Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Murdochs and British politics

Last night, Sky News reported that The Sun will be supporting the Conservative Party at the forthcoming general election. The Sun's political editor said that Labour have failed the country and are letting people down.

My blog on 31 August criticised Rupert Murdoch and his family, especially James Murdoch's MacTaggart Lecture. Rupert Murdoch was a frequent guest of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and current PM Gordon Brown has refused to divulge his own contacts with Murdoch. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's press secretary, wrote in his diaries that TB said he didn't fear them [the press] coming at him about me, but about the relationship with Murdoch. And he didn't fancy a sustained set of questions about whether Murdoch lobbied him. ('The Blair Years' p.287)

Lance Price, one-time director of communications for the Labour party, wrote I have never met Mr Murdoch, but at times when I worked at Downing Street he seemed like the 24th member of the cabinet. His voice was rarely heard (but, then, the same could have been said of many of the other 23) but his presence was always felt.

After a careful investigation Ofom concluded in June 2009 that Sky has an effective monopoly, which it was using to unfairly pressure other independent media companies such as Virgin. Ofcom believes there is a need for remedial action. The decision was put out for further discussion - the 3 month period recently ended.

As Polly Toynbee noted: Ofcom's boldness drew an amazed intake of breath from industry players and observers. This is the first time a regulator has seriously challenged Murdoch's market power. Those who stood to gain – BT Vision, Virgin Media, Top Up TV and others — were delighted their protests were so bravely answered. .....The battle is on, since historically Murdoch's empire has stooped to manipulating regulators and avoiding taxes. How has he done that? By leaning hard on politicians, who – knowing only too well his dominant voice in newspapers – are frightened for their lives.

A few days after Ofcom's determination that Sky was acting in an anti-competitive & quasi-monopolistic way David Cameron committed his party to clipping Ofcom's wings ... As Toynbee put it: All Tory and Labour leaders canoodle with the Murdoch apparat with a social desperation that demeans them and their office. This political corruption is rather more alarming than duck islands.

Is there any merit in Sky/News Corporation's fightback against Ofcom's conclusion that it has been abusing its position? Sky says that if Ofcom succeeds in imposing wholesale prices which do not fully reflect the risks and costs in their business, the effect is a tax on Sky to subsidise BT and Virgin Media.. but - talking of tax - it's well known that News Corporation has made use of every discredited trick in the book to avoid paying tax. And Sky's competitors believe they have a strong case.

Was there any merit in James Murdoch's MacTaggart lecture? A modicum, yes: Ofcom's micro-management of broadcasters is on occasion hard to justify, or just plain wrong. And, yes, the BBC is far from perfect, as readers of this blog well know.

Recently politicians of left and right have been lining up to criticise the BBC Trust, for example Ben Bradshaw's sudden realization that it's wrong for the BBC Trust to be both cheerleader and regulator. In an October 2007 consultation about a revised Complaints Framework, the Trust said (page 67) it "would like to publish as many submissions as possible in order to be as open and transparent as possible." Pity it didn't stick to the promise. No responses from individuals were published.

In my submission to the Trust's consultation on children's services (see blog 16 August 2008) I said explicitly that the Trust acts in cahoots with BBC management, because the way that the consultation had been structured was clearly not at all independently minded. The Trust's consultation, for that reason, was risible.

The fact that Newsround & BBC children's TV generally is in such a parlous state is substantially a result of management's ideologically motivated meddling, not helped by BBC Trust's typically craven attitude towards management (see blog 10 May 2009)

However many the BBC's faults - and there are many - this country needs no lectures from the would-be monopolist Murdoch clan. Robust plurality and diversity should be the way forward. Judging from recent opinion polls there will likely be a Conservative government by next summer. Conservatives would be unwise to make the same mistake as Labour by grovelling to the Murdochs and further debasing UK politics. The omens, however, do not look good.

Valuing respect and diversity (part 3) to follow in a few days

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Valuing respect and diversity (part 2)

The BBC doesn't only discriminate on grounds of disability. Experienced newsreaders, such as Moira Stuart have been edged out, and recently one of the judges on Strictly Come Dancing, Arlene Phillips (66), was sacked, to be replaced with someone less than half her age, and without an in-depth understanding of the subject. In contrast, the judge who was sacked, Arlene Phillips is a choreographer with loads of experience.

Following its hubristic decision to schedule Strictly against The X Factor, BBC Director-general Mark Thompson hurriedly announced that a more mature female news presenter should be recruited. There's suspicion, in some circles, that his action is desperate 'news management' to counteract the BBC's discomfiture over the Strictly debacle. Incidentally the issue of "BBC employment discrimination" was dealt with by Newsround Blog almost exactly three years ago, on 29 September 2006.

Part 2 of my "BBC employment discrimination" blog on 30 September 2006 pointed out that: In the early days of BBC tv, some children's presenters, like Annette Mills and Johnny Morris were much older than the current presenters. In fact, Annette Mills was over 50 when she started presenting Muffin the Mule on 20 October 1946, and Johnny Morris was still presenting a BBC children's programme when he was nearly 70 years old.

But look at CBBC today. How many of its presenters, if any, are over 30 years old? A clear example of age discrimination.
Why is Ed Petrie no longer presenting CBBC? Perhaps, at the age of 31, BBC management considers he is too old for the job.

It appears that age discrimination has also returned to Newsround's feedback pages. Last week I told the communications regulator, Ofcom: The discriminatory policy seemed to have been abandoned early in 2008, but I have reason to suspect that, once again, a similar policy is in operation, acting to limit published responses from 15 year-olds.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Valuing respect and diversity (part 1)

My last blog showed the shabby way deafblind charity Sense was treated by Newsround. On Wednesday I asked Owenna Griffiths, Newsround's editor, about this and am awaiting her reply. It was a great pity as the BBC claims to celebrate diversity.

Recently there have been a lot of questions about how much the BBC really does value diversity. Certainly BBC reporter Gary O'Donoghue knew better than to trust his employer. Gary must have been very upset when, because he is blind, he was passed over to present his scoop on the BBC's flagship 10 O'clock news.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

For some reason best known to Newsround's editor, an item about deafblind kids was severely curtailed yesterday. It was originally due to go out on Friday at 5pm, but that was cancelled and a short piece went out yesterday morning.

Sonali: Now to helping kids who are both deaf and blind. As you can imagine it can be difficult to communicate with people, but now a new gadget is making that a lot easier. Leah's got the story.

An interview with Liz Ball from the deafblind charity Sense wasn't screened in Leah's report. Unfortunately Leah concentrated too much on the technology side of things, and not enough with helping to raise deafblind awareness.

A week before, on 15 September 2009, Newsround was telling viewers that they could be prevented from appearing on the programme -

Sonali: Hello there, I'm Sonali. First up to why you could be stopped from having your say on telly. The Government is looking at the rules on when kids can appear on TV shows like Newsround. Right now all we need is your parents' permission, but it might not be as easy as that in the future. Leah's been finding out more.

One of the kids interviewed said "I think that children should be allowed to express their opinions just as much as adults, because they don't know what we're feeling." Another said "I don't think it's very fair because adults always have their say but kids never get a chance."

Leah ended her report telling us that "the Government are still deciding exactly how the law should be changed, and BBC bosses are working with them to make sure you still have your say on TV."

If they're so keen to let kids have a say, perhaps those very same BBC bosses could let us know why:

1) .... in the face of enormous opposition, so many kids' message boards were shut down last year;

2) .... messages from older kids have been secretly filtered out from Newsround's feedback;

3) .... in 2007 the BBC broke its promise for Newsround to participate in Takeover Day, and why they continue to shun the event;

4) .... in recent times there has been no Newsround TV coverage about the UK Youth Parliament.

The UK Youth Parliament is due to convene for the first time ever in the House of Commons chamber late next month.

Takeover Day, this year is on 6th November. If the BBC were to fully participate then kids would have a chance to run Newsround and have a real say in what news is reported, and the way it is presented.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A number of stories have been in the news recently concerning the topic of gender issues, including a sports story and headlines in The Sun about problems for a couple of schoolkids.

Those stories weren't covered by Newsround, but sometimes the programme does include stories which break gender stereotyping.

Yesterday, for example, we saw some builders dancing in tutus, and on Monday Ricky reported on Cuddington & Sandiway Junior Football Club (U12s) who, this season, are wearing pink strip.

Ricky: ".. your eyes aren't deceiving you, these guys play in pink, a colour that's normally reserved for - well as old fashioned as it might sound - (whispered) for girls."

The team coach idea came up with the idea to raise money for Cancer Research

Friday, September 18, 2009

Three years ago, on IDAHO Day (17 May) I blogged:

Why has Newsround failed to report on homophobic bullying and efforts to stamp it out? Why didn't it report the Football Association's work to combat homophobia in the sport or Spurs' initiative to stop homophobic chanting? Why was there no mention of civil partnerships? Why is all LGBT news filtered out? Why is "gay" a four letter word on CBBC message boards? ..

In summer 2007 some LGBT-related messages were allowed on the boards, although this tolerance didn't last. In October 2007 Newsround's website put up this story. Then we went for nearly two more years with not a single LGBT-related item on Newsround.

Last Sunday's edition contained something of a surprise. There was a short report about a celebrity bid to adopt a child from another country. This time, though, it wasn't about Madonna or Brad & Angelina. What was surprising about this particular story was that .... well here is the way it was reported at 14.55 on the CBBC Channel :-

Gavin: "Sir Elton John says he and his partner, David Furnish, want to adopt a toddler from Ukraine. (short film clip) The singer met the 14 month old boy called Lev when he performed at an orphanage."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

There have been a few great stories on Newsround recently as well as loads of the usual stuff like sports stories and freaky weather.

One of the most powerful and moving stories came last Thursday. It was about George Higginson, who died after a traffic accident. He was only 10 years old but had told his parents that he wanted to be an organ donor after watching a TV show. A few weeks later a truck collided with his bike and George tragically died the following day. Here is Ricky's report.

Last Friday's Newsround at 5pm began with a story about controversy over a school's lamb called Marcus. Some weeks ago kids in the school council voted to kill the sheep and use the money made to buy other animals. Lydd Primary School's headteacher, Andrea Charman, seemed determined to have Marcus butchered. I imagine quite a lot of Newsround's viewers were upset when, on Monday, the programme reported that Marcus was no more. (Published) feedback to Newsround is almost 90% against killing the lamb.

The Independent quotes Ms Charman: "When we started the farm in spring 2009, the aim was to educate the children in all aspects of farming life and everything that implies."

Newsround really ought to follow up the story and ask the headteacher:

1) Why wasn't the school allowed to see how Marcus was killed?

2) Why didn't the school take up Paul O'Grady's offer to buy Marcus? After all the school could have made a lot more money that way.

More Newsround stories shortly. Watch this space.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Alan Turing (continued)

Susan Watts updated her blog with more about Turing's nephew and nieces thoughts about Alan's life and work.

The Government issued an apology to Alan Turing last night. ... Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction. ...

Thanks go to John Graham-Cumming for all the work he put into the petition. BBC News reported the apology and interviewed Dr Sue Black who, like John, is concerned to save Bletchley Park.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Alan Turing (continued)

No sign yet of any Newsround report about Alan Turing, but on Thursday Newsnight included an interesting report by Susan Watts.

The importance of Alan Turing cannot be overstated. I wrote about him in one of my earliest blogs.

So why is he such a significant figure?

Well, he was gay. Now, that fact alone doesn't make him better than anyone else. But importantly, it doesn't make him worse than anyone else either. That message is fundamental to understanding what this blog is all about. Because there are still loads of people in the real world - including people working at the BBC - who think it's not OK to be gay. And there are those, like Jonathan Ross and Chris Moyles, who think it's cool to laugh at, or make fun of gay people.

Yes, Alan Mathison Turing was gay. But unlike many others at the time, he was gay and not ashamed of it. In addition Turing was honest - these days a rare quality in public life.

Alan Turing arrived at Bletchley Park on 4 September 1939, just as Bletchley's population was swelling due to Operation Pied Piper.

In 1941 Turing and three of his colleagues sent a letter to Churchill (pdf) explaining what had already been achieved but at the same time requesting more staff and resources to help with codebreaking. Churchill recognised the importance of their work. He responded with a memo: ACTION THIS DAY - Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this had been done.

It is reckoned that the deciphering work carried out at Bletchley Park helped shorten the war by about two years.

Excerpt from Breaking the Code

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Alan Turing

Yesterday Newsround reported the 70th anniversary of Operation Pied Piper - the evacuation of children from town and cities in preparation for the outbreak of World War II. I wonder if Newsround, or in fact any BBC Children's TV programme, would ever consider a report about the wartime work done by Alan Turing at Bletchley Park.

Despite being a mathematical genius, whose codebreaking skills greatly helped Britain win the war, I believe the BBC would still prefer to keep its children's audience in the dark about Turing in order to avoid mentioning the homophobic bigotry which led Alan Turing to take his own life in 1954.

I would be delighted to be proven wrong, and perhaps see a Newsround press pack report by someone supporting the recent campaign to universally recognise the importance of his work, and in so doing acknowledge the injustice and prejudice against LGBT people which continues to this day.