Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I'm here to talk about something that we just don't talk about. It's a difficult subject. In fact it's one of the most difficult subjects there is to talk about. However, the more you do talk about it the easier it is to accept and understand.

That was how Barney Harwood began his introduction to Gone, a Newsround special documentary dealing with bereavement. Barney told us about the fond memories he had of his grandfather who died two years ago. He went on to introduce four children, each of whom talked about their experiences when a close family member died.

The circumstances were quite different for each of the children. Some people have questioned whether it was right to ask young people to participate in such a documentary, but it was handled sensitively and may help other kids to cope with the loss of their own loved ones.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Today is the BBC School Report day, and no doubt it will be amongst the stories covered by Newsround this evening. All very well, but the BBC has come in for quite a lot of criticism recently. A couple of days ago Chris Moyles was censured by Ofcom after he lampooned Will Young earlier in the year. It's not yet clear whether the BBC will penalise him in any way.

A consultative group is being set up by the Diversity Centre to consider editorial policy and portrayal issues in relation to sexual orientation. It is due to meet in the next few weeks. Members of the BBC's lesbian and gay forum, or BBC Pride as it's now known, have been invited to participate.

I have suggested that the BBC looks urgently into why the recent spate of attacks against LGBT people have, shamefully, been given less coverage than other crimes motivated by hate. Further issues which should already have been sorted by the Diversity Centre, but which the consultative group might look at:-

1) the question of casual homophobia by presenters such as Chris Moyles, Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton and Jeremy Clarkson;

2) the renewed representation of gay people as stereotypes on programmes such as Horne and Corden;

3) the low level of realistic LGBT representation in soaps and dramas;

4) the failure to cover LGBT issues on BBC children's TV, thereby implicitly condoning homophobic attitudes in society and homophobic bullying in schools.

Following the departure of Andrea Callender, the BBC has downplayed Diversity to the extent that their press office failed to issue a press release announcing the appointment of a new Head of Diversity*. This is a break with tradition, as it's usual for the BBC to give details regarding the appointment of a new head of department rather than keeping it under wraps.

*Edit note (23 April 2009): I understand that a new head of diversity has yet to be appointed. Amanda Rice is presently acting head of diversity. Apologies for this mistake.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Next week Newsround will show Gone, a special documentary about bereavement and how it affects children. According to the BBC press release Newsround was surprised by the strength of feeling from its audience.

There has been a big rise in the number of suicidal kids contacting ChildLine over the last five years, says its head Sue Minto. Speaking today on BBC News she said "unfortunately we have very unhappy children at the moment." Her message to parents was that they shouldn't trivialise anything which seems to be important to their child because children don't always outwardly show that they are very distressed and maybe feeling suicidal. However trivial or silly kids' problems might seem, parents were advised that they should take what their children have to say seriously.

When asked what advice ChildLine counsellors give to children in these circumstances, Sue replied: "... we do urge children to try and find someone locally, we help them to think through who could they talk to. Could they talk to a family member, is there someone at school, is there a family friend... "

Clearly the experts believe that a trouble shared is a trouble halved. So the BBC still needs to explain why, as part of what it described as improvements, it closed down its important children's peer help message boards including the Bullying board and the Your Life board. And why did the BBC remove all of its advice about growing up, and stop providing help from agony uncle Aaron? These are some of the questions I've asked of the relevant BBC department, but so far without a satisfactory response. There was an overwhelming strength of feeling against the CBBC message board closures (blog 29 December 2008)

".. Newsround has a long history of tackling sensitive and challenging issues .." (Sinead Rocks, Editor of Newsround)

Sinead's blog about Gone

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stonewall's The Teachers' Report - Homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools -was published yesterday. Their Report deals with homophobia and homophobic bullying in primary and secondary school settings. Other than an investigative piece in The Guardian, so far there has been little interest in the findings of the YouGov survey upon which the Stonewall report is based. The BBC has not bothered with it and, as expected, it hasn't been mentioned by Newsround.

According to the Report, nine in ten secondary school teachers and more than two in five primary school teachers say children and young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, currently experience homophobic bullying, name calling or harassment in their schools. Three quarters of primary school teachers and 95% of secondary school teachers have heard the phrases 'you’re so gay' or 'that’s so gay' in their schools.

How does the BBC help perpetuate homophobic prejudice?

A relevant article by Simon Edge is to be found on pages 108-111 of March 2009's GT magazine. Simon is annoyed at the BBC, which he says is one of Britain's last great bastions of homophobia. His article, called Turned Off in homage to Stonewall's 2006 Tuned Out report (blog 28 February 2006), is a damning indictment of the Corporation. Simon goes into detail about the BBC's attitude to diversity, and ends by questioning the Corporation's coverage of Michael Causer's murder.

Simon Edge: Why didn’t they broadcast anything about Michael Causer?

I’m referred to press officer number five, who asks if anyone is accusing the BBC of homophobia over this. "Yes," I tell him: "both Peter Tatchell and Ben Summerskill, in a rare outbreak of unanimity." He will have to get back to me. And he does. But this time he doesn’t even have a written statement. Will any non-homophobic news editor explain why Causer’s murder mattered less than that of every other teenager killed last summer?

Monday, March 09, 2009

BBC and coverage of LGBT History Month (part 2)

The first report on the Inside Out programme (BBC One, London, 25 Feb 2009) was by journalist David Akinsanya. A few years ago David made a documentary for the BBC called Sad To Be Gay. So needless to say, his report was hardly a celebration of LGBT History Month.

Although one of the BBC's Values begins: "We respect each other and celebrate our diversity," the Corporation takes these words less conscientiously in regard to the LGBT community. Thus, in order to imply 'neutrality' Inside Out occasionally used terms like homosexuality, as well as talking about lesbian and gay people (see comment by Tony Fenwick in previous blog)

Drama teacher Jo Letson, talking about Romeo and Julian, her adaption of the Shakespeare play: At the beginning it was a novelty for the kids. And then, as we started doing the project, as we started looking at the language and the words, it kind of developed into something else. The kids started to look at it, and started to really feel that this is about tolerance.

David Akinsanya: You may think this focus on sexuality in schools is new, but actually something similar was tried over twenty years ago.... So according to Akinsanya, and as with CBBC, relationships become sexual when they're lesbian and gay relationships.

Akinsanya claimed that "just five years ago teachers were forbidden from even using the word 'gay' in classrooms." Not true, although at the time many teachers felt that to be the case. What is certainly true, however, is that BBC children's TV today has a de facto ban on using words such as 'lesbian' and 'gay'

Thursday, March 05, 2009

BBC and coverage of LGBT History Month (part 1)

There were no items about LGBT History Month on Newsround during February. So no surprises there.

Now let's look at coverage on some other BBC TV programmes. Firstly there was The Big Questions on Sunday 1 February 2009. The second 'big question' that day was "Is homosexuality a cause for celebration?"

Nicky Campbell kicked off the debate asking why celebrate something that is "none of anyone else's business?" But if Nicky was still at school and friends asked him who he fancied, would he tell them it's none of their business? And when someone likes someone else, is there any point in hoping for a relationship when their sexual orientations aren't compatible? So of course these matters are other people's business.

Tony Fenwick, from Schools Out, said "We need to celebrate homosexuality, as you put it - I would prefer you to say being lesbian and gay, because 'homosexuality' is a term that was coined in the Victorian era to describe what was then thought of as a disease. But it's a question of being - we are gay and we are lesbian and that's how we turn out."

One of the guests on the programme was Peter Tatchell.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

One of the reports on Newsround yesterday was about a new service to help kids who are bullied. Kids can log on to the site and get help from specially trained mentors.

This evening's Newsround reports on BBC One began with news of the Sri Lankan cricket team returning after the attack in Pakistan. Ore said "In the middle of the night the Sri Lankan team arrived home, their anxious wives and families waiting for them, relieved to be out of Pakistan."

The second story was about the conviction of a man for the murder of 18 year old actor Robert Knox. Another item was about Sol Campbell urging more kids to go to live sports and not just watch on TV. And after Ricky's report on Monday about reducing the packaging for Easter eggs, today's programme had him telling us about Fair Trade chocolate.

Newsround BBC One 5.05pm - 4 March 2009

Sri Lankan cricket team return home [2'06"]
Man guilty of murdering 18 yr old Robert Knox [0'13"]
ITV has money problems [0'13"]
Dani Harmer wants to be a pop star [0'15"]
Sol Campbell wants more kids to watch live sport [1'57"]
Fair Trade chocolate [1'52"]
Giant lump of popcorn [0'19"]