble in the economy gives the bigots a stick to beat us with, as they demand we ‘postpone’ the equalities agenda in order to deal with ‘the things people really care about’. As if pursuing greater equality and fixing the economy simply cannot happen at once.”

Apparently the above wording formed the basis of a speech, extracts of which were released to the press about 3pm on Tuesday afternoon, which Nick Clegg intended to deliver at a reception that evening. However, for reasons best known to Nick and his staff, the wording was amended, and those opposing equality were no longer referred to as bigots.

It seems that Lord Carey took the original text as a personal attack. He told the BBC:“To be called a bigot is a very offensive statement and I would ask him to recall it ... because there are issues here that demand very serious debate.”

A bigot, according to the dictionary, is a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.

Of course there are people who, for religious or other reasons, do not agree with the idea of same-sex marriage. Whether it's reasonable to call someone a bigot for merely holding an opinion is quite another matter. But Lord Carey does not just hold an opinion that same-sex marriage is wrong, he is also in the forefront of a campaign to ensure that lesbian and gay couples aren't allowed to marry. His name is the very first name on a petition which will almost certainly have garnered 600,000 signatures within the next few days - though whether they're all genuine is open to doubt, as the petition organisers have been loath to answer any correspondence.

So Lord Carey is not just a person who objects to the idea of lesbian and gay couples marrying, he is also campaigning vociferously against equality. No wonder, then, that Carey self-identified as one of the bigots in Nick Clegg's proposed speech, and that he took such offence. It's just a shame that, once again, Clegg didn't have the courage of his convictions.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Last Wednesday, Newsround reported that 3.5 million children in Britain are living in poverty.

Nel: One of the UK's biggest police forces has told Newsround that the number of children stealing food is on the up, compared to those stealing things like sweets. Greater Manchester Police told us they think it's down to kids not having any food available to them in their homes. Well in Islington in London officers are giving out food vouchers to kids to try to stop them from turning to crime.

Hayley spoke to an Inspector from the London Metropolitan Police, who said they're not stealing sweets and chocolate and chewing gum, "they're actually going out and stealing bread and food for themselves and the family."

In light of the situation, perhaps the BBC should be more careful and a lot more sensitive.

Last night the actors who play Maddy and Rhydian in new kids' drama Wolfblood were in the studio to promote the series. They were asked to take part in a game, blindfolded, to make the best-tasting sandwich in twenty seconds. As a result, the desk was piled high with wasted bread and other food. BBC bosses need to have a word with CBBC's Head of Presentation to hopefully ensure there's no recurrence.

Finally I think the BBC, as well as making those elitist food programmes such as Masterchef, should also be more responsive to the needs of poor families, on a low budget. One leading supermarket chain, for example, is presently selling own brand mushy peas for 4p per tin. The BBC could point out other bargains and suggest recipes that enable families to live healthily at very little expense.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Well done to all the Olympic & Paralympic athletes and volunteers.

Shame the organisers and politicians don't deserve the same praise. Because they've done little to inspire a generation, and a lot to betray a generation. Never was that clearer than when Lord Coe spoke at the closing ceremony last night --
"Finally, there are some famous words you can find stamped on the bottom of a product. Words that, when you read them, you know mean high quality, mean skill, mean creativity. We stamped those words on the Olympic and Paralympic games of London 2012 - London2012 Made in Britain."

Sorry Seb, but all the products I've looked at are stamped Made in China. And presumably you and your fellow organisers were responsible for outsourcing the manufacture of the Wenlock, Mandeville and TeamGB mascots to another country because it made more profit that way. Shows how much you really think of Britain, doesn't it.

London 2012 products - NOT Made in Britain

One of the most memorable parts of the Olympics opening ceremony was the tribute to the NHS. How ironic and disappointing that the very NHS, of which Britain is so rightly proud, is now being dismantled bit by bit.

In fact Coe was amongst the parliamentarians who voted to facilitate this betrayal of a generation.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Presidential race is well underway in the United States - a fact which hasn't gone unnoticed on CBBC's Newsround. But despite 'gay marriage' being a major debating point in the US, Newsround has yet to report any LGBT equality differences between Obama's Democrats and Romney's Republicans.

Had Newsround's omission been a one-off it could be written off as an oversight. Truth to tell, though, the failure to report on gay equality is part of a pattern which - on this issue at least - suggests CBBC bosses are in tune with the more homophobic Republican party policy.

Let's look at some of the evidence -

a} No recent children's dramas with LGBT characters.

b} Until this year, Newsround had not reported on gay rights/equality/discrimination stories.

c} Obama's TV landmark interview in May, when he announced support for marriage equality was not reported by Newsround.

d} No mention of Alan Turing's life/work on CBBC during this centenary year.

e} Last Tuesday's Newsround report about the four Christians taking their cases to the European Court (see previous blog) brushed aside the fact that two of them are actually seeking the right to legally discriminate against others.

f} Worldwide anti-LGBT discrimination, for example in Uganda or Russia, never reported.

g} Homophobia and homophobic bullying yet to be specifically addressed by Newsround, or by any 'Newsround Special' to date.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

"Four British Christians who say they lost their jobs because of their religious beliefs are taking their cases to the top human rights court in Europe today. They include an airline worker stopped from wearing a cross at work, and a counsellor who refused to deal with gay couples. They say UK laws needs to do more to protect their rights."

That was one of the reports on CBBC Newsround at 7.40am this morning. The story was also reported at 8.17am, with a few slight changes -

"First - a big court case about whether a group of British people lost their jobs because of their religious beliefs starts today. Four Christians, including an airline worker who was stopped from wearing a cross at work, are taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights. A Christian counsellor who refused to deal with gay couples is also part of the group. They say they're being discriminated against because of their faith, and want UK laws to do more to protect them."

The word 'gay' is still too rarely heard on children 's TV, but Newsround is making some progress in that regard. However it's unfortunate that more time wasn't taken to explain the background to these cases, as the reports did seem to be rather poorly balanced.

Newsround's website also includes the story but there, too, the opportunity for more detailed coverage was missed. There are, however, links to lots of background information on the current unrest in Belfast.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Joshua Rozenberg was the BBC's legal correspondent for 15 years and, according to his website, is Britain's best-known commentator on the law. He has recently written an article for the Law Society Gazette, basically stating his opinion that religious beliefs should be respected as long as people's rights are not taken away. His views have gone down very well with organisations such as the Christian Institute.

Four cases involving British applicants are due to be heard at the European Court of Human Rights in two days' time on Tuesday, 4th September.

In his piece for the Law Society Gazette, Mr Rozenberg fails to explain what makes a religious belief more worthy of respect than any other type of belief.

Some people have religious objections to inter-faith or interracial marriage - there are Biblical precedents for having such objections, which were once common in some American states

Would Mr Rozenberg support a marriage registrar who refused to officiate at the marriage between, say, a white man and a black woman? Would Joshua suggest that there's no problem because there's another council employee who would be willing to conduct the wedding ceremony?

Mr Rozenberg says "Everyone should respect the rights of same-sex couples to register civil partnerships in accordance with the law. But we should also respect the rights of those with religious convictions, so long as those beliefs do not conflict with the rights of others. Surely a fair and balanced approach to both rights is not too much to ask?"

Fifty years ago it would not be unknown for people in Britain with rooms to let to put notices in their windows: "No Blacks" or "No Irish" etc. Isn't Joshua Rozenberg's position tantamount to excusing those signs? After all surely there were other landlords prepared to rent rooms to the minority groups.

Or perhaps Britain's best-known commentator on the law only backs up "religious convictions" when they're just a euphemism for anti-gay bigotry?

Also see the Daily Mail (July 2008): 'Christian registrar who refused to marry gay couples reveals bullying ordeal at hands of politically correct colleagues'

And this .... 'What next... Firemen choosing who to save?'

Saturday, September 01, 2012

How well is the BBC keeping Mark Thompson's promise to take lesbian, gay and bisexual people as seriously as any other part of the audience and to portray them and convey their experiences and perspectives with as much conviction and fairness as they would anyone else?

Well, apart from a very brief reference to a lesbian and gay equality issue on Newsround in July, not much else seems to have changed.

Look, for instance, at this video report on Thursday about the difference between the American Presidential candidates. Nothing is said about why Mitt Romney is so disliked by the majority of feminists as well as lesbian and gay Americans. No-one watching the report and unfamiliar with the issues would be any the wiser on Mitt Romney's quite regressive and offensive policies.