Monday, June 30, 2014

Children's Media Conference 2014

The Conference begins this Wednesday, 2nd July.

BAFTA Award winning drama, ‘The Dumping Ground’, continues to resonate with its young audience. Or at least that's what the website says about a conference session entitled BAFTA Creative Masterclass: Laying Foundations for The Dumping Ground. The panel have been asked to examine the programme's "winning formula" by talking about emotional truth, moral and editorial responsibility, and on screen diversity, with reference to specific case studies, including gay adoption and racism.

Presumably the "gay adoption" case study will look at episode 5 from the first series: What Would Gus Want? The episode has been discussed by Newsround Blog on a few occasions, including 26th, 29th and 30th January 2013.

Lesbian couple Ronnie and Dawn (foreground)

Some points the CMC panel might like to consider:

1) Children's programmes which deal with gay themes are extremely rare.

2) The words 'gay' and 'lesbian' were used more than a dozen times in that episode. Those words are never heard on other kids' dramas or, for that matter, on other episodes of The Dumping Ground.

3) It was quite unfortunate that such 'loopy' lesbian characters were portrayed in the episode - all the more so in view of the scarcity of other lesbian and gay portrayal on kids' TV.

4) The arguments against prejudice were made by children, none of whom identified as gay. The result is that, in contrast to the racism storyline, we didn't get to see the hurt caused to children themselves as a result of homophobic attitudes.

5) The BBC children's department is refusing to converse on matters of fair portrayal and representation.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Hundreds of thousands of children grow up in Britain with the realisation they're not primarily attracted to the opposite sex. Such kids might well feel bad about themselves, especially if they're bullied, or if they hear homophobic language at school.

The BBC used to state its purpose is "to enrich the life of every person in the UK with programmes that inform, educate and entertain." That purpose is all very well. But the aim is not achievable unless people see their own lives and feelings represented. And that is something the BBC's children's department has failed to do. In fact CBBC's overwhelmingly heteronormative programming could easily alienate gay kids and do more harm than good.

From The Next Step - kids being fed a diet of heteronomativity

Thankfully some people are making a stand.

Despite the CBBC reality series School for Stars only mentioning straight relationships, former pupil of the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, Layton Williams, believes a substantial number of kids at the school are gay. He bravely spoke about his experiences at last year's Stonewall Education for All conference.

Layton Williams gives a keynote address at Stonewall's 2013 Education for All conference

Another hopeful sign was Children's Media Conference debate on the need for inclusion.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Alan Turing was born on 23rd June 1912, exactly 102 years ago today. He died from cyanide poisoning at the age of 41. Whether he committed suicide or was murdered is, today, the subject of some speculation. One thing is for sure, though: Turing was a victim of homophobia. Sixty years later, and with gay people now allowed to get married, it would be nice to think the kind of anti-gay prejudice which led to Turing's death was a thing of the past. But unfortunately that's not the case.

In early 2011 I suggested BBC Children's should do something in time for Turing's centenary year. My email to Joe Godwin dated 10th January 2011 was answered on 24th January 2011 but with no reference to the Turing idea. The Centenary year came and went without any mention of Turing on the CBBC channel or on Newsround's website.

For a while it seemed Turing was persona non grata on CBBC. Then, this year, Absolute Genius with Dick and Dom devoted an entire episode to Alan Turing. But the failure to say anything about his sexuality gives every impression that someone at BBC Children's doesn't believe in equality for lesbian and gay people.

Many biographies of scientists in other episodes from the Absolute Genius series had references to (heterosexual) family relationships, so I asked a few CBBC executives including channel controller, Cheryl Taylor, whether they thought children might benefit from the knowledge that one of Britain's great geniuses and heroes was gay. No-one has ventured to answer that question. To do so would risk the ire of the department boss, whose discriminatory attitude was clear from a quote published in "Portrayal of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People" (November 2012)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

When the first civil partnerships took place in the UK back in 2005 they were seen by many as a big step in the right direction towards equality. It took BBC children's TV many years to catch up and acknowledge the change, but eventually that happened in a Valentine's Day edition of 12 Again, by which time Parliament had begun legislation to allow same sex couples to marry in England and Wales. By summer 2013 that legislation had been completed and received Royal Assent.

The civil partnership episode of Marrying Mum and Dad was repeated again last Sunday, presumably in recognition of Fathers' Day. In relation to a previous repeat of the programme I'd been told (on 3rd April 2014) "For clarity to the audience we will include around that transmission the information that the episode was filmed before the change in law on same sex marriages in England and Wales."

There was no such announcement last Sunday. It seems the BBC children's department is now content to, in effect, tell audiences that gay couples are not entitled to get married.

Tomorrow marks 102 years since the birth of mathematician, WWII codebreaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing. Dr Turing was also an early advocate for the rights of 'homosexuals'.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Banff World Media Festival begins in Canada in just a few hours. One regular attendee from Britain is the BBC's Director of Children's - Joe Godwin. Very few other BBC staff go, though it is by no means clear from his expenses records whether his attendance is actually on behalf of the UK television licence-payer or for some other reason.

Mr Godwin has an important position within the BBC, and few, if any, people in the children's department are prepared to question his authority. Such unbridled power is not necessarily a good thing.

Take, for instance, the issue of diversity.

Most are in favour of treating people of different races as equals. Few programmes shown on the BBC's children's channels ignore the need to represent the racial diversity of this country. But, as we saw in yesterday's blog, things are quite different when it comes to fair treatment of LGBT people. A whole children's programme about the life and work of Alan Turing - and not even a suggestion that he was gay.

Who was responsible for that omission, and was it justified?

Newsround Blog is clear that telling the whole truth about Alan Turing would help thousands of kids who are subjected to homophobic bullying or who are just finding difficulty coming to terms with their sexuality. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was one of the guests on Dateline London yesterday morning (BBC News channel.) Ms Alibhai-Brown had received an email from one such schoolchild.

One of the problems with the BBC children's department is that once you start asking anyone about LGBT diversity it's not long before you hit the buffers. Staff seem scared to show support for LGBT equality. That's why, perhaps, I haven't heard back from Helen Bullough, and why Sarah Muller, Head of CBBC Drama Development and Acquisitions, and Cheryl Taylor, Controller of CBBC, are reluctant to answer my questions. In fact I'm aware that the former Controller of CBBC - now Controller of BBC Daytime - Damian Kavanagh, had been given specific instructions not to answer my enquiries.

According to their website, this year is the 35th Anniversary of the Banff World Media Festival. Joe Godwin is on the Advisory Board for "Kids and Animation" as is Agnes Augustin, CEO of the Shaw Rocket Fund, which as we've seen has little or no interest in supporting LGBT equality. At the time of writing, Joe Godwin's bio on the website states that "As Director of BBC Children's, Joe Godwin is responsible for all of the BBC's services for children on BBC One and BBC Two as well as the dedicated CBBC and CBeebies channels and websites. .." Joe should now advise the Banff people that there aren't any children's services on BBC One and BBC Two.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Commemorations of the anniversary took place in France and were widely reported, including by CBBC Newsround. Today is another anniversary - the 60th anniversary of the death of Alan Turing who, together with his colleagues at Bletchley Park, was responsible for the wartime codebreaking work without which more allied troops would have lost their lives.

So what has CBBC Newsround done to honour the work of Turing? The answer is absolutely nothing. Even the 30th anniversary of Tetris has received more coverage. Turing's centenary in 2012 passed without his name being mentioned.

But in March this year Alan Turing was the subject of one episode of a CBBC series about the lives and work of various scientific geniuses. Only, in the case of the programme about Alan Turing, it seems that someone thought kids should not be told that Turing was gay.

Absolute Genius with Dick and Dom - series 2 episode 8 - Alan Turing

Over the last few months Newsround Blog has been investigating why the fact of Alan Turing's sexual orientation was censored. After all it's no secret that black people suffered discrimination and prejudice, so why shouldn't CBBC have mentioned anything about the kind of injustice Alan Turing had to endure?

A good starting point, you might think, would be to ask the series executive producer, Daniel Clarke. Mr Clarke now works with Ian Katz as an assistant editor on BBC2's Newsnight. I emailed Daniel on 17th March 2014 -
As you may already be aware, Alan Turing's sexuality played a significant part in his life, from the inspiration of Christopher Morcom during his teenage years through to the persecution he suffered after the war.

Please could you let me know why last week's edition of Absolute Genius with Dick and Dom, omitted to even mention that Turing was gay? Thanks.

I didn't hear back from Mr Clarke directly, but I did instead get a reply from the Head of CBBC Productions in Salford, Helen Bullough.

I emailed Mr Clarke again on 3rd April 2014 -

I have now heard back from CBBC in respect of the Absolute Genius with Dick and Dom episode which featured Alan Turing. I'm sorry that you did not feel able to respond in person, but assure you that I do understand the difficulties.

The gist of Ms Bullough's reply was that Alan Turing's sexuality wasn't relevant to the story they were telling about coding and computing.

My detailed response on 7th April ended with these points -

.... in relation to the programme about Alan Turing, you say Turing's sexuality wasn't relevant to the particular story you were telling about coding and computing. Surely it was no less significant to the life and work of Turing than was, for example, Henry Fox Talbot's sexuality, implicitly mentioned in last week's episode? But anyway don't you feel that children might perhaps have benefited from the knowledge that one of Britain's great geniuses and heroes was gay?

Ms Bullough has so far declined to answer the questions despite a further request to do so on 30th April 2014.