Wednesday, December 30, 2009

BBC Values:-
  • Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.
  • Audiences are at the heart of everything we do.
  • We take pride in delivering quality and value for money.
  • Creativity is the lifeblood of our organisation.
  • We respect each other and celebrate our diversity so that everyone can give their best.
  • We are one BBC: great things happen when we work together.
The last two weeks or so of 2009 showed the world just how far the BBC has drifted from its core values. Can anyone believe an organisation claiming to celebrate diversity but which asks the public whether 'homosexuals' should face execution?

And as for the BBC's editorial guidelines about impartiality, the Corporation didn't report the furore which resulted from its bizarre editorial decision. Instead there were a couple of BBC blogs which attempted to justify the "stark" headline but later on stated it was "too stark" and may therefore have caused offence.

The BBC is simply unable to admit to its underlying prejudices, particularly relating to age, disability and sexual orientation.

On 22nd December 2009 the BBC carried out a spate of interviews with rugby player Gareth Thomas, who had come out as gay in order to help others worried about their sexuality. But despite Gareth's wish to help kids, Newsround didn't seem to think this was the sort of help kids should be getting. Perhaps the BBC doesn't believe kids could possibly be gay - it certainly looks that way from CBBC programmes such as Little Howard.

With this New Year it would be nice if the BBC were to resolve to ditch all the prejudice. Getting rid of Jonathan Ross's demeaning stereotype of gay men - notable only on account of their sex lives - would be a great start.

Too much to hope for? Let's see.

Happy New Year

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In an ideal world, the sexuality of a celebrity or sports star would be none of anyone's business. But we aren't living in an ideal world, as the BBC made all too obvious when they asked for opinions on whether 'homosexuals' should be executed.

Many, many people were very annoyed. Philip Hensher wrote in The Independent: The one thing that you would not expect is that the BBC should choose to engage with so gross an assault on human rights by mounting a debate on exactly the moral grounds of these horrible murderers. A BBC World Service programme on the subject was accompanied by a debate on a message board with the headline "Should homosexuals face execution?" Ooh, I don't know. There's something to be said on every side, isn't there? In the style of Mrs Merton, Caroline Aherne's immortal character: Let's Have A Heated Debate.

The BBC's Editorial Guidelines state: "people should only be described in terms of their disability, age, sexual orientation and so on when clearly editorially justified." A top sportsman, who, in order to help others, wishes to tell the public he is gay would seem to meet the requirement. And indeed BBC News did report, on Saturday, that Gareth Thomas had come out as gay. He told the Daily Mail that he doesn't want desperate young people confused over their sexuality to suffer in silence.

What about the thousands of young people who watch Newsround and Sportsround? Wouldn't that story have been a great way to counter homophobia and send them a positive message?

Unfortunately the story wasn't mentioned at all on Newsround, and there's nothing about it on the website either. The last time Newsround mentioned a man was gay was when Stephen Gately died. Maybe, as far as BBC Children's TV is concerned, it's only OK to be gay if you're dead.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

How dare the BBC run a debate on whether murdering homosexuals is acceptable?

The headline above was just one from hundreds of blogs and newspaper articles about a BBC online debate last Wednesday.

Be angry with Uganda, not the BBC, said Lance Price. It seems he, as a gay man, wasn't offended by the question. But could it possibly be that, like those close to the BBC, Lance is not entirely impartial? When Jan Moir wrote her infamous piece in the Daily Mail, famous names including Stephen Fry were lining up to make their views known on Twitter and in their blogs.

According to a Guardian piece, BBC Pride had lobbied the World Service to change the headline and end the discussion "to minimise negative reflection on the BBC."

As for the BBC Editorial Guidelines which require the Corporation to be impartial about itself - interesting to note that, once again, the BBC has buried an item touching on its own anti-gay sensibilities.

Under the heading Gay execution 'debate' is a disgrace Balaji Ravichandran says the BBC is not being impartial by letting a homophobic Ugandan regime set its online agenda – it's providing a platform for hatred.

Ben Summerskill said "Given the near invisibility of so many gay issues from BBC news and current affairs - including recent murders of gay people - it does seem odd that the BBC should invite people to contribute to their web forum asking if gay people should face execution. It is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain the idea that the BBC should receive £230 million from lesbian and gay licence fee payers every year."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

From Wednesday's Guardian: BBC news website asks users: 'Should homosexuals face execution?'

My email to the BBC Diversity Centre (excerpt):-

Subject: Debates on diversity issues

I understand that earlier today the BBC put up a forum question asking whether 'homosexuals' should face execution.

Please could I ask if the Diversity Centre regards this as a legitimate and acceptable question for debate? ......

World Service Africa Have Your Say editor David Stead explains that the BBC thought long and hard about using this question. Reposted on BBC's The Editors

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One of Newsround's main interests is the climate, and there have been several mentions of the Summit currently taking place in Copenhagen. Yesterday viewers were told about Robert's speed bump invention which "could help save the planet." The report ended: "So, Deborah's impressed. Fingers crossed for Robert it will impress experts at the climate change summit too."

Robert's invention, one of four chosen at a climate camp in Sonderborg earlier this year, might impress the politicians, but I'm not personally convinced that speed bumps are a good way to conserve energy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The BBC Trust has been under sustained attack this year. The latest to join the onslaught was former BBC Director-general, Greg Dyke. In the Royal Television Society's Christmas Lecture on Wednesday, Greg called for the BBC Trust to be abolished with regulation handed to either Ofcom or a new public service broadcasting watchdog.

The BBC quotes a spokesperson for the Corporation as saying the Trust was "getting on with the job of making sure that the BBC delivers for licence-fee payers ... These were personal remarks made by Greg and he is entitled to his opinion."

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. Since then the Ross/Brand debacle starkly exposed the Trust's failings - it came across as lumbering and ineffectual. If the Trust had chosen to carefully and dispassionately analyse Mark Thompson's overall performance as Director-general they would have found ample grounds (see previous blog) for a no confidence vote.

The Trust's past subservience to BBC management has cost a great deal of public goodwill, and left the Trust in peril of its very existence.

There have been loads of interesting and sometimes surprising items on Newsround this week, including a presspack report on shotguns, and Ricky reporting about an anti-pink campaign. The week kicked off with an environmental story.

Monday's programme began with a report on the climate change summit in Denmark. Newsround is not sending a reporter to Copenhagen to cover the Summit, because apparently they are concerned about their carbon footprint. Leah said that if she had travelled by plane from London to the Danish capital, the journey would have created double the amount of carbon dioxide which she normally produces in a whole week. On Wednesday Leah took a look at how much CO2 is produced making one day's worth of Newsround programmes.

Considering all the interest in CO2 emissions, it was very disappointing that nothing at all was said regarding the environmental consequences of travelling into space when Hayley reported on Tuesday about Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo.

Also on Tuesday's 5pm programme we saw Ricky reporting about a campaign against the colour pink -

Sonali: Now we're talking colour. I am totally loving pink at the moment, but some people are annoyed that toy shops are selling too much pink stuff for girls. What's wrong with that? Well Ricky's been looking into this for us.

Ricky: Grace loves a bit of pink. Most of her toys, clothes and even bedroom are completely covered in the stuff.

Grace: This is my favourite blanket, because it's warm and cosy and it's Hannah Montana.

Ricky's report also included Abi Moore from Pinkstinks. Abi believes that a lot of toys for girls are old fashioned - all kitchens and cooking and princesses and fairies.

On Wednesday Leah read out one message from the published feedback -

Leah: Yesterday we told you how some people are angry with toy shops who sell loads of girls clothes and toys, pink. They reckon it will make all children grow up thinking pink is a colour only for girls, and their Pinkstinks campaign is being backed by an MP. Well we got loads of emails from you on this, and Sophie told us 'I don't think pink stinks' and she also points out that it isn't just girls that like pink, boys do too. So thanks for getting in touch on that online.

Monday's programme covered the Go Go Hamster safety controversy, which is just as well considering the amount of positive publicity Newsround had given the toys as its first news item on 10 November 2009 at 5pm. The manufacturers say that the toys pass UK safety tests.

Shotguns are somewhat more dangerous than Go Go Hamsters. But nevertheless using them for sport was the subject of a presspack report by 12 year old Victoria, who has been using them since the age of nine.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Revision of BBC Editorial Policy - part 3

Mark Thompson took over as BBC Director-general on 22 June 2004, telling staff there was a need for real, radical change. Thompson immediately set about restructuring of the BBC's Executive Committee, and one year and a day later the BBC published its new slimmed down set of Editorial Guidelines - the guidelines still in place today.

How did Mark Thompson's guidelines differ from what went beforehand? The Producers' Guidelines, as they had been known previously, had given comprehensive advice on a range of issues including Taste and Decency. Mark Thompson, however, presumably thought that kind of stuff wasn't needed in his new anti-political-correctness BBC. So it was ditched along with a lot of other things, including this guidance from the chapter about Portrayal:-

Gay and lesbian people, and those who are bi-sexual, make up a significant minority entitled to be served and treated fairly by the BBC ....Lesbians and gay men can be particularly subject to thoughtless and offensive stereotyping .... There is no place in factual programmes for our use of words like 'queer', 'dyke', 'fairy' or 'poof': when contributors use them they should be challenged wherever possible.

The BBC claimed its new guidelines had applied "editorial lessons learned since the last update in 2000," but didn't explain why some sections had been removed. Previously, producers had been cautioned not to "demean or brutalise through word or deed, or to celebrate cruelty." Comedy must be "well judged, not gratuitous, unnecessarily cruel or designed to harm or humiliate a person or group."

The policy guidance removed by new broom Mark Thompson would have made it abundantly clear that the treatment meted out to Andrew Sachs by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand could not be countenanced.

Thompson has made no bones about his disdain for political correctness. He told The 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!

Is it any wonder there's a yobbish and bullying culture at the BBC which led, amongst other things, to the Andrew Sachs incident. Brazen Mark Thompson, rather than admit responsibility for BBC failings, repeatedly insists others take the blame and resign.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A few days ago Ian McKellen was a guest speaker at a school in Suffolk. The East Anglian Daily Times reports McKellen as talking about homophobic bullying, prejudice and gay stereotypes.

McKellen is reported as saying: I have to confess that I am little disquieted at times by the way that gays are portrayed, particularly on television. Something like Little Britain is not particularly helpful. I know Matt Lucas will say that he is gay and it is not offensive but I don't think it gets the right message across.

The story was also reported by Pink News. One user comment on the story:

Ian is right. While people are being attacked and killed for their sexuality, we are failing to get across the message that it is OK to be gay. The use of "gay" to mean "lame" might appear like a small thing, but small things matter – they contribute towards bigger things. Homophobic attacks work by dehumanising the victim. And one way to dehumanise someone is to consistently make fun of them. Matt Lucas contributes to this – Daffyd is a high-profile ridiculous stereotype, and there aren't enough non-stereotypical representations to counter it. Little Britain is so popular because it's cruel. It's lazy, 1970s humour, dressed up as "postmodern" and multi-layered because one of the leads is fat and gay himself. They had a term for that when black comedians made fun of black stereotypes – Uncle Tomming. Matt Lucas is just another Uncle Tom.

The current homophobia is a drip by drip effect – and all the more insidious and difficult to prevent because there are so many apologists, from within gay ranks, who fall over themselves to prove how strong and thick-skinned they are. Just because they don't take offence, they think there's no problem. Well tell that to Michael Causer. Oh except you can't because he's dead.