Monday, November 29, 2010

Homophobia in showbiz and in the media

Kirsten O'Brien once suggested that lots of the people working for CBBC are gay. It's actually quite a common stereotype. In a sketch from Little Britain, Daffyd tells his mum there's loads of jobs he'd like to do - hairdresser, airline steward, children's TV presenter - but he'll never get a job because, as he puts it, they simply don't employ the gays.

But if there really are so many 'gays' working for CBBC, why doesn't the channel have a good diversity record? Instead it avoids LGB characters in kids' dramas, and is unable to cope with the sexuality of stars like Joe McElderry.

In contrast, heterosexual representation is no problem for CBBC. Leah, for example, is unable to keep her sexuality to herself in this clip. You'll see Leah make no secret of her attraction to Zac Efron. Does anyone seriously believe that, if she had lesbian proclivities, Newsround would be happy to broadcast a similar show of affection for a female celebrity?

Apparently Leah also quite likes teenage superstar Justin Bieber. So much so that the programme she presented on 8th November captioned Justin as a "mega hunk" when he was featured following his success at the MTV Music Awards:-

Justin Bieber, mega hunk
Leah: ... the mega hunk did well last night, beating Kanye West to win Best Male.

You'd think a famous writer would have insight into the world around him and into humanity. But when Anthony Horowitz answered questions in Newsround's When I Was 10 spot he simply demonstrated rather narrow-minded thinking. In answer to:-

Did you fancy anyone at school?
Anthony Horowitz: Erm .. it was an all-boys school.

Even though there are thousands of LGBT people in showbiz, the industry as a whole has a history of discrimination.

Eight years ago, at a time when CBBC was inclusive, Newsround reported Declan Donnelly's concerns that show bosses were treating Pop Idol winner Will Young, who had recently come out as gay, worse than runner-up Gareth Gates.

It looks like a similar cause for concern exists now, with winner Joe McElderry attracting less media attention than the X Factor runner-up, Olly Murs. The difference, these days, is that no-one now seems willing to speak out against prejudice. It is also the case that some of the X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing outcomes are likely to have been the result of racism rather than intrinsic artistic merit.

Take a look at this sketch from Hedz in TMi Friday. It seems that Cheryl Cole isn't very pleased to have Joe McElderry as a replacement date. Cheryl ends the sketch with "Just my luck." Although I can think of an innocent explanation, given that CBBC has form in regard to anti-LGBT discrimination many young viewers will assume that Cheryl's reaction is a result of Joe's sexual orientation.

Similar Joe McElderry/Cheryl Cole sketches culminating with the "Just my luck" exclamation have been screened in more recent episodes of TMi.

Cheryl is landed with Joe - again

Why would CBBC, with many LGBT people working for them, make homophobic jokes and resolutely refuse to deal with homophobic bullying? Any suggestions?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

No one could justifiably claim that Newsround has overlooked the BBC's duty to bring the UK to the world and the world to the UK. The year began with Ore, in South Africa, reporting on the country's recent history and its preparations for the World Cup.

Sonali gave Newsround viewers an insight into how people in Haiti were coping in the aftermath of the earthquake. And more recently Sonali flew out to Afghanistan to see what it's like for young people in that country.

But whilst Newsround has done excellent work with its reports from around the world, its reporting of local news has been less than satisfactory. Yes, there's been plenty of showbiz news - especially X Factor - but what about news specially relevant to young people? In the summer we heard about the lack of spending on schools, but the programme didn't follow up on the story. Lots of young people are unhappy about the hike in university tuition fees, but again that's an issue given little coverage by Newsround. And then there's Michael Gove's new education plans - why no details on that issue?

For a period during the summer Newsround took some account of the BBC Trust's remarks not to underserve particular groups. We saw the views of older children as well as those in primary schools. But it didn't last long. Come on CBBC, kids in Britain deserve much better.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sometimes things move rather slowly at the BBC. For instance, remember my doubts about the accuracy of Newsround's report on the Government Spending Review? Well, I'm still waiting to hear back on that matter.

Newsround hasn't yet said anything about David Cameron's message of support to young people. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister also recorded a video for Anti-Bullying Week. He points out that it's when people are young that prejudice such as homophobia can take root.
YouTube video removed 11 Dec 2010
The Deputy Prime Minister: Right now there are simply too many children growing up thinking that 'gay' is an insult.

Newsround became news itself when the press picked up on something Mark Sedwill told Sonali about the safety of kids in Afghanistan. Newsround dealt with it yesterday at 5pm:-

Sonali: .. we're going to talk about what it's like growing up in a war zone. Over the years here on Newsround we've told you how British troops are fighting in Afghanistan trying to make the country a safer place.

Ore: But what's it like being a child there, trying to get on with life with the violence around you?

Sonali: A few weeks ago I travelled to Afghanistan to find out. While I was there I met loads of kids. Here's what some of them told me about what it's like growing up in the capital city, Kabul.

[film of Afghani kids speaking to Sonali]

Ore: Forty-eight different forces from around the world are involved in trying to bring about peace in Afghanistan, but it is going to take a really long time.

Sonali: While I was out there I went to the foreign forces HQ in Kabul, ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) to find out why the country is still such a dangerous place to live in

[film with Sonali & Mark Sedwill] - Sonali: Kids I've spoken to say they do sometimes feel unsafe. Their parents won't let them out in case a bomb goes off here.

Mark Sedwill: Here in Kabul, and in the other big cities, actually there are very few of those bombs. The children are probably safer here than they would be in London or New York or Glasgow or many other cities. Most children can go about their lives in safety. It's a very family-oriented society. So its a little bit like a city of villages. Now winning doesn't mean a big victory parade in a place like this. What it means is, that we bring peace and security to the people here .. [film ends]

Ore: Well today Mark Sedwill said he meant that security has improved in Kabul, and that it's safer than many other parts of Afghanistan. And now with us on the sofa is Hannah Reichardt from Save the Children. [turns to Hannah]: Hannah, can you compare London and Glasgow with Kabul?

Hannah Reichardt: We don't think the comparison's particularly helpful. But what we know is that Afghanistan is the worst place in the world for a child to grow up. One in four children who are born in Afghanistan won't live to see their fifth birthday. And they're dying from preventable diseases like diarrhoea and lack of food.

Sonali: So kids don't only have to worry about security, but there are so many other things because Afghanistan is so poor.

Hannah: Exactly. Seven million children are out of school, which is a horrific number. All of these children who are suffering in Afghanistan live in families that don't have enough money. That don't have jobs and the means to support themselves. Lots of children don't have enough to eat, which leads to long-term stunting. Which means they'll never reach their full potential in life.

Ore: But the troops have been there for quite a long time. Have things improved for kids in Afghanistan?

Hannah: In parts of Afghanistan things have improved. But in other ways life has got a lot tougher. For some children access to school is actually harder now than it was. And access to healthcare, just basic things like being able to see a doctor when you're sick.

Ore: Hannah thank you very much for coming in.

Sonali: Thank you. And don't forget you can watch our special film from Afghanistan tonight. It's called 'Growing Up in a War Zone' and starts at 6.15 over on the CBBC Channel.

*Edit note (11 December 2010): The YouTube video of Nick Clegg has been removed because Nick broke a pledge to his constituents by not voting against an increase to university tuition fees. Also see this news item.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

CBBC's Kids and Conflict season starts tomorrow. The season is made up of the three-part drama Combat Kids, two Newsround Specials from Afghanistan presented by Sonali and a documentary, Toy Soldiers, looking at the lives of kids with a parent in the army.

It's been more than a week since Takeover Day, and I'm pleased to say that Newsround did get involved this year. CBBC should remember that it's supposed to be a day-long event, so kids should have been presenting the 7am bulletin onwards. But instead it seemed that there was an embargo until 5pm. Maybe we'll see more participation in future, but at least it was a start.

Newsround marked the start of Anti-Bullying Week with celebrities talking about school bullying. On Tuesday Lauren, from the Anti-Bullying Alliance answered questions on the Newsround website. On Wednesday CBBC transmitted a repeat of "Whose side are you on?" which was mentioned in my previous blog.

Despite a promise six months ago to tackle homophobic bullying, the Coalition Government failed to announce any new initiative during Anti-Bullying Week. However the Prime Minister, David Cameron, did send a message to young people:-

The Prime Minister's words are unlikely to have any significant effect on reducing homophobic bullying unless or until there is a broad-based change in attitude, especially in schools and on BBC children's TV. Whereas Newsround reported yesterday (noon bulletin) on David Cameron's concerns for the safety of the trapped miners in New Zealand, the programme has yet to report anything about his message to UK schoolkids.

The BBC's recent record on diversity is poor. In July 2008 I discovered evidence that a BBC children's message board devoted to bullying problems had been systematically filtering out messages related to help with homophobic bullying. Although that message board has now been closed, similar discrimination continues on BBC children's TV, and on the website.

LGBT History Month is just around the corner - a belated chance for the Government to announce some concrete proposals for tackling homophobic bullying, and in the intervening period an opportunity for CBBC to change for the better.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A few years ago Newsround promised to participate in Takeover Day, but it all fell through and they haven't even mentioned the annual event since then. Well there's another chance tomorrow because it will be Takeover Day 2010. So CBBC ought, by rights, help empower kids by letting them take control of Newsround, deciding what news stories are covered and fronting the programme itself.

Next Monday 15 November is the start of Anti-Bullying Week and Newsround Blog hopes that CBBC includes something to help prevent homophobic bullying. So far it's a form of bullying which Newsround has avoided talking about. But experts believe that it won't be reduced unless and until the problem of homophobia is tackled head-on (see blog on 20 October 2010, and the YouTube video mentioned in that blog)

Over the last few weeks Newsround has asked celebrities to look back at their lives as 10-year-olds and reveal, amongst other things, if they fancied anyone at school. But gay celebrities are treated in a very different way. Suddenly CBBC doesn't want to know anything about who they fancied at school or even who they fancy as grown-ups. When LGBT people are treated as outsiders on BBC children's TV it's no wonder they're seen as a target for school bullies.

Remember last year Newsround made a film about bullying - it was called Whose side are you on? - and centred around the concept that if you just stand and watch as your friend gets bullied rather than doing something to help her or him, then you're on the same side as the bullies themselves.

So let's see if anything changes this year. Will Newsround mention homophobic bullying or will it once again show that it is, in effect, on the side of the bullies?

One BBC drama is worth mentioning. It faces up to issues which CBBC fails to do. Jamie attends a faith school and gets bullied daily. He doesn't tell his family about the bullying, which has become so bad that one day Jamie tries to commit suicide. Moving On - Losing My Religion is available on the BBC iPlayer till the end of Anti-Bullying Week.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Whether or not Miriam O'Reilly wins her claim against the BBC will probably be more down to which side has the better legal team than anything else. Miriam claims to have suffered age and sex discrimination, and believes the Corporation took revenge because she was thought to be behind stories criticising the BBC for dropping older women presenters.

Liberal Democrat equalities spokesperson, now Minister for Equalities, Lynne Featherstone, expressed her own concerns about age and sex discrimination at the BBC last year, when she blogged about Arlene Phillips losing her job as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. Lynne later told her Party Conference that she was unable to to describe her feelings about the BBC decision "in parliamentary language".

Stephen Fry is often quick to proffer an opinion on almost anything that takes his fancy. Recently he commented on female sexuality. Last year Fry took umbrage at a homophobic article by Jan Moir in the Daily Mail. But when, a short while later, the BBC asked audiences if homosexuals should face execution, what did Stephen do then? Nothing - not a single tweet of criticism.

CBBC presenter Andrew Hayden Smith came out as gay a few years ago. Andrew gave an interview to Attitude in May 2006 and commented about not being able to include a gay kiss in Dr Who because "they couldn't push it that far." Andrew ceased to be a CBBC presenter in July that year.