Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Victory for common sense

The recent decision not to allow any religious opt-out in the Sexual Orientation regulations which form part of the Equality Act 2006 was a victory for common sense. The Catholic church had been hoping that the regulations would allow an opt-out for Catholic adoption agencies which would have permitted discrimination against gay couples.

The Church leaders were totally wrong to seek the blanket exemption. However, if a social worker really believes that a couple is unsuitable as adoptive parents for any reason, it is entirely inappropriate for the social worker to place a child in the care of that couple.

But what would happen if a Catholic social worker believed that a child would be better off being adopted by the gay couple, than the alternative of remaining in a care home? Had the religious exemption been granted, the social worker would have been forced against his or her conscience/better judgement to act against the interests of the child.

A similar dilemma exists in some African countries. Despite the spread of AIDS and the high risk of babies being born HIV+, the Pope refuses to consider birth control, a decision which causes unnecessary hardship in a region which already has more than its fair share of suffering. Any Catholic priests working there, who believe in good faith the Vatican is wrong, are not allowed to act according to their consciences.

A person can have a conscience but an institution cannot.

Religion is nothing more than a belief. Granting an exemption for a religion because it doesn't approve of gay people would be no different to allowing racists a special exemption to discriminate against people they held to be inferior. The purpose of the Equality Act is to ensure that all people are treated equally and without discrimination. Politicians have rightly decided that no institution should be exempt from the law.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

LGBT awareness

It won't be long now before the Daily Mail and like-minded newspapers have their annual tirades against LGBT history month.

What is the point, they will ask, of speculating about the sexuality of Florence Nightingale or Isaac Newton. The important thing for which they are remembered is the work they did, and not their sexual preferences. The evidence that they were homosexual is at best tendentious, and in any event, the newspapers will argue, we cannot use modern constructs like 'gay' to describe the sexuality of people living in earlier centuries.

There is at least a grain of truth to these arguments. For that reason I think that 'LGBT history month' would be more likely to gain acceptance if it is renamed to 'LGBT awareness month.'

But the overall message of this celebration is entirely justified - the message is that people throughout the ages and also today are not always solely or partly attracted to members of the opposite gender, nor do people necessarily adhere to common expectations of their assumed genders. And people have rights to express themselves as individuals - Diversity is a good thing for humanity.

The message is slow to catch on because old-fashioned people, and institutions like the BBC are slow to learn. They feel the need to explain themselves to the Daily Mail and get its approval for their policies.

Ultimately what makes LGBT history month so relevant today is that It won't be long now before the Daily Mail and like-minded newspapers have their annual tirades against LGBT history month.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Only four days to go till the start of LGBT history month.

BBC staff, of all sexualities, have for far too long been condoning and sometimes conniving in discrimination. They should have the guts to stand up and make it clear to the BBC that discrimination within the Corporation will no longer be tolerated. We don't have to put up with any feeble excuses.

Last week Desmond Tutu, a prominent figure in the anti-apartheid struggle, was speaking prior to the start of the World Social Forum. He said: To penalise somebody for their sexual orientation is the same as what used to happen to black South Africans for something about which we could do nothing.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Newsround bullying news

Big Brother made news headlines this week. Jade Goody was criticised for the way she behaved towards Shilpa, a celebrity actress from India. Last Tuesday Newsround included an interview with Louise Burfitt-Dons who explained why Jade has been dropped from her anti-bullying charity. Newsround's website asked Have you ever been picked on because you're different?, and on Wednesday Ellie said "loads of you" have replied. Laura then read out a small selection of viewers' emails and texts on the topic.

Although it seems that Newsround have slightly relaxed the age discrimination policy, the website statement which claims that they'll "try and put up as many e-mails as possible" is still untrue. Age discrimination has not been abolished, and the lgbt discrimination is as bad as it's always been.

Given that homophobic bullying is extremely common in UK schools, at least on a par with problems of racism, the chances that no one would have emailed or texted in about it are minimal. All responses like that were simply ignored or thrown in the bin. But if you look at this ChildLine page you can see that "being ignored and left out" is itself a form of bullying. So we can say with reasonable confidence that Newsround is a bully and sets a bad example to kids.

If, by any remote stretch of the imagination, Newsround didn't actually receive a single response about homophobic bullying then it's likely because children are learning that CBBC discriminates and has no time for meaningful diversity. Look at the first line of a post last month to one of the Newsround messageboards and you can see exactly what I mean:

I know this can be a sensitive subject and i'm probably not going to be allowed to post this thread here, but we were discussing this the other day so i thought i'd see what all you lot think.

The post, which was called "Gay rights" mysteriously vanished a few hours later along with replies on the thread. (blog 29 December 2006). I am still trying to get an explanation for what happened, but at the moment it looks like more anti-gay prejudice.

It's quite possible that some young people are picking up on these negative signals which they see as justifying their own homophobic attitudes.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Newsround's age discrimination policy

After this blog's exposé of Newsround's age discrimination policy last year, I'm happy to say that their website has relaxed the policy. Immediately following my blog on 16 December 2006 Newsround relented a little, and posts from 14 year olds started to trickle through. And within the last few days we even spotted a message from Andrea, a 15 year old.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Children's role models on CBBC

Apparently Newsround have an informal agreement not to cover news about Pete Doherty because they don't think he is a suitable role model for children.

But Tim Levell adds that it's not a blanket ban forever and says Newsround might even report on Pete if he gets married. Now if he was gay, and getting a civil partnership, I'm fairly sure that would be a blanket ban forever.

On Newswatch 12 January 2007, Tim Levell said that the ban on Pete Doherty applied to the whole of BBC children's tv and that "if his management got in touch with us and said Could he be a guest with us on a Saturday morning show, at the moment we would say no, because we don't think he's a good role model for children."

All this is very interesting because TMi, the current CBBC Saturday morning show has included mock fights with presenters using gratuitous violence bashing each other in the face with boxing gloves and frying pans, complete with convincing sound effects.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Super work, Antony

Antony Cotton probably wasn't as good as last year's Soapstar Superstar winner, Richard Fleeshman, but he did his best and amassed a whopping £200,000 for his chosen charity, the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

With Newsround's prejudice against lgbt people as bad as ever, regrettably it came as no surprise that their website failed to report Antony's victory. It would have been unnecessary and wrong to mention Antony's sexuality, but a gay man playing a gay soap character was too much for Newsround, and the story didn't even get a mention.

Blue Peter is currently running the Shoe Biz appeal for AIDS prevention and it's good to see so many people trying to help. Zoe Salmon's report last week on Blue Peter was very moving account of her visit to a school in Malawi where orphaned children are being cared for.

As for my doubts about another Newsround web report, I'm still waiting for a reply. (see blog on 28 December 2006)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Monday's blog dealt with the duplication of a Citizenship lesson about Human rights. We found two pages with an almost identical lesson plan. In the more recent lesson plan the short overview originally included a picture of Saddam on the gallows just prior to his execution. Now however, the picture has been replaced with one of Saddam in court. The change was carried out after my blog on Monday evening, but the displayed update time and date remain identical - Monday January 08 2007 13:06 GMT.

The picture was also published on this page where it can still be viewed.

So why was it removed from the debate page. Wouldn't a picture of the reality of an execution be much more helpful in a Human rights debate on the death penalty?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Last night the BBC's Religious Affairs Correspondent, Robert Pigott produced a very one-sided report uncritical of bigots who want the right to harass and discriminate against gay people.

Polly Toynbee had earlier written a piece for the Guardian: Homophobia, not injustice, is what really fires the faiths explaining the fallacies being put about by the anti-equality lobby.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Gay rights challenge

This evening the House of Lords voted nearly three to one in favour of upholding Northern Ireland's new sexual orientation equality laws. Some campaigners protested against the laws outside Parliament, and their protests were reported on main news programmes in Britain.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The latest addition to the Teachers' Notes section of Newsround's website is advice on how classes can use the execution of Saddam Hussein to discuss Human rights.

A short overview is followed by the "Learning aims" and then an "icebreaker" which has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein.

The reason?

The Citizenship "lesson plan" is almost identical to this one from December 2005. They couldn't even be bothered to update the Icebreaker section. Talk about money for old rope.

And on the subject of Human rights, I am trying to find out why a message thread was summarily removed from Newsround's In The News messageboard (see blog 29 December 2006).

LGBT History Month begins in just over three weeks.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Today's Newsround goss page includes this story:

Celeb Big Brother was kicking off a new series on Wednesday. The final line-up is being kept a secret but the contestants are rumoured to include Ian 'H' Watkins, who used to be in a pop band called Steps.

But there's a big story in the newspapers about Ian 'H' Watkins - he has come out publicly as gay. He told The Sun: I come from a small valley in Wales and it just wasn’t the thing to do to be gay. It’s a bit of a cliche - but I was the only gay in the village.

I've always felt a bit different, even as a very small child. At school people would tease me and call me names — 'queer' and that — and I started to question whether that was right. I can’t really pinpoint when exactly I knew I was gay.

Ideally a person coming out should never be a news story. But attitudes need to change so that lgbt people are accepted as part of the human race. Unfortunately Newsround's de facto discrimination policy has done nothing to help.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Newsround's first celeb goss news for 2007 is about Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt:

Leaving Las Vegas

Angelina Jolie and her boyfriend Brad Pitt are set to leave Los Angeles because they reckon it's too obsessed with celebrities and not a nice place to raise their kids.

When the couple announced in the autumn that they wouldn't marry until gay couples in the US can also marry, Newsround's gossip page ignored the widely reported story.

Newsround Bias blog has an eagle eye for news reporting discrimination.

Monday, January 01, 2007


For some time it has been recognised that discrimination is a bad thing. Today new laws come into force in Northern Ireland making it illegal to discriminate in the provision of services. Obviously it is unfair for the BBC to continue discriminating. For example, messageboards are expected to be fair-minded in terms of diversity and inclusiveness. TV presenters shouldn't make assumptions as to a person's sexuality. 'Agony-aunt' advice should be non-discrimanatory.

Effective policies combined with peoples vigilance should help minimise the occurrence of discrimination and provide for BBC prompt and effective corrective action should this happen.

The BBC Diversity Centre is there to check on diversity and discrimination issues, as well as employment equality issues, for the whole Corporation. It can be contacted at diversity dot centre at bbc dot co dot uk


Happy New Year