Monday, December 29, 2008

The disquiet over the closure of CBBC and Newsround message boards continues:

Message 409 - from timelordjedi

The thing I can't understand is that there was no reason to change the boards.

They were perfectly fine as they were, and as far as I'm aware CBBC is making no money out of doing this. 99% of feedback has been negative (not an exaggeration either) and member numbers have crashed since the sound off, tv/film, music, book and animal boards have disappeared.

So, CBBC, what was your motive for doing this?

Message 413 - from [PhamtonFreja]*He Doesn't Know Why*

What is the point of this thread anyway? Your not exactly taking in our thoughts, are you? Just sitting there, defending yourself. You are not listening. Is it hard to see? We don't actualy like these boards.
Your closing down every single MB on CBBC.
The whole of NR, CBBC's Books, Your Life, Bullying. Just close the whole boards down, like Fantasic Brad suggested, replace them with your favouites. Don't bother with us. We are just the kids who use this board. You didn't even ask us last time. There were 2 days warning. 2 days.
Some children have problems. Trouble making friends, bullies, disabilatys. But on CBBC and NR, everyone repected them, everyone had friends, Nobody cared if they were ugly, or had difficulties, nobody minded, because they were friends. But not anymore.
I'm going to write to Ask Aarron. He answers your questions, doesn't he? I'll tell him how much I don't like these new boards. That I'm losing friends. Because, offline, I get bullied, I get hurt, but I could go to the boards and have fun. Not anymore. Now CBBC are the bullies.
Anyone with me?

Yes I am. I think the BBC has lost the plot. It's supposed to be a public service broadcaster, but it seems to be abandoning any pretence of being a national force for good.

In its Statements of Programme Policy the BBC says that it's an open and transparent organisation which is trusted by the public it serves, seeks to engage its audiences in dialogue, to learn from them and to respond honestly to what they have to say.

So I'll be contacting Newsround in a few days to ask if they would investigate why the message boards have closed. Maybe they could ask Richard Deverell to explain his reasons for the changes. And he could be asked if, in view of all the complaints, the decision might be reversed.


Happy New Year

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shortly after my blog yesterday I noticed that the Your Life board is also to close on Monday 'as part of improvements' to the CBBC site and message boards.

The Your Life board is more well used than the Bullying board, and the announcement of its closure is not going down well, as can be seen from these three example posts:

Message 5 from Toast ~ *Hold your colour* ~

Im sick of these so called "improvements". You are pracitically just closing the whole message boards down

Message 9 from [°*Lioness*°] .. ThePhantomHunter | SilenceUnderFoot..

You can't close the Your Life board!
I've looked at the Ask Aaron board and its like the watch board, you can't post your own threads!
With just this thread to start with : not everybodys questions can be awnsered! :[

We need somewere to say exactly what we have to say and get exactly what we had to say awnsered!
Even though I haven't ever started a thread on here, (not that I recall anyway) I've seen how much this board helps some people!

Right, thats my side of it anyway, feel free to say whats on your mind as well!

First Newsround now this...

Message 15 from *Öpál~[M梨hïëf MªÑägêð]*

OMG wth! *fumes* Sarah's got it right! A bet in a few weeks time there will be no more boards left! They're all dropping like flies!


These messageboards should get a new name. Something like, the children's messageboards controlled by adults who think they know best but really don't have a clue and btw don't bother coming on here because all your threads will be closed and favourite boards be deleted so yeah kthxbaii. x

It seems the BBC is making things worse for kids because of these changes. Certainly that's what their feedback is saying loud and clear.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

CBBC Bullying message board closure

I notice that CBBC announced last night that their Bullying message board, mentioned in my blog on 12 December 2008, is to close on Monday 'as part of improvements' to the site (screen image). The reasoning is opaque at present, especially in the light of the BBC Director of Vision, Jana Bennett's words last year, shortly before a substantial amount of growing up advice was removed from the website (see blog on 28 August 2007). Some other message boards closed down a few days ago and caused dismay. For example, this message from sockscat (message 23):

I really don't like it to be honest. All the boards me and my pal Ultracutecat used to always go on are away, in fact the only one that is the same is In the news which we never went on! I am speaking for two because it was cutie (which is Ultracutecat's nickname by the way) that mentioned it too me in the first place. The reason I joined the boards when I became a member was because there was so many boards and now there is only five! Plz mods or Cbbc change it plz im begging! The biggest loss to me is the Creative writing board,animal and the sound off!

is just one message out of about 350 so far, most of which are unhappy with the changes.

On the positive side the BBC has begun a new Ask Aaron message board. As the BBC puts it: there is a brand new Ask Aaron board for the time being. (my italics) This Ask Aaron board says it's 'the place to Ask Aaron about anything and everything that's happening in your life!'

As I've said, there is strong statistical evidence that the Bullying message board, which is now closing down, discriminated against LGBT kids. So I'll continue to keep my eye on the BBC - not just on the new message board - to see whether folks are being treated fairly by the Corporation. Three years ago, on 21 December 2005, Newsround's failure to report the introduction of civil partnerships proved to be the last straw, as far as I was concerned, and led to the start of Newsround Blog.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The first series of Election ended yesterday with Quincy as the worthy winner. Both speakers in the final debate were self-assured, but I suspect that a lot of the voters weren't best pleased at being asked by Hazel to stand up as an attempt to draw them into her campaign. And if Hazel wants to stand as a real Member of Parliament she might try to avoid putting down different groups in society; I don't think older people will be happy to hear her idea to change the image of smoking: Put it into children's heads that it's totally uncool to smoke. And it's like an old person's habit, so it's totally uncool and like repulsive. And if that image is everywhere then hopefully it will stop children [smoking]

Like I said when this series began, it is rather like The Apprentice for kids, and I think it is a step in the right direction. But those taking part really need to be given more freedom to express themselves. This first series was not very empowering, with most aspects kept under tight control by adults.
Closing item on last Friday's Newsround at 5pm:

Sonali: Finally try and make sure that you look out of your bedroom window this evening because things could look a bit brighter than usual. If it's not too cloudy we should be able to see the biggest and brightest full moon for 15 years. You might already know that the moon goes right round the earth every month, but not in a perfect circle. So tonight it's going to be closer to us than it has been in years. Look at the difference. Scientists say it's going to look like the one on the right - 14% bigger and 30% brighter. It's called the old devil moon.

Moon apogee & perigee (2004)
I've been unable to find references to this phenomenon being called the 'old devil moon' as Sonali called it, although terms used are the 'moon before Yule' and the 'long night moon.' I came across 'Old Devil Moon' as a song title, but does anyone have a citation for its use in the above context?

Friday, December 12, 2008

I've heard back from Newsround about why the programme didn't cover Anti-bullying week (see blogs on 6 December & 23 November 2008):-

Newsround reports on bullying issues and related news stories when they arise and when they merit it. Bullying is important to Newsround's audience, but as with many other topics programme makers don't always feel obliged to cover a subject just because it has a special week attached to it. After due consideration the Newsround team decided not to focus on anti-bullying week this year. But the programme will always report on how bullying affects viewers when the right stories come up.

Another bullying related issue which I've raised with the BBC's Director of Vision is that of CBBC's Bullying message board (see blog 29 July 2008 & 16 September 2008). The problem discussed in those blogs continues.

After an outage last week several other BBC children's message boards were closed down this week.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Human Rights Day

Today is a special day for human rights, as it's the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An example of how much things have improved for minorities could be seen from watching Blue Peter yesterday.

Helen Skelton said how much she enjoyed dancing as a child, and how she used to take part in all the shows in her local area. But one type she hadn't done before was wheelchair dancing. We saw Helen and 16 year old James Ireland practicing dance moves in England, before taking part and winning first prize at a top competition in Malta. The Malta Independent Online reported that the event, filmed by a BBC television crew, would give wheelchair dancing and Malta worldwide publicity.

Unfortunately Malta as well as many other countries have been less positive when it comes to recognition of LGBT rights.

A watershed for gay rights

Saturday, December 06, 2008

BBC children's TV has become quite predictable, especially in the area of diversity and inclusiveness. So I wasn't surprised when Newsround failed to cover this year's Anti-bullying week (see blog 23 November 2008). I'm hoping Newsround will get back to me and explain their reasoning, although to be honest it's looking very like BBC children's TV producers instinctively know they mustn't allow kids to be made aware of LGBT people.

This was also apparent on Thursday's edition of Election with Peter Tatchell as the guest mentor. Why the cynicism? Let's take a closer look at last Thursday's programme.

Shortly after the start we saw Angellica and the four surviving contestants, Hazel, Izzie, Jac and Quincy chatting in a London cafe. Someone dressed in a full body chicken outfit came along the street and held up a notice to the cafe window. It read "Chickens have rights too!!!" Next we saw the 'chicken' come in the cafe and hand out leaflets whilst calling out "chickens have rights."

So, no problem with covering issues to do with animal rights - and a good thing too. Angellica told the kids that their next task would be about the art of publicity stunts. Could they get strangers on the street to change their habits?

Angellica: And to help them is human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. He's no chicken when it comes to campaigning, and has stuck his neck on the line in over 3000 demonstrations.

That was Angellica's 11 second introduction to Peter Tatchell, during which we were shown stills from three campaigns in which Peter had participated - a demonstration for women's rights in Iraq, a campaign against Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, and one in favour of making the UK a republic. Not a single mention of the issue on which Peter has been outspoken for more than a quarter of a century - LGBT rights. But it's exactly what I expected. Radio Times and the electronic programme guide referred to him as "Green Party campaigner Peter Tatchell."

The irony of Election's 'chicken' wouldn't be lost on people in California.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Safeguarding Trust (continued)

Sir Michael Lyons was appointed to chair the BBC Trust in spring 2007. Sir Michael explained his understanding of the Trust's role to Andrew Marr: "Its first and foremost responsibility is to speak for the public for those people who pay their licence fee, and not to immediately defend actions taken by the BBC staff." (see blog 29 April 2007)

So Sir Michael didn't think his first duty is to immediately defend BBC staff. But that's not the impression he gave when giving evidence to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 18 November 2008.

The BBC's Royal Charter makes it clear that the Trust and the Executive are to act independently, but despite this there's been no real difference between their positions on the Ross/Brand incident. During his evidence to the Committee Mark Thompson often seemed lost for words, and on more than one occasion Sir Michael Lyons butted in, including this telling exchange about 20 minutes into the Committee hearing:

Q99 Mr Evans: Don't you think they were both guilty, Mark, of gross misconduct, Ross and Brand?

Mr Thompson: Well I don't think I want to go any further than the public statements we've already made about all of the parties. I made it very clear that I thought that the behaviour of the on-air broadcasters was unacceptable in this case.

Q100 Mr Evans: You wouldn't go as far as gross misconduct, for what they did?

Mr Thompson: (hesitatingly) I've said that I believe that what was broadcast was utterly unacceptable, and I believe that the broadcasters Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, as we've said already, as I've said and I've made it very clear to Jonathan Ross, who I've spoken to personally about this, this was completely, completely untoward and unacceptable behaviour.

Q101 Mr Evans: If this had happened in any other walk of life they would've been sacked immediately. Why didn't you sack them, Mark? Show real leadership?

Sir Michael Lyons: Mr Evans, can I help you because we do want to be as helpful as possible, but I did say in my preface to this that we were not here to disclose information which had not yet been fully considered by the Trust and which will all be made public later. But let me just help you a little bit on this issue by reflecting one of the issues which the Trust has already received some information on, but has not yet finished its deliberations before you bandy around words like 'gross misconduct'. There can be no doubt at all that you should not expect performers to either use the language or insult people in the way they did on that programme. However, the BBC has a duty of care here in terms of allowing that material to be broadcast. The primary failing, and the failing that the Trust has focused on, primary failing, is not the antics of performers, it's the fact that that was allowed to go out over the airwaves. And we mustn't avoid that responsibility; that's the thing to focus on. Now, it will've been contributed to, and there are a number of things which we are seeking to explore, one of them being whether it is right to leave a young producer implanted in a company owned by one of the performers. That's one of the things the Trust is seeking to explore and we've made that exploration public. But, until we've finished this work I would just be careful about terms like 'gross misconduct' which have contractual implications.

Why was there so much reluctance to answer Nigel Evans's questions ....why were both Sir Michael and Mark Thompson doing everything possible to save Jonathan Ross from the inevitable consequence of his actions? Even going so far as to strain credulity and use the then impending Trust report on the incident as a shield. Saying that the 'primary failing is not the antics of performers' was attempting to lessen Ross's culpability, even though his egregious behaviour had been plain for all to see.

The Chairman and the Director-General acted like Tweedledum and Tweedledee in their interviews on the Ross/Brand incident, as they both attempted to transfer primary blame from Brand and Ross to backroom editorial staff and, in Thompson's case, to Radio 2's Controller. In fact there is significant disquiet about Ross within the BBC, one insider describing him as obnoxious, overpaid and unpleasant.

Earlier, on 31 October 2008, Sir Michael gave an interview to John Humphrys on Radio 4's Today programme. Although the primary focus of Humphrys' questions was on 'taste and decency,' the Trust's prevarication in dealing with Ross and Brand was also highlighted by Humphrys. Ofcom's announcement that they were to investigate the prank, a day in advance of the Trust's announcement, wasn't mentioned.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sending the right messages

A month ago Ofsted published the results of a large study of children in England. Newsround reported on 28 October. Sonali said that 150,000 ten to fifteen year-old children were questioned, and that most feel happy, healthy and safe, but that the thing which stressed them out the most was exams. There was a more extensive report about the survey on Newsround's 5pm programme. Maddy said that almost 6 out of 10 kids dread exams, and many are also worried about what happens when they leave school. Maddy went on to say that body image was the next biggest concern, and that bullying is also a concern with only 1 out of 3 kids reckoning their school is doing the right things to help stop it.

Children's minister Beverley Hughes then answered kids' questions. The last question was from Carla who was worried that magazines depict skinny people. She asked if they could put some "bigger people" in them. In reply Ms Hughes said We don't edit those magazines, so actually we can't control the content of them very finely like that. But what we can do is send the right messages and I think that you're absolutely right - we need magazines, television, all kinds of media to represent how we all are. And we're not all skinny, so I support what you're saying.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The BBC's editorial judgement has been in question recently.

Last week was Anti-bullying week. Here are the items covered between Tuesday and Friday on the main 5pm edition (for Monday's programme see blog on 18 November 2008)


1} Oil tanker hijacked by 'pirates' [1'56"]
2} Locust swarms in New South Wales Australia [0'11"]
3} Didier Drogba banned for three games [0'16"]
4} Welcome in Colchester for returning troops [0'10"]
5} Use of respect barriers on football grounds [2'14"]
6} Maradona in Scotland [1'53"]


1} John Sergeant quits Strictly Come Dancing [2'39"]
2} Home countries football news [0'13"]
3} Astronaut's toolkit floated off into space [0'11"]
4} Barack Obama plans for becoming President [1'57"]
5} Sisters with a rare heart condition (press pack report) [1'56"]


1} Christmas shopping [1'53]
2} Theo Walcott has had surgery on shoulder [0'13"]
3} Charities unite for Congo appeal [0'16"]
4} Belgium - display of ice sculptures [0'15"]
5} School in Liverpool using text keypad gadgets [1'30"]
6} Top of the Pops Christmas specials [1'55"]
7} Archive details of plans for Dr Who [0'30"]

Lastly Ore read out emails about John Sergeant


1} Warning on safe use of deodorant sprays after boy dies [1'30"]
2} Arsenal captain criticises his team [0'12"]
3} Kids in N Ireland take 11+ for last time [0'12"]
4} Harry Potter - official trailer out now [0'15"]
5} Report on acting schools with answers to viewers' questions [2'40"]
6} Party to mark opening of hotel in Dubai [1'01"]

Those are just the 5pm Newsround programmes - but during the week Newsround is broadcast for more than 2 hours in total. The theme of anti-bullying week this year was Being Different, Belonging Together. But there wasn't so much as a 10 second report on any one of Newsround's 30 programmes from Monday to Friday. So this is another case where I would like to understand the reasons for the BBC's editorial judgement.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I have written to Sir Michael Lyons today:-

Safeguarding Trust

I was perplexed to hear your apparent dismay today regarding management failings at the BBC over the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand incident. The fact is that Jonathan Ross wasn't sacked for gross misconduct, and you yourself seemed against the notion in your recent evidence to a Parliamentary committee. Surely people at all levels should be prepared to take responsibility, and until this is the case we can expect little real improvement?

Unfortunately the Trust is guilty, to an extent, of hypocrisy. When I pointed out to the Director-General, in March this year with copies to yourself and to the Trust, that a very senior BBC children's TV manager had knowingly deceived the public, the Trust went on to praise BBC management in glowing terms. On 9 May 2008 it reported inter alia that:-

* BBC management and staff have been energetic about putting right the wrongs of the past

* The Trust's independent evaluation shows significant progress by the BBC in putting its house in order

and the Trust reached a conclusion that "Overall, and on behalf of licence fee payers whose interest and investment in the BBC we have a duty to represent – we are satisfied that the public can be justified in maintaining its confidence in its BBC."

As far as I am aware the person concerned is still in post and has not been censured for the deception, which occurred after the BBC Safeguarding Trust training course.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Newsround at 5pm yesterday covered the following stories:

1} Fires in California [1'53"]
2} Steven Gerrard [0'14"]
3} Whale shark has been filmed doing a poo [0'15"]
4} What should happen to kids who break the law? [2'26"]
5} 4,345,027 dominoes world record [1'10"]

Finally Ore asked viewers for their experiences of acting agencies.

As mentioned previously (22 October 2008) I was waiting to hear from Mark Thompson about the demographers who say that religious belief is making a comeback. Last Wednesday someone from BBC Complaints replied on his behalf and said that, as the head of an organisation with overall editorial responsibility for hundreds of hours of output across BBC channels every week, Mr Thompson is not always able to personally respond to all correspondence addressed to him. Mr Thompson's speech, I was told, was supported by a range of sources, principally the World Christian Database.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Being Different, Belonging Together

Last week Sonali went to a British school to interview black kids about their reaction to Barack Obama's victory in America. Newsround, however never took up my suggestion (blog 28 October 2008) of Prop-8 Packers, so we didn't get a chance to find out what Californian kids thought about the change to the state's constitution which removes gay people's right to marry.

If I was living there I think I would be pretty annoyed that it's even possible to put people's human rights to the ballot, and to have them removed by a majority vote of the electorate. I imagine that being a gay kid and hearing your parents say they supported Prop 8 would have caused quite a lot of hurt.

Here in Britain newspapers report that some parents have slammed a play that tells 11 year olds it's ok to be gay. No parents are named in the article, but I think that what I said about gay kids in California will still be true. Prejudice is wrong and hurts people.

Anti-bullying week starts on Monday and the theme this year is Being Different, Belonging Together. This year that message takes on a special significance. It's not just skin colour - differences aren't always so obvious, and prejudice is sometimes more than just skin deep.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

On 11 October 2008 BBC Switch's Revealed investigated the spate of suicides in Bridgend. A day later Sunday Life on BBC 1 looked at the suicide of Shaun Dykes and the behaviour of onlookers. The director of Derby City Mission, Alasdair Kay, said in an interview on the programme that we've lost the moral absolutes of right and wrong. The Bible, he said, gives us a moral framework - a way to live.

Suicide is often associated with depression but there is another factor which is rarely considered by the media and this was the case with both Revealed and Sunday Life. The same was also true when Michael Portillo tried to find out why a school friend, Gary Findon, might have taken his own life. Michael's documentary, Death of a School Friend went out on BBC2 on Friday evening, but can be seen until next Friday.

Michael Portillo: When I was 15, a friend of mine killed himself. Coming into school one Monday to find that he was dead - and by his own hand - left us all utterly bewildered. Gary and I had just done our exams together. He was incredibly bright and he knew he'd done well. It was summer 1969, a couple of days before his 16th birthday. His classmates felt both shock and guilt; none of us could understand why he'd done it. Nearly 40 years later we still can't.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson has been in the news recently when he 'joked' about murdering prostitutes.

Look back at my blog on 26 October 2008. I was suggesting that Mark Thompson bears a heavy degree of responsibility for the BBC's yobbish culture. I even quoted an answer he gave in the Daily Telegraph: ".. we have some of the most politically incorrect voices in Britain on the air every week – and I’m glad we do. And Jeremy Clarkson will come round looking for you if you disagree!"

I went on to quote from an article by Mr Thompson for the Mail on Sunday which appeared on 29 October 2006, but it's worth repeating the last part of my extract: I've never met a BBC boss who wants to ban Top Gear. And if I ever do, I'll show them the door. As a viewer, I'm not sure I can face life without it.

So if the controller of BBC 2 wished to ditch Top Gear, Mark Thompson would show them the door as he puts it. Doesn't his comment confirm not only that Mr Thompson is ultimately responsible for the content of BBC channels, but also he knows it perfectly well.

Thompson was therefore doubly disingenuous when, addressing the issue of Lesley Douglas's resignation, he told Channel 4 News: Lesley said in her letter of resignation to me - I've been a channel controller myself - the controller of Radio 2 has got ultimate responsibility for the content of that radio station.

What Lesley Douglas did in fact say was: The events of the last two weeks happened on my watch. I believe it is right that I take responsibility for what has happened. There was no mention of "ultimate responsibility" as you can see from the published exchange of letters.

And again last Sunday Thompson told Andrew Marr ... in a sense any television programme or radio programme is a team effort and the on-air members of the team have some responsibilities but not total responsibilities, the fundamental editorial responsibility lies with the producer, ultimately the with the controller of the station or the channel ...

Regarding Mr Thompson's lecture to Theos (see blog 22 October 2008), I'm still waiting for a reply to my question on the demographics in support of his claims. I sent him a reminder yesterday.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why has Ellie gone?

Ellie was Newsround's main presenter before taking maternity leave.

I've seen her recently on the BBC News channel, but the last time we saw Ellie present Newsround was on 21 February, although she did appear with her new baby on 30 May to send good wishes to Lizo, who was leaving to become the BBC's entertainment correspondent.

But why hasn't Ellie returned to Newsround, as we were told? And what about Lizo, Laura and Jake? It seems that the BBC needs to increase the salaries of Newsround's team otherwise they won't be staying on the programme very long.

See All about Ellie, which includes a video of her first day presenting Newsround, and a video with her and Laura talking to former CBBC presenter Andrew Hayden-Smith.

Friday, October 31, 2008


What is the role of the costly but largely ineffectual 'sovereign body' which is known as the BBC Trust? Even the Trust's chairman had a little difficulty explaining the minutiae of BBC governance to a House of Lords communications committee... e.g. this extract - Q319 Committee chairman: Therefore, at the heart of this, you are again saying you are not a regulator, yet you are saying you are a regulator? Sir Michael Lyons: No

Who has ultimate editorial control over Radio 2? Answer: obviously the editor-in-chief, not the controller of Radio 2 as some would have people believe. Next question - Why did Russell Brand resign, and not Jonathan Ross? Answer: Because he had the good grace, whereas Ross is venal and has no shame. Question - Why did Lesley Douglas resign? Answer: Because she is a decent honourable person, who didn't think her subordinates should take the blame for broadcasting those prank messages.

On 22 February 2008 Ross told his audience that he had won an award from Lavender News which, according to Mr Ross, is a paper that campaigns for gay rights. Ross said "Apparently I'm the celeb who's been nicest to gays this year and I am proud to receive this award, but it made me think have they never seen this show?" He then showed a series of video clips of introductions to his house band, in which he was seen making vulgar jokes about gay men. After that, Ross quipped "It's only when I found that Jim Davidson came second that it all made sense to me."

So it seems that Jonathan Ross himself shared my reservations on his gay-friendly credentials. In my blog on 11 October 2007 I suggested that if there are to be BBC job losses then the overpaid Jonathan Ross should go, along with his hopeless house band. But only one week later Mark Thompson defended Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, explaining how cheap it is in terms of cost per viewer-hour. He said: And in the end, you ask the public do you want quality or not from the BBC, they will always say yes.

Almost exactly a year ago Sir Michael Lyons criticised the salaries paid to Jonathan Ross and other 'top talent'. But he changed his mind after a licence fee funded report concluded that the stars weren't overpaid after all. The BBC Trust Chairman subsequently explained why Jonathan Ross is worth the money. I bet Sir Michael wishes he'd kept to his original beliefs and not bothered to commission the worthless report.

Russell Brand has been correct to resign over his mistake. Nothing in his BBC employ became him like the leaving it. Both he and Lesley Douglas, controller of Radio 2, leave with grace, dignity and respect.

Some concern was expressed on Wednesday's Newsnight that there is a danger the BBC will lose touch with the next generation of licence fee payers by giving in to public anger. Emily Maitlis questioned what signal Brand's departure sends out to younger viewers that "the BBC is so desperate to attract?" The truth, as this blog has consistently pointed out, is that the BBC has not only spurned teenage viewers, it has also actively discriminated against them.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

BBC standards

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand have made the headlines over the last few days, though not on Newsround. But lots at the BBC goes unremarked.

During the period when there were only a few complaints about Jonathan Ross's and Russell Brand's prank calls to Andrew Sachs the BBC was giving the presenters their backing, saying they hadn't received a complaint from Mr Sachs. But as the Daily Mail's campaign against the BBC chimed with the British public, complaints began to roll in. Eventually Mark Thompson decided he had to do something, and has returned from his holiday.

Thompson's tardiness indicates that he completely failed to appreciate the egregious nature of what Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand had done. The BBC's mindset is against the concept of political correctness (see blog on Sunday 26 October)

But what about offensive jokes aimed at gay people. Here the Daily Mail has a different agenda. Such non-pc jokes are okay, as anyone who doesn't like them is part of the politically correct brigade of which the Daily Mail so disapproves.

It will be news to some, but it seems that last week, Alexander Armstrong, a comedian on BBC One's Have I Got News For You joked about Iran's failure to confirm it had made a world record longest sandwich. He continued: On the plus side they do still hold the record for hanging homosexuals. There were a few audience groans, but no doubt that 'joke' meets BBC standards of decency, and the Daily Mail also has no concerns.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Prop 8 debate

At the moment loads of news in Britain is about the economy, but the US presidential election is also getting a fair amount of coverage. Newsround came up with the idea of Pres Packers - kids who send in their webcam diaries about what they feel on the presidential race. The kids are all from the town of Culpeper in the state of Virginia.

One story which hasn't had much coverage here in the UK is the battle for equal rights in California. Earlier this year that state's supreme court ruled that the respect and dignity of marriage is a basic human right which cannot be withheld from same-sex couples.

Religious groups are campaigning to change the state constitution so that only marriages between a man and a woman are recognised. A simple majority of those voting would be enough to pass Proposition 8 which amends California's constitution. The vote is on 4 November 2008, the same day as the election for US President.

The latest opinion polls show that, unlike the Presidential election, the outcome is finely balanced. So what I'd like to see Newsround report is how Californian kids are reacting to the campaign. What do kids in Californian schools think? How about a few Prop-8 Packers reporting for Newsround?

This is a golden opportunity to acquaint Newsround viewers with the debate, and it might go some way to make up for the dearth of coverage of LGBT issues on BBC children's TV.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The yobbish culture at the heart of the BBC

I've not yet received a reply, or even an acknowledgement, to the questions I put to Mark Thompson regarding the source of his claims about religion and atheism (see blog 22 October 2008)

Apart from promoting religion, Mr Thompson has also been outspoken in his support for non-pc presenters such as Jeremy Clarkson and Jonathan Ross. He told Andrew Marr on BBC Sunday AM in 2007: "..I also want to say that when people talk about political correctness, I mean many of the most politically incorrect voices in Britain you hear and see on the BBC. From Jeremy Clarkson onwards. I mean, in other words I think the BBC is in many ways more open to different perspective and different opinions now than it was say five or ten years ago."

A year later he answered questions from Telegraph readers: ".. we have some of the most politically incorrect voices in Britain on the air every week – and I’m glad we do. And Jeremy Clarkson will come round looking for you if you disagree!"

BBC Trustee Richard Tait remarked on the launch of 'From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel': "..BBC audiences believe that impartiality should not lead to political correctness. The BBC agrees and one of our new principles makes clear that impartiality is no excuse for insipid programme-making. Providing space for controversial and passionate writers and contributors of all kinds will ensure impartiality is an antidote to political correctness."

Political Correctness has been one of Mark Thompson's bugbears for a while - his disdain for it is well known. As I put it in an email to Mr Thompson dated 13 March 2007:-

In summer last year the BBC governors defended Chris Moyles's pejorative use of "gay," and within a few days of their decision Jeremy Clarkson repeated the offence on Top Gear. A complaint against Mr Clarkson's remark was upheld in December, but following your wholehearted support to the non-PC Top Gear programme in an article you wrote for the Mail on Sunday (29 October 2006) it was not surprising that Mr Clarkson was far from contrite. Shortly thereafter Clarkson dismissed the complaint decision with contempt. He told The Sun "No one's rung me to tell me off. And it wasn't a gay car — it was actually a bit lesbian."

The article to which I referred in my email included Mr Thompson saying: ".. it's ridiculous to suggest that Top Gear somehow gets broadcast despite the BBC. It's a programme we're incredibly proud of and we know that exhilaration - and yes, risk - are part of the reason for its success. ...I've never met a BBC boss who wants to ban Top Gear. And if I ever do, I'll show them the door. As a viewer, I'm not sure I can face life without it."

This blog has little time for Jonathan Ross, whose house-gay band, Four Poofs and a Piano, is used as an easy target for Jonathan's non-pc jokes about gay people (see blog 7 July 2007). Despite widespread misgiving over Ross's remuneration, he enjoys Mark Thompson's full-hearted backing. According to Mr Thompson "the BBC has always had to go into the market for key broadcasting talent. Our licence fee payers want the very best people on the BBC...Were Jonathan to leave the BBC, you would have headlines about that fact and I think our licence fee payers would be disappointed." And in October last year, even at a time when the Director-General was seeking volunteers for redundancy, again Thompson defended Jonathan Ross.

With this well-known backing from the top level of BBC management, it's hardly surprising to hear of the loutish behaviour shown by Ross, Russell Brand and their senior producers as reported by the Mail today. Andrew Sachs was reported to be deeply upset and terribly hurt by their behaviour. Perhaps there needs to be a code of behaviour for public service broadcasting.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The top story on Newsround at 5pm today was the government plan to make PSHE education for 5-16 year olds compulsory in England. Sonali: Have you had any classes on growing up and having babies at school?

Maddy then reported about plans to change the rules in England. There are some facts said Maddy that not everyone's great at talking about, like how girls' and boys' bodies change as you get older. And things like moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend, getting married and having babies.

CBBC Agony Uncle Aaron said having a baby when you're a teenager is a lot of work, and it's not what you'd expect it to be like, so having all of the information and learning about it properly will help you make better decisions about what kind of relationships you want to have and what kind of decisions you want to make.

Maddy said some mums and dads are worried about teachers talking to kids about growing up, as they'd prefer to do it themselves, and can ask for their children to miss those lessons. Her report ended by asking what viewers thought about having body and relationship lessons at school.

The last news item was about a slip-up on South African TV when a politician's chair broke as he was speaking in an interview. Sonali: And finally in TV we like to plan ahead to try and make sure that things go wrong...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Faith, morality and the media

What is it about those in charge which makes them think they're experts on morality. Especially when they're devoutly religious. Tony Blair is convinced about the importance of religion and its role in guiding his life and work. He connived with the Americans in starting a war, while giving lectures on faith in politics.

BBC Director-General Mark Thompson is well known for his deep religious convictions, and his speech to the theology think tank Theos may have left the audience with the impression that faith and morality go together hand-in-hand.

According to Mr Thompson: "quite simply religion is back." People of faith - Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs - are, he says, all increasing in number as a proportion of the population whilst atheism is on the wane. In consequence, Mr Thompson believes the media can't avoid religion if they want to reflect the world.

If there's any truth in Thompson's suggestion that religion is growing in popularity, it didn't seem that way from a Newsround report on Sunday 28 September. Apparently churches in England Scotland and Wales are trying to get kids to attend Sunday services, but it seems most kids aren't interested. Maddy, who was presenting Newsround that day, said churches "are especially worried that Christian kids are going less than ever before." Three kids interviewed on the programme said they wanted to play football at the weekend, and were too busy to go to church.

Religion and Honesty are not always good companions despite Biblical Law forbidding falsehood. Anyway I've seen evidence which indicates a decline in religious belief, so I've written to Mark Thompson asking the sources for his claims and hope to hear back by the end of this week.

More on Mark's lecture:-

  • Preaching to the masses - Guardian comment
  • BBC boss says Islam should be treated more sensitively than Christianity - Telegraph
  • Friday, October 17, 2008

    Yesterday, the 50th anniversary of Blue Peter also saw the start of a new CBBC reality series - Election - presented by Angellica Bell. It seems like a kids version of The Apprentice but with a political twist. The idea has promise, but time will tell whether it lives up to that promise.

    Angellica began by asking the audience "If you ruled the world what would you do?" Some of the show's contestants provided suggestions e.g. dealing with knife crime - arrange that more people to have access to clean and safe drinking water - ensure every child had a bicycle - set up theatre groups and dance classes.

    Sixteen kids from around the UK were selected by audition, and in the first episode they were whittled down to ten. These will reside in the Election 'Leadership House' and take part in various tasks to decide who has the qualities needed by political leaders. Each week we will see leadership skills put to the test, and Jonathan Dimbleby will be telling one unlucky kid that their campaign is over. The series will end with the final two candidates debating in the Palace of Westminster, and the ultimate winner will have the chance to meet the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street and tell him their idea for making Britain a better place for kids.

    My tip to win is Amardeep who was seen in a Newsnight-style debate excerpt saying "children have minds, and adults have to stop taking control all of the time..," but Izzie's policy to stop young people being stereotyped and give them a chance to express their individual identity is also in keeping with this blog's ethos.

    Election is no substitute for proper coverage of youth politics such as the BYC and the UK Youth Parliament, to which the BBC gives little attention. Maybe Election is a step in the right direction, and I'll almost certainly have more to say about this series in the future.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Money crisis

    Newsround has been doing its best to keep kids informed on money issues. Last Wednesday it reported the government's bank rescue plan and Declan Curry explained what was happening. Friday's programme began with a report about the Iceland bank problems with over £1bn of UK money frozen, and on Saturday Ore reported that a hospital in Manchester treating cancer patients could lose £7½m. Monday's programme included more about the cash crisis, including interviews with kids on the changes they'd noticed. The report ended with some tips on how kids could be more careful spending their money.

    The BBC has always been value for money, but with less to go around these days it won't be only kids who need to get better value. Even Conservative leader David Cameron, referring to the plan to invest taxpayers' money in the banks, said last week that there should be "no more irresponsible behaviour, no more inappropriate dividend policies and no more indefensible bonus packages." Maybe the BBC should heed the advice about bonuses. Why were bonuses introduced in the first place? I wonder if the BBC Trust will ask management to do the right thing and abolish bonuses for good.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    EastEnders, homosexual content

    The 150-odd people who bothered to complain to the BBC about homosexual content on EastEnders could have saved wasting their time. On Tuesday the much-publicised kiss between Christian and Lee took place, and hours later the BBC added its response on their complaints website. The BBC said "We approach our portrayal of homosexual relationships in the same way as we do heterosexual relationships."

    But the truth is that the BBC has again used a gay storyline in a negative way.

    In 2003 there was the New Year's Eve "lesbian" kiss between Zoe and Kelly which turned out not to be lesbian at all. Then more recently the awful portrayal of Sonia and Naomi's relationship. Yesterday's episode of EastEnders included scenes pathetically reminiscent of the first time Christian appeared in the soap. This time Lee was the incredibly rude gay man causing all the problems. Lee, it seems, had no time for anyone similar in age to himself. Plenty of stereotyping and, as usual, the relationship has apparently (no-one can be sure in soaps) ended almost before it began.

    Homophobes should be thanking the BBC, not complaining.

    Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    Homophobia in sport

    One of Newsround's strong points is the amount of time devoted to sport and sport-related stories. Yesterday at 5pm the programme's top story was about former Plymouth Argyle footballer Luke McCormick, who was sent to prison after causing a motorway crash in which two children were killed. In the fifth news item yesterday Adam reported from Hull about how well Hull City is doing in the Premier League, making it to third place in the table.

    Newsround viewers are well informed about almost all aspects of football. On 10 January 2008 the programme considered who should take over at Newcastle. Kevin Keegan's appointment was top story six days later, as was news on 2 September that he would leave the club. On 5 September Newsround reported that fans were threatening to stay away in a protest against the club's owners.

    Other football stories covered by Newsround included Joey Barton's prison sentence for assault, an item about fans being unable to watch the England vs Croatia match because it was only broadcast live on Setanta Sports, and news of former Man United player Ben Collett's £4.3m award after a tackle in 2003 resulted in leg injuries and his early retirement.

    This morning's main item was about comments by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who thinks that it is too easy for foreigners to buy British football clubs. Ore reported Sepp as saying that buying a football club now seems as easy as buying a football shirt.

    One topic that so far hasn't been covered is the problem of homophobia in sport. Last week Sol Campbell was again the victim of abuse, and the incident was reported to Hampshire Police. With such comprehensive football coverage why wasn't the item reported by Newsround?

    Sportsfix video report - Abuse in football

    Wednesday, October 01, 2008

    Loads of kids have sent in their opinions on the new-look Newsround. To me the 'screens' mentioned in an explanation of the graphics look more like eyes attached to optic nerve stalks. So as well as presenting us with the news they're also watching out for the news.

    The Sun reports that there will be a kiss between two gay characters on Eastenders. Such a kiss goes more or less unnoticed on Hollyoaks, but this is the BBC so the writers decided to get Dot Cotton to comment that she's as liberal as anyone else but doesn't like seeing that sort of behaviour in public. The episode will be shown on 7th October 2008, which is exactly ten years since Matthew Shepard was assaulted on account of his sexual orientation.

    Monday, September 29, 2008

    Newsround makeover

    Newsround had a slight makeover this morning - a new title sequence and a spinning logo during the filmed bits. Let hope the programme changes in other ways too, especially in terms of inclusiveness and diversity.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    An iconic kids' series ended yesterday. In the morning Newsround's Ore reported that for thirty years Grange Hill had dealt with lots of important issues like drug abuse and bullying, but it was ending because "CBBC bosses say they want to make sure programmes stay in touch with what's going on in your lives."

    The final episode of Grange Hill was about an end of year school prom, and contained loads of heteronormativity but failed to consider how the school's lesbian and gay pupils would be accepted at the prom. It will be interesting to see how future CBBC programmes reflect the reality of today's diverse society.

    Newsround Blog devotees may recall that in July I discovered that CBBC's Bullying message board didn't have any messages pertaining to homophobic bullying for a whole two year period between July 2006 and July 2008. I did however find plenty of threads which mentioned other forms of bullying. For example 'ginger' turned up in 164 threads and 'fat' was in 181 threads (blog 29 July 2008). What I failed to mention at the time was that I had also checked for a number of other causes of bullying - one of which was wearing glasses. That word was found in 116 threads, and bullying because of glasses formed the last news item on Newsround's 5pm edition on BBC One yesterday.

    Friday, September 12, 2008

    The latest edition of Attitude features a number of celebrities, gay and straight, who are lending their support to Stonewall's Education for All campaign. In an interview for Pink News, Matthew Todd, the editor of Attitude explains why stamping out homophobic bullying is so important. He says:

    If you are being bullied for being overweight or because of your ethnicity then you can go to a teacher or your parents, who will hopefully condemn the bullying and try and give you some affirmation.

    If you are gay it’s often hard to tell anyone, and at worst you will hear teachers themselves being homophobic. It enrages me.

    CBBC's Bullying message board filters out all references to homophobic bullying (blog 29 July 2008), although filtering of messages with words such as 'gay' and 'lesbian' is denied by the BBC itself.

    There are a few good signs however such as Newsround's inclusion of the topic on one of its teachers' PSHE website pages, which will hopefully be followed through into reports during Anti-Bullying Week in November. This year's theme for anti-bullying week is 'Being Different, Belonging Together'.

    Monday, September 08, 2008

    BBC accused of pro-Muslim bias

    The Independent reports today that the BBC is biased towards the Muslim religion. The newspaper reported that since 2001 the BBC had made 41 faith programmes on Islam, compared with just five on Hinduism and one on Sikhism. Figures for other religions and atheism weren't revealed. "We are licence-fee payers and we want to know why this has happened," said Ashish Joshi from the Network of Sikh Organisations. The BBC denied any bias and said it was committed to representing all of Britain's faiths and communities.

    Wednesday, September 03, 2008

    A lot of people complain about having to pay the licence fee, but in general sports fans should have few quibbles, especially with the recent Olympics coverage, and the Paralympics which begin this weekend.

    Things aren't quite as good for football fans who had to rely on Reuters, AFP or newspapers like the Sun to find out that England had just won a World Cup. I didn't see anything about the England victory on the BBC or its online service, which ought to be surprising for a broadcaster which, according to its impartiality report, institutionally supports equality for women and gay people.

    Apparently sport can make you brainier, Newsround reported today. Scientists in America looked at ice hockey players and fans and found that when they listened to conversations about their sport it stimulated part of their brains resulting in language skills improvement.

    Stonewall FC

    Monday, September 01, 2008

    A year ago on 3 September 2007 CBBC had a complete makeover, but a rough idea of what it used to look like can be seen from this link to

    Before the change it was easy to navigate around the site, and kids could find helpful advice from the Your Life section. There was help on bullying, healthy eating, bereavement, overcoming depression, beating racism and lots, lots more. In fact there wasn't much help that you couldn't find on the old CBBC website. So, for example, if you were in a romantic mood and wanted find out about kissing, CBBC could help with a few tips:-

  • Only kiss people that you really like and that you're sure want to kiss you too
  • If you don't feel comfortable kissing, remember you can always say no
  • Practice first on something like the back of your hand or an orange
  • Make sure you have fresh breath
  • Wait for the right moment - don't just pounce on him/her
  • Start by holding hands
  • A lot of people like closing their eyes when they are kissing
  • Remember, kissing takes practice so never tease anybody about how they kiss
    ... as you can see from the Your Life - No Problem page from February 2007, when the BBC's policy of age discrimination against older kids was already well under way. (blog 13 December 2006)

    It's the start of the school year for many kids in Britain. They used to be able to get support and advice from CBBC, but it's all been replaced with a notice:

    "The Your Life website has now closed. If you are looking for help and advice you can follow the links below. Whilst we're scratching our heads thinking about what to do next on CBBC we'd love to hear you ideas for the website too." (screenshot)

    Why did they remove the help section first, and then scratch their heads wondering what to do next? My suggestion is to put back all the advice, because younger kids no longer have the benefits of any similar help.

    At the start of term two years ago Aaron, CBBC's agony uncle, was there to answer questions about kids' worries. Now the only support available is from Newsround. Today the programme included a press pack report from Blair, with his top tips on how to survive going up to secondary school.
  • Wednesday, August 27, 2008

    BBC Switch announces activity for Autumn 2008

    Last Thursday a press release announced some details about the BBC's multi-platform teen brand, BBC Switch. According to the announcement, BBC Switch will be returning to TV screens after the summer holidays. In effect an admission that over the summer holidays the BBC provided no TV content aimed at 12-17 year olds. And yet CBBC, which is aimed at 6-12 year olds, was screening more stuff in the holiday period than it normally does. So why are teens treated worse than younger kids?

    Monday, August 25, 2008

    From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel (continued)

    Some people watching BBC News this morning will have seen more proof that the BBC's impartiality report is untrustworthy. Just as with Newsround's George Sampson interview (blog 16 August 2008), this time it was Michael Phelps who was asked if he had a girlfriend.

    Any suggestion that the BBC institutionally supports equality for gay people looks just as incorrect as it would have done in 2003 when Andrew Hayden-Smith was asked loads of questions about girlfriends and romance, but openly lesbian Alex Parks wasn't asked any questions of that sort (see blog 30 Sept 2006).

    As expected from a less than supportive broadcaster, the IGLFA championships weren't mentioned at all on Saturday's Football Focus.

    Thursday, August 21, 2008

    A Newsround special earlier this year was all about knife crime, so it was surprising to see that the programme on Monday didn't report the launch, that afternoon, of a campaign called It doesn't have to happen. There was a football story though - Hull City's success story, with Ore reporting from the KC stadium about how well the Tigers are doing in the top flight of English football.

    Last year Newsround and Sportsround did a great job reporting the Women's World Cup from China, with Jake even providing some live reports. Now let's see how well Newsround covers the IGLFA World Championships from London, which begin this weekend, then we'll know if there's any truth at all in the impartiality report (From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel) suggestion that the BBC supports equality for gay people.

    Saturday, August 16, 2008

    From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel (continued from 29 July 2008)

    My blog on 28 March 2008 was about labels. Some people think they're a bad idea, but I thought that in some cases labels can be useful.

    Yesterday I got an email from someone at the BBC Future Media & Technology department, claiming that the Feelings 4 grls message (blog 28 March 2008) wasn't originally taken down on account of being suggestive of same sex affections.

    BBC management "have concluded that this wasn't the case." They say that the hosts needed to be reassured about the provenance of the user posting the comment. So I have asked why the hosts sought reassurance in that specific case, and am awaiting a reply.

    The BBC email yesterday said that they have also found no evidence that comments from children are filtered out for using words such as "lesbian" or "gay". However my blog on 29 July 2008 detailed evidence that messages with those words are suppressed on the Bullying message board - and I am confident that my evidence is correct. In fact on 31 July 2008 I contacted Richard Tait and suggested that the BBC impartiality report intimation of institutional support for equality for women and gay people, on page 72, is misleading. I cited CBBC's Bullying message board as a case in point. A copy of the email was included in my submission to the BBC Trust consultation on children's services.

    Instead of intimating that it's a haven for political correctness, as the BBC does in From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel, truth is that the BBC should be worried that it is a haven for heterosexism and discrimination.

    Heteronormativity is espoused unthinkingly on CBBC programmes. In a recent example Newsround put selected viewers' questions to Britain's Got Talent winner George Sampson. He was interviewed by Ore Oduba.

    Ore: George, I have to get this out in the open now, because it's a question that a lot of people wanna know.
    George: Okay
    Ore: Right I hope you don't mind, but I want to know - have you got a girlfriend?
    George: I've not.
    Ore: You heard it first from George Sampson - hasn't got a girlfriend.
    George: I've not, no.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008

    What's the BBC got against teenagers?

    It's not just that the 'teen brand' BBC Switch hasn't been seen on TV since the start of Wimbledon. Now it seems that if you're a teen you're not entitled to comment on CBBC programmes - unless, that is, you call yourself an adult.

    The BBC Trust is carrying out a consultation on children's services, and between kids' programmes they've been asking for feedback from those aged "12 and under." So if you're 13 or more, like the participants in CBBC's Serious Ocean, it looks like they don't want to hear from you. The Trust consultation ends next week.

    Kids' consultation site (referred to on CBBC)- the 'How old are you' drop-down menu allows for a maximum age of 12.

    Screen capture JPEG of above site.

    Tuesday, August 05, 2008

    This year the UK Youth Parliament debated which three main issues it would campaign about (see blog 1 May 2008). The winning campaign, about the environment, received 490 votes and is called "Your Future, Your World, Your Fight". Perhaps dropping the 3 Y's might have made the title more meaningful. Newsround didn't report the debate on 2 May 2008 in which 11 year old Chandler Burns said "... The decisions we made yesterday are the reasons we are where we are today. But even more importantly the decision we make today will determine where we are tomorrow. .."

    Newsround does regularly report on environmental issues, and today Laura explained how rubbish can be turned into fuel. It seems that the rubbish is heated to a really high temperature and the gas given off is then mixed in with bacteria which turn the gas into a fuel called bioethanol. John McNally from INEOS said that the bioethanol made by this process gives off 90% less greenhouse gas emissions than petrol. A million tonnes of rubbish can produce enough bioethanol for more than a million cars. Newsround displayed a caption which read "It's good for the environment" but is that really true?

    Laura explained that countries like Brazil already use ethanol, but it's made using plants grown in places where food could be grown instead, so lots of people think using rubbish makes more sense than using plants. Another important issue with plant ethanol, not mentioned in the Newsround report, is the harmful effect on the environment caused by destruction of rain forests to provide land for fuel production.

    Lastly, going back to bioethanol from rubbish and the claim that it gives off 90% less greenhouse gas emissions. Surely loads of energy is needed to heat the rubbish in the first place, so there could be additional greenhouse gasses given off unless the energy to heat it comes from renewable sources such as wind, wave or solar power.

    Tuesday, July 29, 2008

    From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel (continued from 9 July 2008)

    I'm still trying to clarify some points about the BBC impartiality report, but in the meantime I've been checking through two of CBBC's message boards and found out some quite interesting results.

    The Your Life message board allowed a small number of LGBT-related messages through last year (blog 23 June 2008) and in September one board user started a petition, but the thread was closed by administrators in November, since when hardly any new LGBT-related messages have been allowed through moderation.

    The situation on CBBC's Bullying message board is even worse. According to the BBC, "comments from children are not filtered out for the reason that they have used words such as 'lesbian' or 'gay'."

    So I checked back over two years on the Bullying message board. For the period between July 2006 and now there are no messages at all which specifically mention 'gay' or 'lesbian' apart from this one where 'gay' occurs in its pejorative sense. Other causes of bullying are commonly found on the board. For example, in the same period, 'ginger' was found on 164 threads and 'fat' was found on 181 threads. Those issues have been covered on Newsround's TV programme (eg my blogs on 22 August 2007 & 22 May 2008)

    Bullying related to sexual orientation is recognised as unfortunately being common in schools today, so the chance of no-one trying to use the word 'gay' or 'lesbian' for over two years on the CBBC Bullying message board is unlikely. This leads to the conclusion that the BBC has deliberately filtered out messages about homophobic bullying - definitely NOT the action of an institution which supports equality for gay people, or aspires to such support. That's why the BBC needs to explain precisely what is meant on page 72 of its report entitled From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel - Safeguarding impartiality in the 21st century.

    Friday, July 25, 2008

    The nature-versus-nurture debate was examined in a documentary last night (BBC1, 9pm) when John Barrowman tried to find out what made him gay. The programme summarised almost every theory about the cause of homosexuality. We saw John's delight when scientific tests confirmed that he was gay, and his satisfaction at the conclusion that sexual orientation is probably predetermined before birth and not willfully chosen.

    The BBC online magazine includes a piece about John Barrowman's documentary. One reader wrote this comment:

    Typical gay man, using his sexuality to boost his career. Lucky for some, my boss is female which means I can't follow suit.

    And another wrote:

    I am interested in why the BBC seems preoccupied with homosexuality or to be more precise it's promotion. Is it because according to Andrew Marr the BBC is disproportionately overrepresented by gays? And certainly in positions of influence to promote the gay agenda?

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008

    Bethanie and her friends enjoyed being treated like film stars when they arrived at their primary school prom in a pink stretch limousine (see yesterday's blog) but the same can't be said for many children living in Hull. The local economy is dominated by low wages and high unemployment. Almost half of the people in Hull live in electoral wards that are amongst the 105 most deprived wards in the country, according to Hull City Council's website.

    Newsround covered poverty problems in the award-winning programme called The Wrong Trainers, which went out in December 2006. However, as with Ofcom's discussion paper on the future of children's TV (see blog 11 February 2008), for some reason Newsround chose not to cover the joint UK children's commissioners' report(pdf) to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

    Speaking live to BBC News on the morning of 9 June 2008, Patricia Lewsley, the Northern Ireland children's commissioner said the commissioners' most striking finding across all their four jurisdictions concerned poverty in its widest sense, including poverty of opportunity for young people. She said kids living in poverty "can't ask their parents for £10 for art materials because that could mean two days without food or a day and a half without electricity."

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008

    Just over two weeks ago Sunday Life on BBC1 carried an item about school proms, and a few days before that BBC News also included an item on the topic. Not to be outdone in promoting this American cultural import, Newsround yesterday had press packer Bethanie and her friends extolling the virtues of a primary school prom. Introducing the press pack report, Adam asked "Did you celebrate the end of term in style?" and continued "Well Bethanie in Hull certainly did. Take a look at what she got up to."

    We saw Bethanie having her hair done, putting on make-up, and then showing off her dress which had been specially made for her. Bethanie and her friends arrived at the prom in a pink stretch limo and walked along a red carpet to the school hall.

    Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Last week an industrial tribunal found that Islington Council was wrong to require Lillian Ladele, a Christian registrar, to carry out civil partnership registrations. The Daily Mail hailed the ruling as a victory for common sense in our courtrooms. However Suzanne Moore, writing in the same paper was somewhat less impressed with the ruling.

    Ladele seems to regard gay partnerships as more objectionable than fornication. But even in cases where religious beliefs are entirely sincere, is it reasonable to excuse employees their duties? What if a Muslim checkout worker at Tesco's insisted on calling in a colleague every time a customer's shopping trolley included a bottle of wine or a packet of pork chops? The disruption and time wasting would cause problems for everyone, not to mention unease caused to customers.

    The employment tribunal decision was foolish, and not at all a victory for common sense, as I'm sure The Mail would be the first to say in a case of a similar victory for my hypothetical Tesco employee.

    Thursday, July 10, 2008

    The word 'Gay' was used on Newsround today as part of its Olympic coverage. Sonali reported on who we should be looking out for. First mentioned was Usain Bolt from Jamaica, who Sonali said was the fastest man on the planet. "He can run 100 metres in 9.72 seconds. No wonder his nickname is Lightning Bolt. Next to the United States of America. That's where double world champion sprinter Tyson Gay lives. The clash between him and the Lightning Bolt will definitely be one of the highlights of the Olympics. In fact, last week Gay actually beat Bolt and ran the 100 metres in the fastest time ever. But because there was so much wind behind him it didn't count as an official world record."

    The race to which Sonali referred was widely reported around the world. But it wasn't just Tyson's speed which made the news. A conservative Christian website, One News Now, disapproves of the word 'gay' and automatically converted occurrences of 'gay' into 'homosexual,' so that they reported the news as "Homosexual runs wind-aided 9.68 seconds to make Olympics."

    CBBC Newsround's ethos is similar. The programme continues to treat 'gay' as an offensive word, but Newsround uses a more 'intelligent' filter.

    Wednesday, July 09, 2008

    From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel

    It's over a year since the BBC published a report called From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel (see blogs on 18 and 19 June 2007). The report was supposed to be about safeguarding impartiality in the 21st century. The main document includes certain assumptions, such as BBC institutional support for equal rights for women and gay people.

    It is self-evident that any study of impartiality should itself be impartial. But the report was commissioned by, and significantly influenced by people working for the BBC, as is clear from the Foreword which states that the author "has been able to draw on the advice, wisdom and experience of a Steering Group, comprising three of the BBC’s most senior executives, two Governors, two Trustees, a former broadcasting regulator and four external consumers of the BBC’s output."

    That fact alone calls its worth into question. Then consider, for example, the bias of BBC news report headlines when the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 was passed last year (blog 21 March 2007).

    I've written to some of the people involved in producing the report to ask how they can justify its claims.

    Saturday, July 05, 2008

    Today there was another one of those Newsround stories about how much food people can stuff down themselves - this time it was hot dogs. The report on the 2.55pm programme lasted 1 minute 30 seconds, including the lede. Ironically, unhealthy food can't be advertised during children's programmes. So an advert for hot dogs wouldn't be allowed on the commercial channels.

    Former Newsround editor, Tim Levell, considered some of the issues surrounding eating competitions in his blog last year. Heinz (see blog 26 June 2008) was a sponsor of the hot dog eating competition, and the Heinz logo could be seen several times throughout the report. A Heinz press release last year said:

    “Heinz Ketchup and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs go hand-in-hand and represent an American food tradition that is worth celebrating, especially on the Fourth of July,” said Dave Ciesinski, VP of Heinz Ketchup. “By sponsoring the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, we’re able to reach an international audience and celebrate the love of hot dogs with people around the world.”

    The story was controversial because it publicised bad eating habits and made light of the dangers of overeating. A more appropriate news report for a British audience, and more in conformity with PSB Purposes 3 & 4 (see blog 10 April 2008), would have been the Pride event in London today. The BBC needs to prove in practice that it is committed to reflecting the diversity of the United Kingdom.

    Thursday, July 03, 2008

    Biddy Baxter

    Although some people found former editor of Blue Peter, Biddy Baxter quite charming, it seems Ms Baxter could also be disparaging to colleagues. In a TV interview with her on BBC FOUR last year, Mark Lawson said he had been discussing, on the radio, a Blue Peter presenter, Christopher Trace, who he had said was sacked by the BBC because of his moral behaviour. Biddy Baxter, however, strenuously denied that this was the case.

    Mark Lawson: .. you rang me up and you shouted at me after I said it on the radio.
    Biddy Baxter: I didn't shout, did I.
    Mark Lawson: You did. But it's erm....
    Biddy Baxter: I'm sorry.
    Mark Lawson: No, no's alright ..

    Valerie Singleton had a few things to say recently about how condescending Biddy Baxter could be. Valerie told Peter Robertson in the Daily Mail that Ms Baxter treated presenters like children; they feared their contracts might not be renewed if they caused any problems. Presenters were always being told: ‘You’d be nothing without us.’ John Noakes, however, stood up to Biddy and was quite capable of slamming the phone down in an argument.

    Ms Singleton said that one day in the Blue Peter office there was a letter lying on Biddy Baxter's desk. Biddy picked up the letter and said in front of everybody: ‘Oh, what’s this?’ She then proceeded to read it out loud, causing embarrassment because the letter was from someone who thought Ms Singleton, in real life, hadn't lived up to expectations. Valerie was shocked. The letter was obviously not relevant to Blue Peter, and was a private matter.

    Some of my earlier blogs, including one on 10 August 2007, go into some detail about the way gay presenter Michael Sundin was treated by Biddy Baxter at the BBC.

    Monday, June 30, 2008

    CBBC message boards (continued)

    A short while after my blog last Monday, the moderators allowed a post to get through from someone who fancies both genders. Is the discrimination policy about to be ditched? I'm keeping a tally of posts on hetero, LGBT and other issues, and so far the statistical evidence still points to a discriminatory policy which includes, of course, the matter of language and self-identity.

    Saturday, June 28, 2008

    The BBC has largely ignored the controversy about the Heinz Deli Mayo advert, but on Thursday the 'BBC News Magazine' published a piece by Tom Geoghegan - It started with a kiss. The article looks, amongst other things, at the history of same-sex relationships on British television.

    Tom Geoghegan's article claims that, twenty-one years after Britain's first gay kiss on primetime TV, a show of intimacy between two men clearly still has the capacity to shock television audiences. This assertion is presumably based on the 200 or so complaints received by the Advertising Standards Authority during the five days period that the ad was screened. But there are around 60 million people in Britain. So 200 out of 60 million represents about 0.000003% and within a few days of Heinz announcing that the ad had been pulled loads more people called for it to be reinstated, including some MPs.

    Yesterday leader of the Lib-Dems, Nick Clegg, wrote to the Director of UK Corporate Affairs at Heinz urging him to reconsider. Mr Clegg acknowledged that some people in Britain today are uncomfortable with same-sex relationships, but he says that "such prejudice should not be condoned" by an organisation of Heinz's size and stature. He goes on to say:-

    The sight of two men kissing affectionately should not be considered offensive or controversial. This is particularly the case in an advertisement which was so rich in irony and double-meaning.

    The decision to withdraw it has not only offended many gay, lesbian, transgender - and straight - people, it also represents a backward step in attempts to combat homophobia in Britain today, not to mention a collective loss of humour.

    Tom's e-zine article refers to a gay kiss in Byker Grove in 1994. But even before that, Grange Hill's staff included Mr Brisley, a gay teacher. He managed to overcome homophobia from the kids at the school, and eventually got accepted like the other staff. Mr Brisley left Grange Hill in 1999, and since about 2002 the programme has been unwilling to deal with LGBT issues. Byker Grove included a gay storyline in 2004/5 shortly before being axed in 2006.

    Just as Heinz was catering to the prejudice of a small number of parents when it withdrew its Mayo commercial, so the BBC caters, more so than in the past, to the prejudices of narrow-minded parents in the way it runs public service broadcasting for children.

    Thursday, June 26, 2008

    Heinz Meanz Homophobz

    Heinz said "It is our policy to listen to consumers. We recognise that some consumers raised concerns over the content of the ad and this prompted our decision to withdraw it."

    That was their first excuse for withdrawing a TV advertisement which included a kiss between two men. Heinz withdrew the ad after less than a week. Recently they've come up with other reasons, none of which actually goes as far as to say "Heinz is a homophobic company."

    A small number of bigoted consumers didn't like the advert. But most people seem to approve of it, including members of a UK parents' forum.

    So why is Heinz only listening to the bigots? Whatever happened to the company's Diversity Policy? It looks like Heinz is not a trustworthy company.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    There's been a lot of fuss about a TV ad for Heinz Deli Mayo. Apparently the advert, which included a kiss between two men, received about 200 complaints.

    Some parents, according to reports, were angry that they had been forced to explain same-sex relationships to their youngsters. They had every right to be angry ... after all isn't the BBC supposed to enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain. If the BBC had been doing its job properly, children would be informed by Newsround and other CBBC programmes. There would be no need for embarrassed parents to explain.

    Last summer BBC Director of Vision, Jana Bennett was telling everyone at Showcomotion in her keynote speech: "We help children understand themselves and their relationships in all their rich complexity and in particular, understand their world – begin to fathom their navigation of relationships, their situation, through the experience of others whom they can relate to."

    Was Jana Bennett telling the truth (see, for instance, my previous blog entry.)

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    CBBC message boards

    About a year ago it looked like the BBC was becoming more inclusive (see my blog on 26 June 2007). Messages from kids who had feelings for others of the same gender were sometimes passed through moderation and some even used words like 'lesbian' or 'gay'

    Some messages were answered by Aaron, CBBC's agony uncle:-

    But by the end of summer 2007 BBC discrimination against LGBT kids was fully back in place.

    So when this message was posted recently no-one could read what it said, but only see the BBC's reply:

    Message 365 - posted by CBBC (U11500666)
    Having feelings for your friends isn't something you should be ashamed of, it's a lot more common than you might think. But it's important to get support, so find someone who can give you that. You could talk to a family member, a friend, a teacher. If there is no one you feel you can speak to it may help to talk to Childline (0800 1111). Talking to someone who helps you feel ok about who you are is a great help, so try to speak to someone soon.

    CBBC Helper

    My guess is the original post was something to do with having feelings for a friend.

    But if having feelings for your friends isn't something you should be ashamed of, and if it's a lot more common than you might think, why did the BBC remove the original message?

    Could it be that the post was about same-sex feelings, and the BBC doesn't want to be more specific by telling kids that having same-sex (lesbian or gay) feelings is okay? In fact, doesn't this type of censorship really send out exactly the opposite message.

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Last night Newsround reported the story of Sarika Singh, a Sikh girl, who has gone to the High Court. The court will have to decide whether Sarika can wear a religious bracelet or whether the school's uniform rules must be adhered to.

    Sonali: First to a huge row that's costing loads of money and involving lots of important people - and it's all about a bangle. A 14 year-old girl in South Wales has been excluded from school for wearing a bracelet which she says is important for her religion. But the school disagrees. And today the row ended up in one of the country's highest courts. Laura's got more.

    Laura: (video showing Kara on a girl's arm) This is a Kara. It's a bangle worn by Sikh people to remind them of their religion and to prompt them to do good with their hands. Sarika says that hers is very important to her and that she wants to wear it all the time. But her school, Aberdare Girls' in South Wales says she can't. They have a uniform policy that says that no-one can wear any jewellery apart from stud earrings and a watch. They asked Sarika to remove her bangle. She refused, and so in November last year she was excluded.

    Laura: (reporting from outside the High Court) Because they can't agree amongst themselves, today Sarika and her mum and the school came here to the High Court in London to battle it out. Inside there, Sarika and her mum will be arguing that this is all totally unfair, and that it's all damaging Sarika's education. The school, though, argues that its jewellery policy is fair for everyone.

    Laura: (archive video of Shabina Begum outside court) Sarika's story is not that unusual. In the past we've reported about Muslim girls, and even a teacher who went to court because they wanted to wear veils to school. We've also reported about some Christians who've been told they can't wear special rings or crosses to class either. It's difficult because, on the whole, schools make up their own rules about uniforms, so there are bound to be disagreements. (video of Sarika arriving at court) But it's hoped that by clearing up this row in the High Court it might give everyone else a better idea of what's okay to wear to school and what's not.

    This evening Laura read out some of the feedback Newsround had received:

    Laura: ...This is about being able to wear any kind of religious jewellery or clothes to school. And there's been a pretty mixed reaction to this from you lot. First up Emily from Dorset reckons that kids should be allowed religious jewellery at school because it's not to look nice, it's to do with their religion. Rachel from The Wirral says she wears her crucifix all the time. "If you believe that it means something then you should be allowed to wear it," she says. But Matthew disagrees. He says he thinks the school is right because uniform is a school rule and shouldn't be broken. And Chloe says that no jewellery is allowed at her school at all. She says Sarika must have known the school rules before she started there, so why complain now.