Sunday, November 29, 2009

Revision of BBC Editorial Policy - part 2

Taste, Standards and the BBC was commissioned following the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand debacle in October 2008. The Report is co-authored by Alan Yentob and Roly Keating, and sponsored by Jana Bennett and David Jordan. One of the recommendations in the Report deals with malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation:

BBC programmes must never condone malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation. While they are all aspects of human behaviour which may need to be depicted, described or discussed across the BBC’s factual and non-factual output, they must never be celebrated for the purposes of entertainment. New guidance is needed to ensure that everyone involved in programme making for the BBC understands that malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation are unacceptable.

Humiliation is already covered in current guidelines, here and here.

The Trust, however, wanted to make editorial controls even stricter. The Draft Editorial Guidelines in part based on Taste, Standards and the BBC are, as we'll see, in fact weaker than those nominally in force at present.

1) The Introduction to current Editorial Guidelines makes clear in unambiguous terms that Any proposal to step outside these guidelines must be discussed with Controller Editorial Policy. It is marked out in red, as being a mandatory referral to the Controller, who at present is David Jordan, one of the co-sponsors of Taste, Standards and the BBC.

In contrast, examine the replacement wording from the new draft guidelines (pdf). The comparable section (2.1) now states Any proposal to step outside the Editorial Guidelines must be editorially justified. The change appears to cede to programme makers rather than the Controller/Director of Editorial Policy the initial decision as to whether or not output can breach guidelines. This "democratisation" of the decision-making process weakens the authority of the guidelines beyond measure.

The Draft continues: It must be discussed and agreed in advance with a senior editorial figure or, for independents, with the commissioning editor. This change confirms a nebulous and unaccountable line of authority.

The Director Editorial Policy and Standards must also be consulted does not imply that he has the authority to refuse permission. In fact the words "also" and "consulted" imply that he now is to have a subsidiary role. Perhaps this explains why David Jordan's job title seems to have changed from "Controller of Editorial Policy" to "Director of Editorial Policy and Standards."

2) Next, compare the following from current guidelines:

We aim to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom's people and cultures in our services. Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exist in our society but we should not perpetuate it. We should avoid offensive or stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in terms of their disability, age, sexual orientation and so on when clearly editorially justified.

with the change made in the new draft (5.4.37):-

We aim to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom’s people and cultures in our services. Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exists in our society but we should not perpetuate it. In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc. may be relevant to portrayal. However, we should avoid careless or offensive stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in such terms when editorially justified.

The BBC has added "In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc. may be relevant to portrayal." There's nothing unreasonable about explicitly clarifying a point. But another subtle change has been made - the need to be "clearly editorially justified" has now been downgraded to "editorially justified."

The portrayal guideline is further compromised by the addition of 5.4.38:

When it is within audience expectations, we may feature a portrayal or stereotype that has been exaggerated for comic effect, but we must be aware that audiences may find casual or purposeless stereotypes to be offensive.

I have been trying to clarify certain aspects of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines as they apply at present. Both Alan Yentob and David Jordan have been contacted, but so far with little success. It seems that nominal protections for minorities will be further eroded away if the proposed changes are adopted by the BBC Trust.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Revision of BBC Editorial Policy - part 1

A meeting between the BBC's Director-general and the BBC Trust was held on Thursday 30 October 2008. It was part of a damage limitation exercise following public outrage at the behaviour of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand on a Radio 2 show. The Director-general made it clear that there had been a serious breach of editorial compliance which should never have happened.

A plan was put in place to take the heat off the BBC, which at the time was being battered by the press. One measure adopted was to request a study into the appropriate boundaries of taste and standards across all BBC output. The next day Sir Michael Lyons was interviewed by a skeptical John Humphrys. Sir Michael said that the BBC must be firmer on excesses, and there was a "need for even stricter editorial controls."

A report was published on 24 June 2009 entitled Taste, Standards and the BBC (blog 24 June 2009). It cost licence fee payers £288,456.28 excluding the cost of BBC staff effort. The Report's conclusions inform the Draft Editorial Guidelines (pdf), which are the subject of a Trust consultation, closing in four weeks' time.

Contrary to Sir Michael's intention, as given in his interview with John Humphrys, Newsround Blog believes that the new draft guidelines are in reality weaker than the current guidelines. A significant change has been made, such that the proposed guidelines have less weight because their authority is seriously diminished. This will be explained in the next part.

Consultation timeline (taken from BBC Trust Terms of reference (pdf))

October 2009 - Draft of the new Editorial Guidelines published and public consultation launched

October to December 2009 - Trust Unit gathers information from BBC Executive, public consultation, audience research, outcome of the implementation of the Audio Visual Media Services Directive in UK legislation, outcome of the current Ofcom Broadcasting Code consultation, and other sources

24 December 2009 - Public consultation closes

January to March 2010 - Trust analyses data

Spring 2010 - Trust considers findings from the data and implications for the Editorial Guidelines

Summer 2010 - New Editorial Guidelines finalised and published

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Yesterday's Newsround top story at 5pm

Ore: Tonight David Beckham reveals he has asthma.......

Ore: Hi there I'm Ore. First to our top story, and a spokesperson for Becks has confirmed he's had asthma since he was a boy. The LA Galaxy midfielder was seen using an inhaler during the club's last game. Now asthma charities say it proves the condition doesn't have to hold you back. (video clip begins)

Ore: David Beckham has been at the top of world football for years. And having a popstar wife has meant that Becks career, as well as his family life, have always been played in the public eye. But when his team, LA Galaxy, took on Real Salt Lake in the MLS cup final on Sunday - a really big game in America - David Beckham was pictured for the first time using an inhaler. Reports now say he's had the condition since he was a kid. Other sports stars that have asthma include Chelsea's Frank Lampard, athlete Paula Radcliffe and Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington. And the news that David Beckham also has asthma is a massive boost for the million or so kids that have it in the UK.

Neil Churchill (Asthma UK): One of the things that children often tell me is they think there's a stigma associated with asthma - they feel that they're being singled out and that people are laughing at them, it's a bit embarrassing. And the fact that someone as successful as David Beckham, and as cool as David Beckham, is saying he's got asthma and it's no big deal - I think will really give people the confidence to live with asthma and not to be ashamed of it.

Girl: My friend has asthma and he can't really play that much sport. But David Beckham has asthma and he can play sport. So it shows that my friend can still play football.

Boy: I was shocked because I've never seen David Beckham out of breath on the football pitch. And it shows that even though you have asthma it can't stop you from doing sports.

Girl: It shouldn't stop anyone from like having a dream of being a footballer, for example, as he is.

Ore: Despite his condition, having asthma doesn't seem to have got in the way of Beckham's career. Hopefully paving the way for more sufferers onto the path of success.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thousands of children went to a UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) rally in Poole, Dorset yesterday to celebrate twenty years of the Convention and to further promote the rights of children. Press Packer Jessica covered the event for Newsround's website.

Last year the four UK children's commissioners authored a joint report (pdf) to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In October 2008 the Committee made its recommendations for the United Kingdom. The Committee said urgent measures were needed to address intolerance and discrimination against vulnerable groups of children.
Recently advertisements have appeared on UK television which promote a website seemingly intended to disseminate the message of international human rights amongst young people ( The organisation behind the campaign is a Scientology front, and people should be aware of this fact.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Whose side are you on? - continued

Recently published figures indicate that 47% of 14-year-olds have experienced some sort of bullying. The figure is a little less for 15-year-olds (41%) and lower still for 16-year-olds (29%). Evidence suggests that kids who are bullied at 14 and 15 obtain significantly poorer GCSE results - equivalent to two grades lower.

Are those who stand by and watch whilst others get bullied no better than the bullies themselves? That's what Newsround wanted kids to think about when they called their latest Special Whose side are you on?

In the beginning we see Jack waking up at the start of a school day. He walks to school with his sister, Ellie, who asks why he's been avoiding his friend Liam. We see Liam being bullied, but Jack has been keeping out the way watching it happen and doing nothing to help Liam.

In school that day Jack meets the first of his celebrity advisers, Aston Merrygold from JLS. Aston asks "do you know what it's like to be bullied?" and explains that he was the only black kid in his football team and suffered name-calling and verbal abuse which made him feel miserable.

Jack refuses to walk back with Liam after school. Liam asks him "whose side are you on?"

Jack bumps into Joe Calzaghe at the after-school boxing club, and is surprised to learn that Joe was also picked on. We then see what happened to Joe when he was younger. Kids went biking to Joe's house trying to pick a fight with him. Joe resisted the taunts and got called 'sissy' and other names. He focussed on his boxing and it helped him ignore the bullying.

Jack is still reluctant to help Liam. On his way back home Jack looks in a TV shop window and sees Patsy Palmer - Bianca from EastEnders. Patsy relates her experiences of being bullied because of her ginger hair - it was the worst time of her life. Patsy tells Jack that bullied kids need help, and they need their friends to stick by them.

Moments later Jack meets George Sampson, winner of Britain's Got Talent 2008. George tells Jack that he had dance lessons when the other kids were playing football. They thought he was 'weird,' but he knew who his real friends were - the ones who stood by him and didn't care what anyone else thought.

Back home Jack's sister Ellie is online, chatting to Liam. Ellie says that Liam seems really lonely and asks her brother why he doesn't like him any more. Ellie suggests that Jack should talk to Liam, but when Jack refuses she tells him that he is just as bad as the bullies.

Jack is watching TV in the evening when he meets the last celebrity, Gemma Hunt from CBBC. Gemma tells Jack not to bury his head in the sand, and that the bullies will stop if they see that Liam has got friends like Jack around him. Gemma tells Jack to decide whose side he's on.

Jack is in bed mulling over all the advice, and in the morning he decides the right thing to do is to let everyone know that he is standing by his friend Liam.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Whose Side Are You On?

That's the question Newsround is asking viewers to ponder in a special programme on Monday afternoon to mark the start of Anti-bullying Week. The programme considers what it's like to be an onlooker, but do nothing to help. In the show we will see Jack do nothing while his friend Liam is bullied at school.

Newsround would like to hear from kids in a similar situation. "Whatever your story," says Newsround, "we want to know about it!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Phil Redmond's RTS lecture - part 2 of 2

In January 2008 Phil Redmond was interviewed by Stuart Jeffries of The Guardian -

Stuart: What would you be doing if you weren't working on this [organising the Liverpool City of Culture events]?

Phil: I was going to say I'd be driving through Grange Hill's 30th anniversary celebrations, but that wouldn't be true. The BBC has abandoned what Grange Hill was about in order to attract viewers aged six to 12 rather than its traditional 13-plus constituency, so there's nothing to celebrate.

Stuart: Do you feel as though the BBC has strangled your baby?

Phil: I do. The most irritating thing is I'm not surprised. It once provided a rites-of-passage touchstone that parents and teachers could use to start conversations. Children under nine can't really have the discussions about the moral issues that Grange Hill was about. It's a shame it's become about ratings. Culture should be about more than that.

A few weeks after the interview Anne Gilchrist axed Grange Hill claiming, untruthfully, that CBBC's audience overwhelmingly supported her decision.

Towards the end of 2008 Phil Redmond spoke at the Media Festival in Manchester. He said "Broadcasting is completely disconnected from the cultural life of the nation."

Phil talked more about the disconnect affecting children's TV in his RTS lecture in September 2009. Referring to the BBC's lack of provision for teenagers Professor Redmond charaterised the BBC Trust as finding Channel 4 cool, in contrast to the BBC - uncool. He lamented the fact that more of the BBC licence fee wasn't made available for children's television.

Phil: Teenage eyes, sensing a lack of local opportunity, role models or relevance ... they start to drift from their set texts as disinterest, disillusionment, detachment and disenfranchisement sets in - and in some areas antisocial behaviour becomes the comfort blanket. .... where are the cultural touchstones for those all-important rites-of-passage years? They're not on television. Because our broadcasters and regulators have decided that childhood ends at 12 ...... I suppose what really happened with Grange Hill in hindsight was that we highlighted, and then fixed the disconnect from Wheldon's world. Instead of a distant, structured, almost cosy world, we put on screen a life that most children would actually recognise. It was a reinterpretation of public service television for children. And in our fast moving digital environment it is even more imperative that we constantly re-examine what we mean by that term "public service broadcasting."

Phil: We cannot think about the future of children's TV without thinking about the BBC itself, and its licence fee. Why? Not just because it's now the only UK broadcaster still actively originating programmes for children. But more fundamentally, if you've downloaded a copy of the BBC Trust's Review of children's services and content from February of this year, the first line reads: "The BBC Trust believes that children's broadcasting is at the heart of the BBC's public service remit." We should stick it on a T-shirt and we should all wear it. The last line of James Murdoch's Mactaggart lecture reads: "The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit." These two lines from opposite ends of the broadcasting spectrum explain why our commercial broadcasters, ITV, Five, Sky and even the publicly subsidised Channel 4, have retreated from originating children's programming. And why the BBC alone stands. It's the reason why Grange Hill was produced at the BBC only after all ITV companies had turned it down ... the publicly funded broadcaster had taken the risks. In a world driven solely by profit, who makes the leaps of faith? Who takes the risks?

The full lecture can be viewed on YouTube

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Phil Redmond's RTS lecture - part 1 of 2

As expected there were no Newsround reports this year about 11 Million Takeover Day.

Readers of Newsround Blog will know that the BBC discriminates against older kids - for example, the recent lack of published feedback from 15-year-olds (blog 2 November 2009.) And then there is the lack of programmes relevant to the lives of secondary school kids.

In February 2008 Anne Gilchrist, then Controller of CBBC, said that children's lives had changed a lot in recent years and that CBBC needed to reflect those changes (blog on 9 April 2008)

Perhaps Anne had in mind that most kids these days are undercover spies like the protagonists of M.I.High, or maybe school detectives like Fletcher Moon, rather than like the humdrum kids who went to Grange Hill. But I'm not sure kids themselves agree - and that's probably one reason why so many have been deserting television. This 'disconnect' was the theme of Professor Phil Redmond's Huw Wheldon lecture to the Royal Television Society in September.

Phil was introduced to the RTS audience by Lorraine Heggessey.

Lorraine Heggessey: ... He never patronised this young audience, nor did he shy away from controversy. He threw a hand grenade into the world of children's drama when, in 1978, Grange Hill burst onto our screens, changing the nature of children's drama forever. Children loved it even though - or largely because - it offended their parents. For the first time they saw the reality of their lives on screen rather than the sanitised twee view that had previously been on offer....

Despite Lorraine's introduction, it seems that the nature of children's drama did not change forever, and we have returned to the old days where the lives of real kids have once again been replaced with a sanitised twee image, but now with an added fantasy twist.

Phil began his lecture with some clips from the days of Wheldon's world children's TV and went on to state his belief that television can be "an empowering agent for social and cultural cohesion." He warned, though, that television itself was at risk, as the younger generation turn away from it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

It's 11 Million Takeover Day. No reports about it on Newsround so far, but will there will be anything later today? (see blog on 23 Sept 2009)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

One of Newsround's reports on Monday was about parents lying on school application forms. Hayley said "It's all because parents want to make sure you go to the right school. But does that make it OK for them to cheat?"

Of course, as regular Newsround Blog readers would know, it's not only parents who cheat. What happens to all the feedback from 15-year-olds? I think Newsround has some explaining to do, so I've contacted the BBC to ask about the anomaly.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Nice to see that Newsround covered the UK Youth Parliament meeting in the House of Commons. I've been suggesting the programme do more reports about the Youth Parliament, so it was a step in the right direction.

But there are signs of the BBC's discrimination against older school kids (see blog dated 13 Dec 2006.) Although we do see feedback from the occasional 15-year-old, it seems that most feedback from them is destined for the cyberbin. Here are a couple of examples where the BBC received loads of messages, and I think the figures speak for themselves.

What do kids think of the X Factor's John & Edward? So far there are 45 responses from 14-year-olds but none at all from 15-year-olds on the webpage.

A few weeks back, on 28 September, Newsround reported news about schools banning coloured bracelets, and the programme asked kids for their views. Newsround published a total of 372 responses, including 49 from 14-year-olds. But again there are zero responses from 15-year-olds on the webpage.

Newsround is asking kids who've been cyberbullied to share their experiences. It remains to be seen how the BBC will treat the feedback they receive, and whether the problem will be reported in a fair way.