Friday, November 30, 2007

Three weeks ago a national newspaper exposed another Blue Peter deception which took place in 2005. A competition winner told The Sun that two other "winners" of the competition to put questions to Jon Culshaw were actually from an agency.

The first time this year that Blue Peter was caught cheating, Richard Deverell, Head of CBBC spoke to BBC News (14 March 2007): I'm apologising unequivocally to viewers - particularly children - that this has happened. It's a clear breach of the relationship of trust with audiences. We have to ensure that all our dealings with audiences, particularly with children are open, honest and straightforward.

In response to the latest newspaper allegation, the BBC failed to apologise to Blue Peter viewers and claimed that it often used unpaid volunteers from drama groups.

Richard Deverell said: Our presenter should have made it clear that only some of the children on the show came via the website.

He explained that it was standard practice for producers to form relationships with local schools and drama groups to help pad out audiences and to help prevent other children featured on the programme from being too shy to contribute.

It's something which we'll keep on doing because we need articulate, confident children who will contribute something to our shows, Mr Deverell said.

So in future we expect Zoe or Gethin to say "Here are the six competition winners, but two of them didn't really enter the competition and are just pretending they did," or words to that effect.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Anti-bullying week on Newsround - Part 2

I've remarked once or twice before that Newsround is showing signs of becoming more diverse-friendly. Sports coverage is noticeably less concentrated on England, and there's more on the other Home Nation teams as well.

The programme is more inclusive of women's sports too. There was excellent coverage of the Women's Football World Cup from China, with Jake sent out there to provide live reports.

Newsround is also thoughtful about showing children from other countries. On Saturday we saw Presspacker Julia explain how Thanksgiving is celebrated by American families. Last Wednesday, half way through Anti-bullying week, Adam reported from a Japan about how bullying is different there, and why Japanese children find it very difficult to talk about:

Adam: Well it seems that Japanese school children are under loads of pressure. And even getting people to talk about the issue is pretty difficult. So it looks like the problem of bullying won't be solved in this country for a while yet.

Newsround's web report claims that Japanese people find it a bit rude to say the word bullying in public. This was quite an interesting report because, here in Britain, Newsround doesn't use some words on air. Any regular Newsround viewer might gain the impression that being lesbian or gay is unmentionable.

So although Newsround is more diverse-friendly than it used to be, it looks like the problems of prejudice and discrimination won't be solved for a while yet.

Coming soon: Whatever happened to 11 Million Takeover Day?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Anti-bullying week on Newsround - Part 1

Anti-bullying week was mentioned on last Monday's Newsround at 3.55pm (CBBC Channel only). A short excerpt from BeatBullying's YouTube video appears on Newsround's website. As we have come to expect from Newsround, the opportunity to oppose homophobia or homophobic language was missed.

The Newsround clip starts with Girls Aloud and Ronan Keating.

Girls Aloud This year more than 20 people will take their own lives in the UK alone because of bullying. It's not funny.

Ronan Keating: If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, well then don't post it online.

But Scott Mills denouncing "gay" as an insult, which follows Ronan Keating in the YouTube video is not included in the Newsround edit.


Only just over two months till LGBT History Month. The pre-launch event is tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

BBC test

Michael Gove, the Conservative shadow Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools was interviewed last month by Pink News. Amongst the points raised was:

As a social element rather than a sexual element, there is what is called the BBC test. When a footballer gets married, (Children's BBC news programme) Newsround can't shut up about it. When Elton John or John Barrowman from Torchwood gets 'married,' they couldn't possibly mention it because it has moved away from being a social thing to a sexual thing.

And on 7 November 2007 at Equity's first Diversity Conference, Stonewall's CEO, Ben Summerskill criticised BBC programming for failing to reflect the broad make-up of its licence fee payers. (see blog 10 November 2007)

He said: “I have always been a huge advocate of the BBC and I do think it has served historically as a cultural glue for so many people in this country. But I think it is putting the opportunity of continuing to do that in peril if it does not properly engage and portray the way Britain is in the 21st century, rather than the way a small number of people at the top of that organisation imagine it might be.” (see blog entries on 10 August 2007 & 11 October 2007)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Newsround's ethos

At the start of my blog dated 6 November 2007 I quoted a Newsround report about two red pandas kissing. And I went on to say that it was nice to see Newsround cover the story without the usual heteronormative slant. Newsround, it seemed, was becoming more diverse-friendly.

But it looks like there is still quite a way to go.

At the Order of the Phoenix DVD press launch, Newsround's Lizo asked about Ron's new girlfriend, Lavender, in the forthcoming sixth HP film. For some reason Newsround didn't cover the cast reactions to JK Rowling's comment about Dumbledore's sexuality.

In a Newsround exclusive on Tuesday, the programme revealed that Lavender would be played by Jessie Cave -

Ellie: Meet the girl who'll spend most of the next Potter film snogging Rupert Grint....

And on Newsround's website: Jessie, 20, must be the envy of lots of girls. In playing Lavender, she gets to kiss Ron Weasley (played by Rupert Grint) a LOT!

I'm told that Newsround would have no qualms about covering an LGBT-related story on TV provided the item fitted with the programme's ethos. I am still trying to work out the nature of Newsround's ethos, apart from its evident heteronormativity.

Newsround press pack reports have included kids who get picked on or bullied:
Don't call me names because I wear glasses - Sophie doesn't think it's right that you get called names if you wear glasses.

I'm bullied because of braces - Press Packer Simone has braces on her teeth. And she has been getting a hard time about it from other kids.

I am happy with the way I look - Some kids used to call Amy names because she was bigger than them. It made her feel really sad inside.

I'm proud of being ginger! - Catherine thinks it's wrong when other children call her mean names just because she's a redhead.

But would Newsround be equally OK with a Press Packer saying:

I'm bullied for being gay

In today's prejudiced society, not helped by the BBC's non-inclusiveness, a press packer intending to do a report like that would need to weigh up the potential consequences of disclosing their affections on TV. Yet the BBC has no qualms whatsoever about encouraging young kids to talk about their straight affections or relationships on CBBC programmes (blog 12 November 2007).

Why shouldn't LGBT kids be treated fairly? After all, the BBC says it must be inclusive.

Newsround should take special care to consider LGBT diversity in all editorial decisions (blogs 11 & 13 February 2006). They should report news about combatting homophobia and homophobic bullying in schools, for example the ChildLine Casenotes last year (blog 30 August 2006). I would like to think this approach would be entirely in accord with Newsround's ethos.

Next week is Anti-bullying week (19-23 November) - an opportunity to find out whether the BBC is serious about its diversity policy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Newsround report on CBBC channel, 8.29am this morning:

Sonali: A man in India has married a female dog. Really - I'm not kidding. The wedding took place at a Hindu temple in the state of Tamil Nadu. (video of wedding ceremony) In the past the groom had killed two other dogs and believes he's been cursed since then. He thinks that getting married to this dog will get rid of that curse.

(screen caption: Be a Presspacker)

Sonali: Now if you've got anything bugging you that you'd like to report on for Newsround, we want you to get in touch. Here's how.

(video featuring past presspackers and Lizo explaining how to get involved)

Monday, November 12, 2007

CBBC and sexuality

Newsround this evening yet again missed an opportunity. Lizo interviewed three members of the Harry Potter cast but failed to ask anyone what they thought about JK Rowling's comment that Dumbledore was gay. Instead the interview included Lizo asking about Ron's new girlfriend, Lavender, in the sixth HP movie.

CBBC continues to cover sexuality despite repeated denials from BBC managers. Here are three extracts from CBBC programmes last week:

'Best of Friends' shown on the CBBC channel Monday 5 November, 4.30pm :-

Friends - Joe, Matthew, Miles, Nathan, Richard
Presenters - Michael "Abs" Absalom and Rani

Rani: Let me find out a little about you, Nathan.
Nathan: Hello
Rani: (enthusiastically) Ladies' man! Tell us about it?
Nathan: Well I can be a bit, but I try not to.
Abs: How many girlfriends have you got at the moment then if you're a ladies' man?
Nathan: Just the one at the moment.
Abs: Oh, just the one.


'Best of Friends' shown on the CBBC channel Tuesday 6 November, 4.30pm :-

Friends - Amy, Becky, Natalie, Ryan, Savin
Presenters - Michael "Abs" Absalom and Rani

Abs: Let's meet today's team. Hi guys.
All: Hello
Abs: Now this is Becky. You'd like to go on a date - not just with one person, not with two people, but three people. Who?
Becky: erm Robbie Williams..
Abs: Yeah
Becky: David Beckham and Justin Timberlake.
Abs: Wow, what a date.


Abs: Ryan, apparently you fancy Becky here, don't you?
Rani: Ahhh.
Ryan: (smiles and nods in agreement)


'Prank Patrol' shown on the CBBC channel Wednesday 7 November, 5.30pm :-

Presenter - Barney Harwood

Barney: (speaking to James) Let's find out a bit more about this Henry. Then we'll talk about his prank afterwards. Here he is.
(video of Henry and James begins)
Barney: (voiceover) James and Henry have been mates since Year 6. They both share a love of football and support the same team - Manchester United. (cheering crowd on sound track) C'mon the Reds. Henry is into computers, MSN-ing and dating girls (wolf-whistle on sound track).
(video shows Henry and a girl looking fondly at each other, kissing noises on sound track)
Barney: (voiceover) James says that Henry has a different girlfriend every week (photos of girl blowing Henry a kiss) and loves to rub his face in it. I think it's time we arranged Henry a date with the Prank Patrol.
(video ends and Barney chats to James)
Barney: Well he's a bit of a Casanova isn't he? I think he needs taking down a peg or two here, James. Talk to me. What have you thought about for his prank?
James: I want to get him messy. (sound effect)
Barney: Ah, I like mess. Why?
James: Because he's so worried about his appearance because he wants to look best in front of girls (another wolf-whistle sound effect).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On 30 October 2007 I contacted the BBC to ask about diversity on BBC programmes. I said that I was particularly interested in diversity in the BBC main drama - EastEnders.

A response from the BBC's continuing drama department pointed out the BBC has led the way in boosting minority representation in drama. And they said that they aim to fully reflect the diverse make-up of the UK.

Minority percentages were provided for four BBC dramas, detailing the regular cast and the guest cast, but it was made clear that figures don't include "disability, an area where we still need to do more work." A follow-up enquiry revealed that they "do not currently monitor for lgbt on screen portrayal."

It's recently been reported that a new gay character will be introduced into EastEnders next year. It will be Ian Beale's brother-in-law.

But if the BBC really want to fully reflect the diverse make-up of the UK, there will be three or four lgbt characters on EastEnders at any one time, and we will have a chance to see some of them come out to friends and family. (blog 12 July 2006)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Here is a short item broadcast last Thursday on Newsround, 5.25pm on CBBC1

(Film of two red pandas kissing, kissing and kissing some more)
Ellie: "These bear friends just can't get enough of each other. The two red pandas have lived together in the same cage at a zoo in Tokyo for 8 years but the romance clearly isn't dead. According to keepers they're smoochier than ever. Ahh!"

Nice to see a Newsround report like this, but without the usual heteronormative slant.

I mentioned in my blog dated 1 October 2007 that Newsround has become a more diverse-friendly and less London-centric programme.

In a speech to the Royal Television Society on 1 November 2007, Head of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, argues the need for a more diverse-friendly BBC:

All of my previous work, and especially the inquiry I led into the role and funding of local government, as well as my long association with urban regeneration, has convinced me that diversity both within and between local communities is a source of strength rather than weakness – and that the UK will become stronger the more it recognises and builds on that diversity. The BBC can and should help with this. ...

I have spent much time in my first six months going around the country listening to different audiences and one of the issues constantly raised is that people want to see their lives reflected in BBC output – they want to be represented. And many people don't think the BBC does a good enough job of this. ...

Audiences are telling us that the BBC is still too London-centric – and that has to change. The BBC has to deliver value to all its licence fee payers, wherever they live. ...

For the BBC to discharge its public purposes, to realise its own potential and to respond to this big challenge I have outlined tonight, it must reach all parts of the population, whatever their age, wherever they live, whatever their ethnic background, whatever they are interested in. ...

On behalf of the Trust – and more importantly on behalf of the people who own and pay for the BBC – I have outlined some very high expectations of the BBC. I have no doubt that the BBC has the creativity, the talent and the commitment to make the changes necessary to fulfil them.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Clarity and honesty - Part 2

When, on 11 September 2007, I informed Mark Thompson about the discriminatory filtering of messages on CBBC, I was surprised to receive such a muddled explanation.

I had pointed out, amongst other things, and in case he was not aware, that Newsround has been systematically and covertly discarding feedback from 14 and 15 year-olds.

The reply I got said that the CBBC channel (including CBBC on BBC One) and all its programmes "are now aimed at children aged from 6 to 12" and, I was told, that explains why Newsround "does not normally publish comments from those aged 13 or above."

The reply doesn't hold water for two reasons:

1] CBBC has been aimed at 6-12 year-olds for several years, but 14 and 15 year-olds have only been cast aside recently - after 'Creative Future' was unveiled.

2] Newsround routinely publishes comments from those aged 13.

The DG hasn't yet attempted to explain the discrepancies. His policies, announced on 25 April 2006, seem to have resulted in an underhand attempt to drive viewers away from CBBC in preparation for the new teen 'brand' - BBC Switch.

Someone must have deliberately instigated this discriminatory policy, and Newsround Blog will try to find out who it was. But whether or not the culprit is identified, Mark Thompson, having been informed, now bears responsibility.

Often people at the BBC make very clear statements. Take this one for instance: I have never been involved in a deception of the public. Nothing equivocal about that, but just to make sure why not follow by saying It would just never have occurred to me (see blog 31 July 2007)

But without honesty the clearest statements become meaningless. And that's why the BBC has a serious problem - an ethos of dishonesty emanating from the highest levels of management.