Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The treatment of gay people in Russia was very briefly mentioned by Newsround on Monday morning's TV bulletins (7.40am and 8.20am ) - the day after the Sochi Olympics closing ceremony. Nothing had been said previously.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

In one of his rare TV appearances Lord Hall, the person in day-to-day charge of the BBC said it is "an organisation which increasingly people want to feel involved in, and they should feel involved in, and we should explain ourselves." (Lord Hall - Points of View on Sunday 24th November 2013) But when push comes to shove, neither Lord Hall himself nor other BBC employees seem very happy to do that.

My previous blog as well as my blog on 10th February 2014 illustrate how the BBC has tried to avoid discussion of human rights abuses.

In this interview with IOC president Thomas Bach, BBC Sports correspondent David Bond criticises David Cameron's decision not to attend the Sochi Games - hardly exactly an impartial position for a BBC journalist to take, especially given the circumstances of which we are all aware. But then, as I've noted before in this Blog, David Bond has never really shown any significant interest in the human rights of LGBT people. In this tweet he sneers at AT&T for being one of the few sponsor companies to show support. And a couple of weeks ago he suggested, in an interview with UK Government minister Maria Miller, that Britain helping gay rights organisations "could be seen as quite incendiary."

For those who don't know, BBC Director General, Lord Hall, is a member of the Organising Committee for UK/Russia Year of Culture 2014. Could that be the reason why the BBC's coverage of the Sochi Olympics has been presented in such a positive light? Tony Hall's empathy with Russia might partly explain the bias, but there's also the TV licence fee to consider. Having forked out for the Sochi Games coverage, the BBC wouldn't want viewers to question whether it was right to participate. The answer, therefore, was to show the event in a good light and minimise the issue of human rights abuse.

There are, of course, thousands of other questions that could be asked about BBC's coverage, but why bother? The pusillanimous athletes and Britain's national broadcaster gave Putin exactly the propaganda victory he'd hoped for from the start. Perhaps Channel 4 and the Paralympians will do better?

Martin Luther King Jr, once said "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Whilst news of the brutal treatment of feminist punk group Pussy Riot was spreading quickly on Twitter yesterday afternoon, the BBC's News channel remained strangely muted on the story. There was, however, a short report on BBC One's flagship News at Six.

George Alagiah: Members of the Russian protest group Pussy Riot have been attacked by Cossack patrolmen at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The group said they were attacked with pepper spray and beaten as they tried to perform a song. Yesterday two of the group were released after being held on suspicion of theft. They have previously served prison sentences for an anti-government protest in a church in Moscow.

The report lasted 22 seconds in total, of which the last 15 seconds included footage of the incident.

Of particular interest in the way this story was handled on the News at Six is that the most brutal behaviour on the part of the authorities, including the use of horsewhips against the women, were not shown at all. Instead the BBC seemed intent on drawing attention to Pussy Riot's alleged crimes.

The BBC said nothing about this story on its main News at Ten programme last night. Most other UK broadcasters, including Sky News, ITV and Channel 4 reported the story fairly. The video on Sky News' website begins with the warning: Video contains violent images. And Jon Snow warned Channel 4 News viewers about the graphic violence.

So far none of the athletes at the Sochi Games has made a stand against the homophobia and lack of gay rights in Russia. Newsround, too, has yet to mention the issue.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Clare Balding is one of the BBC's best sports presenters.

Last summer there were calls for the Winter Olympics to be moved from Russia to another country which better upholds human rights. Clare Balding was not amongst those calling for the change of venue. In late July, amid the controversy, Ms Balding tweeted "I'll probably get arrested but yes, I'll be there - best way to enlighten them." Her reply appeared to satisfy some, but Newsround Blog was not at all convinced, believing Ms Balding to be mistaken about the likelihood of arrest. After all, why would the Russians want to squander their big propaganda opportunity by causing what would possibly have resulted in a diplomatic incident?

More recently Clare tweeted "... I’d make more at home, be safer and have an easier life. The reason I’m here is to do my job. Visibility before avoidance #pride"

What has the BBC done in terms of "visibility" to enlighten the Russians? Well the main obstacle, of course, is that Russians are quite unlikely to see BBC TV coverage. So this visibility would have to be achieved by other means, such as messages via the social media. Perhaps Clare, David Bond and other BBC employees in Sochi could tweet messages of support to Russian LGBT youth - that might just give them a glimmer of hope.

Lizzy Yarnold is chuffed to win gold on Valentine's Day

Now I stand to be corrected, but recently I don't believe we've even seen those employees mention LGBT rights and equality on Twitter - unless maybe this tweet about Channel 4 counts. And when Lizzy Yarnold said ".. It's lovely that it's Valentine's Day today ... There's lots of romance in the air .." what better opportunity could there have been for Clare to remind everyone about, and hopefully garner some words of support for, those who are no longer free to express their feelings publicly?

What makes everything worse is the extremely positive and enthusiastic reporting of the Sochi Games by CBBC Newsround. Nothing has ever been said about the cruel discrimination directed against LGBT Russians. Without fair coverage of the facts, Newsround gives its young audience the impression that Russia is an OK kind of country - in other words an unquestioned propaganda victory for Putin.

If Russia treated black people or disabled people in the same way that it treats its gay population, there's no way Newsround would have avoided telling kids the truth. Maybe homophobia in Russia is something they should interview Clare about upon her return to Britain.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

From BBC Two Olympic Coverage yesterday (Wed 12th Feb 2014 at about 4.30pm GMT)

Clare Balding: Now it's Day 5 of these Winter Olympics and touch wood, so far, everything is going pretty smoothly. But as you well know, the build-up was dominated by talk of corruption, by talk of security issues, and by talk of gay rights and the attitude of Russians to those in what President Putin calls "non-traditional relationships." He said everyone would be welcome. But he also said there is a ban in this country on homosexual propaganda and paedophilia - and he put them in the same sentence as if, somehow, they are both linked. So what do gay athletes, who are competing here, and indeed those who've come to spectate make of it all? The BBC's news correspondent, David Bond, has this -

The BBC then screened the video on this webpage.

Clare Balding: .. And Belle Brockhoff, goes on Sunday in the Snowboard Cross. We have, in fact already had two openly gay medalists - gold medalist in speed skating - that's Holland's Ireen Wüst and silver in the women's ski jumping yesterday for Daniela Iraschko-Stolz who married her partner and took her partner's surname and that's why it's double barrelled. Our sports editor, David Bond, joins me live now. You've been here for about a week, you've talked to a lot of people, you've been to a lot of places around Sochi. What is your view here of the attitude towards homosexuality?

David Bond: Well so far it's the dog that hasn't barked. Because we were led to believe there would be all sorts of protests, a great deal of controversy in the build-up, and yet I don't think we've really seen anything from any athlete, we haven't seen protests from anyone. There's a protest park about ten miles down the coast where we thought we'd see lots of action. In fact the only people that have been down there have been the Communist Party handing out a few leaflets. So far we haven't had anyone making any sort of overt political statement of any sort. Now that may change in the coming days when athletes start to finish their events and they feel that they're a bit freer to speak. But so far it just hasn't materialised.

Clare Balding: It is very rare at an Olympics for anyone to make a political protest - and in fact I think it is under the IOC rules banned on the podium or though they can make political statements in press conferences afterwards. And the '68 Mexico Olympics was a very very powerful sign on the podium from Tommie Smith and John Carlos. I think Tommie said afterwards in his autobiography - it wasn't a black power salute, it was a human rights salute that he was making.

David Bond talking to Clare Balding in Sochi on 12th Feb 2014

David Bond: Yeah, I think the fact that that is the only one we're still talking about all these years later - and of course things may change here in the coming days - I think that tells you that most athletes come here wanting to just concentrate on their performance. I mean if you look at the comments that Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, who won silver in the women's Ski Jump yesterday made, she said 'look there's no point in making any protests here because no-one in Russia is actually listening, no-one cares.' Now that might be the case but one senses there's a bit of pragmatism around now - that athletes just want to come here and they want to do well.

Clare Balding: But I quite liked Ireen Wüst's take on it. She said that President Putin came to say congratulations to her and she gave him a big cuddle and she made a point of saying two or three times 'he was happy to see me, he had to leave again, but I cuddled him.' And there she is (video clip) winning her gold medal which is in the 3000 metres Speedskating. Now it was very interesting though what Thomas Bach said his speech at the opening ceremony. He's the new president of the IOC. He seemed to deliberately use words that he knew would connect with the rest of the world - the more liberal world one might say. He used words like tolerance, he said we need to live in harmony and that he would not abide discrimination.

David Bond: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's probably the most politically loaded statement we've ever heard from an IOC president in an Opening Ceremony speech. Clearly still very carefully worded - you know the IOC have to be so diplomatic, especially when they come to countries like Russia. But nevertheless it was a very clear message to Russia and the rest of the world that discrimination won't be tolerated. The problem for the IOC president and the IOC is that they only have a very small window to apply any pressure. You know, while the games are on, Russia and Vladimir Putin will listen to the IOC. But the question is 'what happens once the Games are over, and this circus moves on.'

Clare Balding: Sport will come back here. There's gonna be a Formula One Grand Prix here in October. Obviously the Football World Cup is coming to Moscow. Whether any of those other organising bodies will apply anything like the pressure the IOC has done is a moot point.

David Bond: Well I think it's very helpful that the 2018 World Cup is coming to Russia, because clearly it will bring with it the same level of international media attention that the Olympics always brings with it. And I think that the key question is what the IOC does in future about trying to deal with this conundrum which it has. Because on the one hand it is just a sports body and says 'look we can't get involved in politics.' And yet they are a body with ethical and social values as laid down in the Olympic Charter. The problem is those worlds collide and I think these problems are going to continue coming back when they try and take the Games to places with difficult regimes.

Clare Balding: And that is a really interesting point, and I think generally speaking people are divided into two camps - either that the IOC should not choose countries in which human rights are an issue. But as we know from Beijing and obviously from here that's not the case - or whether they do pick the countries that bid and they pick the best bid, and they take the Games into those countries and try to influence through positive imagery, through sport, you know purity of sport. People will fall into two camps in terms of what they think about it. David, thank you so much for now.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Do you remember Thursday 16th May 2013? It was by and large a pretty ordinary day with nothing much happening. In the evening the same old programmes on TV, including of course Question Time. But apparently this was no ordinary Question Time - oh no! For this was the programme when, not for the first time, Philip Hammond chose to voice his opposition to "gay marriage." It turned out that this was such a monumental piece of news that his comments were endlessly being reported the following day on the BBC News channel - and even after 24 hours it was still getting coverage on BBC One's News at Ten.

Clearly BBC news bosses believe that a few words on a late night current affairs panel discussion merit hours of coverage.

However, last Wednesday evening Channel 4 screened an enormously significant investigation into the shocking treatment of gay people in Russia. You would be right to expect that information to receive at least as much coverage as Philip Hammond's negative views on marriage equality. But you'd be very mistaken, because Liz MacKean's documentary was ignored by the Corporation.

Newsround, the following morning -

Newsround on Thursday 6th February 2014 at 7.40am

Perhaps the BBC didn't fancy licence-payers asking how much of our money is being spent on the Sochi games coverage. Because you can be certain that some of that money is finding its way to help prop up the Putin regime and, in so doing, is helping to brutalise Russia's LGBT population.

Did I mention that the Philip Hammond news was broadcast on 17th May - i.e. International Day Against Homophobia?

Friday, February 07, 2014

The BBC's Sochi winter games mountain

Channel 4's Sochi winter games anthem: Gay Mountain

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The first LGBT-relevant story on Newsround this LGBT History Month was about Scotland passing marriage equality legislation. This was how it was reported by Ayshah on the 6.55pm TV bulletin this evening-

Ayshah on Newsround - 4th February 2014 at 6.55pm

Ayshah: First, in the past few minutes Scotland's parliament has voted to allow same sex couples to marry. The final vote passed by 105 votes to 18. But religious groups will be able to opt out of marrying gay couples if they don't agree with it. Same sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in July last year, with the first marriages able to take place from next month. But in Northern Ireland there are no plans to allow it.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Matt Baker and Alex Jones began The One Show last Thursday by giving viewers a few clues about who their first guest was. Apparently the guest had just celebrated her birthday, and one of her birthday presents was a somewhat dated book called "Clare in Television" by Pamela Hawken.

Alex Jones: She's everyone's favourite, and the face of the BBC's Winter Olympics coverage. You've got it, surely. It is, of course, Clare Balding.

Clare Balding: Hello.

Alex Jones: Happy Birthday!

Clare: It was my birthday yesterday. I may mention that many many times. I love my birthday. And therefore I had all my schoolmates and my university friends round for drinks last night to celebrate the very important landmark of 43. So I don't need a special birthday to have a party, I just love my birthday.

Clare Balding on The One Show - 30th January 2014

Matt: Who bought you that book, then?

Clare: Oh Zeb Soanes, who's an announcer on Radio 4. And he found it in an antique bookshop and it's a part of a series that was written in the 1950's about different careers for girls. And so it does all this introduction saying for girls looking for a different career. And this one's all about this girl, Clare, who goes to work - by chance actually - goes to work in television.

Matt: And a similar story to your's actually. When you left university, you didn't want to do this did you?

Clare: No, I didn't Matt! And now I'm so excited. I didn't really know. I wanted to be a writer actually, yeah, in that kind of dreamy way.

Alex: Similar-ish

Clare: Yes, sort of.

Matt: It's happened. You've done a few books, we know that.

Alex: Well we will be quizzing you all about the Winter Olympics very shortly.

Clare: I love a quiz. ....

Later the programme included a recorded item about coming out.

Matt: From March, gay couples in England and Wales will be able to get married, declaring their love, in public, to friends and family.

Alex: But for some people, even choosing to tell loved ones about their sexuality can be a really daunting experience.

We then saw three lesbian and gay people and their mums talk about their experiences. After that Matt and Alex chatted to Clare about what it's like for gay people today.

Clare didn't feel that acceptance is a generational thing. Alice's parents (Clare's father-law and mother-in-law) had been very supportive and accepting. Clare believed, however, that parents sometimes had a sense of shame and were embarrassed on behalf of their kids.

Clare: The great thing about not feeling shame is you have the freedom to really enjoy love as love should be enjoyed. And that is with all your friends, with all your family. You know, being able to talk about it at work - or not - if you don't want to. Because some people don't like talking about, you know, whatever relationship they're in.

Alex: And as a society, generally speaking we've come a pretty long way accepting same sex relationships when you compare it to the 1950's when people were put in jail for being gay.

Clare: Well even 10 years ago ... it was still illegal to be gay in the armed forces. And 10 years ago we still had very stringent restrictions on what teachers could say in schools. And I think there's still a hangover of that that some teachers feel that they have to hide their sexuality.

Alex: But do you think we've come far enough then, Clare?

Clare: Well equal marriage is a very exciting development. And that will come very soon, in March. And that, again, that's just affirmation of couples being able to be the same as everybody else and that is, I think, wonderful and joyful. ...

Matt: But I mean there's been real controversy, hasn't there, over recent Russian laws which are seen as being widely anti-gay? Was there ever a point when you thought to yourself "well I'm not gonna go"

Clare: Well to be honest it would be an awful lot easier to stay at home. I'm in a very lucky position, I'm not short of work at the moment. So I wouldn't have been idle. But I think it's terribly important - I believe in equality and I believe in freedom - and I therefore believe in the right for people to do the job that they do without fear of prejudice, without fear of recrimination on any basis, whether that's race, religion, gender or sexuality. So for me to go to Russia - a country that doesn't yet believe that, and hasn't got there yet, my statement is "Here am I, one of the three main presenters for the BBC on the Winter Olympics. And I am out and I am proud and I am happy and I'm doing my job." And I think that's a stronger statement to make, for me personally, than to stay here. Because frankly if I stayed here no-one in Russia's gonna notice!

Alex: No. It's a protest in itself, isn't it?

Clare: Exactly. And I think President Obama and his delegation, you know, picking very high profile 'out' gay former athletes like Billie Jean King, that's him trying to make the same sort of statement. ... Boycotts have worked effectively in some situations - but you all need to be doing it. It's not just about one individual, and certainly not about the one gay presenter not going. ....

Most of the rest of the chat turned to the games and the chances of Team GB doing well. The BBC's tagline for the Winter Olympics is Nature. Who will conquer it?

Clare Balding has a presence on Twitter, and six months ago she was asked whether shd'd be going to Russia. Clare suggested her attendance would be the best way to enlighten the Russians. Yesterday, the start of LGBT History Month, Clare confirmed her decision in a tweeted reply to Newsround Blog.

Whether or not Clare's method of protest changes the minds of Russians remains to be seen. Some programmes, such as BBC Panorama and Dispatches on Channel 4 - but regrettably not CBBC Newsround - are presenting viewers with a fuller picture of what these games are really about.