Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It's Tackling Homophobia Week on Teachers' TV (Freeview channel 88), and one of the programmes is about gay teachers. Several teachers talk about their experiences of homophobia and how they deal with it.

David expected to find London a diverse-friendly place to work, but reality was somewhat different. His school head was hostile to the idea of challenging homophobia in anti-bullying week, and criticised him. He eventually took action against the school for discrimination, and received a full apology.

A lesbian teacher, Elly, believes that diversity should not just be tolerated, we should instead celebrate it. Her school in Hackney started celebrating LGBT History Month three years ago and has succeeded in completely turning around attitudes. Elly believes that homophobia should be tackled as early as possible.

John, the deputy head of an East London primary school is using materials suggested by the No Outsiders project to help kids understand that it's okay to be different. John said that there has been the odd negative reaction from one or two parents, but nothing like the reaction he had feared.

School Matters - Gay Teachers

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The semi-finals of Britain's Got Talent began last night on ITV, presented by Ant & Dec. After all the concern about honesty with TV audiences, it was surprising to see that they don't quite seem to have got the message yet.

You decide who goes through to the final on Saturday night, they said, but didn't make it clear to viewers that two acts would go through. So fine if you had voted for the act which got most votes - your vote would have counted.

But suppose you had voted for another act. Well what happened was that after the voting had finished the audience were told which act had won, and then the judges decided which of the two runner-up acts would also go through. This was potentially unfair because if the judges' choice was not the same as the audience second choice, then it was not true to tell the audience that YOU decide who goes through.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The latest survey (see blog 20 May 2008) of feedback to Newsround's website included data in response to the question: How do YOU feel about Sats tests. There was a great deal of feedback - 281 responses posted to the website, five of which were from school classes, leaving 276 individual replies. About 40% of the feedback on this topic is from 11 year-olds, but somewhat surprisingly, only 3.6% of responses were from children aged 14, many of whom had taken SATs only a week earlier.

It seemed with such a large amount of feedback on SATs, the overall results were unduly weighted by this topic. So I've revised the May 08 data set using every fourth response to the SATs question and plotted the resultant bar chart.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

John Noakes

Anne Robinson and The Weakest Link have been mentioned in the news today. Previously Anne has been criticised by some experts who believe that her programme promotes a bullying culture. Emma-Jane Cross from the Beatbullying charity believes that society is not adequately preventing bullying behaviour. Instead, she says, "we celebrate it on television programmes like The Apprentice and the awful Weakest Link and The F Word."

In 2002 Ms Robinson was asked by a reader of The Independent: "Do we need to tackle bullying in our schools, or encourage it as a vital skill for later life?" To which Anne replied: "Bullying is horrid, but learning to joust verbally is invaluable. Interestingly, bullies understand 'no' and 'don't dare' faster than anyone. So in schools we need to teach more practical life skills for coping with horrid people without allowing them to ruin our lives...."

Telly tyrant Anne Robinson made Blue Peter legend John Noakes weep over his beloved dog Shep, says The Sun. Noakes broke down after Ms Robinson asked him: "Where’s Shep?, What happened to Shep? Did he die or just run away?"

From Blue Peter: The Inside Story (page 142) - When Go With Noakes came to an end after five successful series, the problem of Shep had finally to be faced. The dog, like all Blue Peter animals, was owned by the BBC, and the presenter with whom the animal lived was paid an allowance for food and maintenance. The problems arose when the presenter left. In Petra's case this had been solved very happily by the next presenter, Peter Purves, taking her over. In John's case, the rapport between man and dog was so strong that it seemed unkind to part them. A meeting took place at Television Centre when Shep was offered to John, and was accepted.

Later, Biddy Baxter decided to ask John Noakes to sign an agreement that Shep must not be allowed to appear in any commercials. This upset John because he felt entitled to use Shep in this way, considering all the work he had done for the BBC.

In an interview with Mark Lawson last year Biddy Baxter said: John Noakes was probably the best ever Blue Peter presenter - he was absolutely brilliant and the audience adored him. He - this is true of all the presenters - he didn't have to stay on the programme year after year after year. He did afterwards grumble about money, but he had an agent. The agent negotiated the fee. If the fee wasn't right, why sign up to it? Why sign the contract?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bullying was in the news again today, thanks to an initiative by Beatbullying, called The Big Stand. Press Packer Azaan was bullied at primary school, where he endured insults about being fat as well as racist comments and behaviour. He told Newsround viewers:

The bullying started when I was five years old in primary school. It usually used to be a comment about how fat I am or things like that, and it would just be really bad and they would always say really mean names and push me about for it ..... There's always someone that you can tell.....that's all you need to do, just speak out and you'll be listened to.

Azaan's story was also reported by The Sun under a heading of Racist Bullying. But in The Sun he says: I was bullied in primary school because of my race, as well as my weight and my looks. As an Asian Muslim I have brown skin, and on various occasions I was called a ‘fat Paki’. Another time I was in the playground and a boy grabbed a religious chain I wore around my neck, threw it down and stamped on it. The experience left me traumatised because the bullying grew and grew until several people were involved....

Although the racist aspect of Azaan's bullying is touched upon in the press pack webpage report, racism wasn't mentioned at all on the Newsround programme itself. And just as it's a silly being "tough on crime" but not "tough on the causes of crime," the same applies to bullying.

At one time BBC children's programmes were prepared to tackle prejudice - often the cause of bullying. Now though, CBBC only appears willing to advise kids what to do after the bullying has started. Grange Hill used to face topics like racism head on. What we have now is programmes like M.I. High; fantasy with little or no relevance to real life problems and issues encountered by kids today.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Can the BBC Trust be trusted?

The BBC appeared to come clean on 9 May when they reported that £106,031 had mistakenly been withheld from charities. The BBC's press release pointed journalists to the positive aspects of reports by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ronald Neil (see blog 10 May 2008). But there are now questions about the reasons for money not being paid to the charities. These doubts arise because of the relatively small turnover of Audiocall, which is a commercial subsidiary company owned by the BBC.

It seems that the BBC Trust, whose chairman has a background in accountancy, and BBC management went so far as to remove pertinent details from PricewaterhouseCoopers' report (pdf), which those clued up could use to put two and two together and suss out a possible motive for the telephone money being withheld. The proportion of Audiocall's profit represented by the £106,031 was redacted, as was the company's turnover. Furthermore a report from the law firm Baker & McKenzie wasn't made public, ostensibly because of the possibility of disciplinary proceedings at BBC Worldwide.

The relevant telephone calls were made "outside of the window in which votes were counted in a number of shows over a two year period, ending in August 2007" (BBC press release 9 May 2008) As the Trust puts it: It was the practice of Audiocall to retain revenue that could have been due to charity from calls received outside the voting window. PwC advised that this could be perceived as improper conduct. In PricewaterhouseCoopers' findings, as released by the Trust, the BBC's redactions are marked with scissors; there are 230 lines with cuts in the redacted findings, including in the Key Findings section.

The BBC Trust published Editorial Controls & Compliance (pdf) on the same day, which has barely a harsh word to say against BBC management. Despite early signs of independence, it increasingly looks like the BBC Trust is prepared to side with management in order to minimise the fallout from cheating and deception. There is now reason to doubt the Trust's independence and impartiality.

A year ago when Sir Michael Lyons started his work as head of the Trust he said that its 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. But the Trust is now being tested on these issues, and how well it copes and achieves the right balance will be the measure of its worth. The question now is whether the Trust can be trusted.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The latest survey of feedback to Newsround indicates a marked decline in teens' responses when compared to results in March/April two years ago (see blog 13 December 2006). The current survey data was taken between 1st to 15th May 2008. 15 year-olds dropped from 13.5% to 0.5%, 14 year-olds from 17.1% to 4.4%, and 13 year-olds went down from 26.0% to 13.1%.
May 2008 survey
May 2008 survey

The percentage of responses from 14 and 15 year-old kids is slightly lower now than in the January 2008 survey.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The day after disclosures about ITV wrongdoing at the 2005 British Comedy Awards, further irregularities were reported, this time at the BBC. As Jake put it on BBC1's Newsround: "Today we found out that the BBC accidentally kept cash raised through phone calls that should have gone to charity."

£106,00 from phone voting which should have gone to charity had been retained by Audiocall. Separately, in one programme last year a large volume of calls came in when the lines were not open. The sums due to charity have now been repaid with interest, and the BBC said it "would like to apologise to viewers and to the charities for this serious error." The timing of this disclosure and apology, coming as it does in the wake of ITV's rebuke by Ofcom, may not be a coincidence. Similar perhaps to the timing of ITV's own disclosure of the 2005 Comedy Awards cheating, announced as it was the same day as Ofcom's rebuke.

The press release on Friday points to reports by Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Ronald Neil, which, the BBC says, both "praise the BBC for the tough steps it has taken in this area since last summer." The BBC goes on to refer to its "unprecedented" Safeguarding Trust course which, it says, has been completed by 19,500* staff, and its new Code of Conduct for the use of premium rate telephony. However I'm still not clear where the BBC stands when it comes down to cheating the public on free or standard rate telephony, as opposed to premium rate telephony. I mean what about the fourteen and fifteen year old kids who had their feedback to Newsround discarded just on account of their age? And what about those kids who wish to discuss LGBT issues, but have their views discarded because of pure and simple prejudice?

The BBC says "throughout our response to the discovery that some BBC programmes had fallen short of our high standards we have consistently disclosed all instances and outlined to the public the action we are taking to put things right." In fact the BBC has not acknowledged that it was at fault when it discriminated against 14 and 15 year old children.

"We do not take that trust for granted," says the BBC, "the public can be reassured that all BBC staff are working very hard indeed to be vigilant and to aspire to the highest standards in our industry."

The Director-General's office has still not answered my questions about the falsehood put out by Anne Gilchrist relating to feedback on the axing of Grange Hill.

*Note - Previously the BBC said 16,500 programmes and content staff will attend a new mandatory training programme, Safeguarding Trust.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Some people were surprised last year when ITV announced that the British Comedy Awards would not be broadcast. At the time it was reported the reason was that there were suspicions of wrongdoing at the 2005 Awards.

Newsround web report

Newsround's TV report on BBC1 at 5pm yesterday explained the situation quite well:-

Jake: So this afternoon the big news is the top telly award wrongly given to Ant & Dec. The duo were given the prize after a public vote, but it turns out TV Bosses actually faked the result. Well Sonali's been following the story for Newsround all afternoon. Sonali, what can you tell us?

Sonali: Well Jake, Ant and Dec are probably TV's most popular double act. They've won lots of awards, and in 2005 one of them was a British Comedy Award. It's voted for by the public but it turns out that Ant and Dec didn't get the most votes. Catherine Tate, who we know from Dr Who, did.

Jake: Okay, so Catherine Tate should have won the award but she didn't get her prize. What on earth happened?

Sonali: Well first of all Ant and Dec didn't know that this competition was unfair. But this is where it all gets a bit complicated. ITV bosses wanted Robbie Williams to appear at the awards show. He's friends with Ant and Dec and said he'd be happy to give them a prize. And it's thought that bosses at ITV were so keen on Robbie Williams appearing that they guaranteed that Ant and Dec would get a prize. The problem with this is the only prize they could have won was the people's choice, and in the end they didn't get the most votes. Robbie knew nothing about this, was told his mates won, and Catherine Tate went home empty-handed.

Jake: Okay well this story's just come out this afternoon, what's the reaction been since then?

Sonali: Ant and Dec say they're completely appalled by what's happened and they're now planning to send back their award. Ofcom - that's the organisation that checks up on TV companies and how they're run - they're going to investigate this. And we can't forget the people that have spent money phoning in to vote. Their votes didn't count. They're going to be pretty upset by this.

Jake: I imagine so. Sonali, thank you very much.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

In my 16 July 2007 blog entry, I referred to the Creative Future tighter audience targets for CBBC as being a foolish idea from the start, because all people develop at different rates. I said that it was misguided to further narrow the target age limits for children's television.

Now a leading academic, Professor David Hargreaves, has said pigeonholing children by age is "an extremely crude measure". He was referring to year grouping in schools, but there is a distinction to be made between schools and TV audiences. As John Dunford of The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: "..schools are dealing with teenage children who are much more conscious of their age in relation to that of their peers."

Historically BBC kids' TV seems to have been aimed at younger kids. For example 'Blue Peter - The Inside Story' (at page 11) mentions the 'entire age range' as being 'from five to twelve-year-olds,' although paradoxically Appendix 1 (at page 231) makes clear that, for audience research purposes as measured by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board owned jointly then by the BBC and ITA, children were regarded as being from age four up to fifteen years old. In the past these boundaries seem to have been regarded merely as guide age limits, since as we saw in an earlier blog entry 1980s programmes such as 'The Lowdown' and 'Newsround' weren't afraid to tackle issues relevant to older kids.

In a leading article, The Indepependent said Hargreaves has got it mostly right. The paper was commenting on the idea that the different phases of education – primary and secondary – would cease to exist as more institutions capable of delivering an all-through education from age three to 19 were created, so that the brightest pupils could be more stretched because they would be allowed to move up the system at a faster rate than less able children of the same age group.

For children's TV even more so, there needs to be a fresh approach. The present narrowly targeted programming cannot withstand scrutiny.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

All this week Newsround has covered issues which kids worry about. CBBC's agony uncle says that a certain degree of worry can be a good thing, provided we direct worries into a motivational force to get things done.

That's what young people in the UK Youth Parliament are doing. Tomorrow in the chamber of the House of Lords six topics (see blog 9 April 2008) will be whittled down to three. These three will become the Youth Parliament campaigns for 2008. The debate will be covered on a live blog starting 9.45am