Saturday, August 28, 2010

Should the public be expected to fork out £200 or so to get answers from the BBC? That's what it cost to attend the Children's Media Conference 2010. The Conference theme this year was: New Decade, New Challenges: How can children’s media make a positive impact on kids’ lives?

'Meet the Commissioners - BBC' had been timetabled to take place at 2pm on Thursday 1st July 2010, so if I'd gone along I would have had a chance to ask all kinds of questions to the people who commission programmes for CBBC - people like Joe Godwin and Damian Kavanagh. Reportedly those attending heard that CBBC have "got to be really brave" in what they commission. Sounds good, but what exactly does it mean?

In actual fact I'd already emailed a question or two in June, well before the start of the conference. I began by explaining that, in 2006, I'd discovered that feedback to Newsround from 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds was being filtered out. Next I referred to my discovery that the CBBC Bullying message board had similarly filtered out messages about homophobic bullying.

And then I went on to question whether any new dramas or other children's services were being planned which would, once again, make the BBC inclusive and diverse-friendly.

It's well over a month since I wrote, and I'm still waiting for a reply.

What makes things worse is that over 40 delegates from the BBC went to the 2010 Children's Media Conference, and presumably licence fee payers had to subsidise their attendance, including travel and accommodation in Sheffield.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Those following football news will know that there are a couple of superinjunctions in place at the moment. Some people think that our libel laws are too strict, and that the press should have the right to report news more freely. Early in the year John Terry had a superinjunction lifted, but Newsround, rather foolishly, didn't report what happened until nearly a week later.

In today's Independent, there is a piece about changes to British libel law which could come about as a result of a Bill introduced recently in the House of Lords.

"I don't have an axe to grind. I'm not there to represent claimants, I'm not there to represent the media, I'm not there to represent defendants. My role is to try to act as a sensible lawmaker," says Anthony Lester, who introduced his Defamation Bill on 26th May 2010.

Anthony, who is more usually known as Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC has, according to The Independent, spent a lifetime dedicated to making the world a fairer place for those discriminated against on grounds of race, gender and sexuality. But it seems his primary concern is for "free speech." In Anthony's philosophy anything which, in his opinion, hinders "free speech" can have a "chilling effect" on something or other. So, for example, on the 19th January 2010, he told peers about the "chilling effect" on broadcasters if they wanted the freedom to discriminate, but weren't allowed to because of the law.

More about this in a future blog.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Radio 4's Today programme yesterday morning included an interview with Bob Neill MP, who was defending the Government's recent decision to abolish the Audit Commission on the basis that the Commission had been wasteful. One of the Coalition Government claims had been about money wasted on pot plants.

When Mr Neill was asked: "Do you have pot plants in your department?" he replied after a slight pause: "No we don't. We've just cancelled the contract, for example, for having newspapers in all the ministers' offices, because we don't think that's necessary."

Much later in the day Newsnight carried a report by David Grossman, who had cleverly decided to check on the accuracy of Bob Neill's reply.

David Grossman: A short walk to the DCLG HQ in Victoria tells a very different story - three huge potted palms in the foyer. Busted!

A spokesman for the Department told Newsnight: To be clear, these are pot plants bought by Labour. We have not wasted taxpayers' cash on pot plants since we came to power.

Reminding Newsnight viewers of Bob Neill's answer on Radio 4's Today programme, David Grossman said "This may seem a petty insignificant point to be making - and in many ways it is."

Quite right, David, but seemingly petty insignificant points may be symptomatic of bigger problems. That's true of the BBC, where Newsround Blog has uncovered numerous errors and sometimes deliberate deception.

Yesterday's Newsnight went on to estimate Government spending on plants and flowers over a 4 year period. It turns out that DEFRA spent £79,871, the FCO spent £106,053 and the DCSF spent £174,600

Interestingly the DCMS wasn't one of the departments considered. Maybe that department hasn't got any pot plants, but it could also be that the BBC and the DCMS are just a bit too close for comfort.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How does an institution rightly or wrongly accused of bias deal with those accusations? Well, probably the worst thing it could do would be to conduct its own investigation sidelining the views of its critics, and then itself approve the result. But, believe it or not, that's exactly what the BBC did a few years ago. The outcome was an oddly titled report 'From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel: Safeguarding impartiality in the 21st century'

One unwarranted postulate of From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel was that the Corporation institutionally supports "equal rights for women and gay people." On Page 72 the Report says: Does the BBC's institutional support for equal rights for women and gay people spill over unthinkingly into the way it makes programmes ....

Despite enquiries I've been unable to get a satisfactory explanation for the BBC's effrontery. (see blog on 4 August 2010)

Does the BBC’s institutional heterosexism spill over unthinkingly into the way it makes programmes? That would have been a far more realistic question. And the answer is an emphatic YES. We saw it happen two years ago when Ore interviewed George Sampson for Newsround (blog 16 August 2008) and we saw it again on Newsround yesterday when Leah asked Alexandra Burke if she had a boyfriend.

The Director of BBC Children's, Joe Godwin, is aware that not everyone is romantically attracted to members of the opposite sex. So rather than ask Alexandra whether she had a boyfriend, Leah should have asked, instead, if Alexandra had a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Such an approach would have conformed to the BBC Mission and values, especially the bit about celebrating diversity.

Alexandra said she would, if asked, duet with Justin Bieber. There was no mention of duetting with last year's winner of the X Factor. Maybe no viewers asked about Joe McElderry, but the usual BBC prejudice is another distinct possibility. We'll know for sure when Joe releases his album in a few weeks. Will he even be invited to answer viewers' questions on Newsround? Will questions about 'coming out' or about boyfriends be put to him? I doubt it, but let's see. Over to you, Owenna.

Meantime, whilst on the topic of the X Factor, it seems Simon Cowell thinks Louis Walsh has the hots for Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger. And on 26 March 2010 (5pm) Newsround reported Simon's own happy news -

Sonali: Things just keep on getting better for mean X Factor judge Simon Cowell. He's got a new girlfriend who's agreed to marry him despite him wearing his trousers that little bit too high.

Simon has been known to forget the names of his "girlfriends" .... hope he remembers Mezhgan, especially if this marriage actually goes ahead.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I imagine that Ore's World Cup blog comment that being a Newsround reporter's a difficult job but someone's got to do it! was the thing that landed him down the sewer for a day when he got back from South Africa. But after his penance it seems he's been forgiven, and was again jetting away to a far-off land, this time to report from Singapore on the Youth Olympic Games.

To participate in the Youth Olympics you have to be aged between 14 and 18, so it would be nice to think that Newsround's coverage of the event signals the BBC at last accepting that particular audience groups must not be ignored or underserved.

Today at 1.45pm on the CBBC Channel -

Leah: Hello there. Leah from Newsround here, keeping you up to date with everything you need to know on a very sporty Saturday afternoon.

With an introduction like that you might expect to see Ore report on the YOG opening ceremony, which was well underway by then. But no - and not even a mention of the YOG throughout today's bulletins.

Accuracy is a continuing problem on Newsround. For example on the 12.55pm bulletin Leah ended by telling viewers "we'll have loads more in an hour's time." The screen caption stated "More NR @ 1.55pm on CBBC." In fact the programme began about ten minutes before that, and had finished well before 1.55pm.

Newsround has never reported civil partnerships or gay marriage, but it has reported on underwater weddings. At 6.25pm on Monday 12 July 2010 Sonali told us briefly about a couple who got married underwater in Austria. So it was a little surprising when Leah informed us today that the world's first underwater wedding had taken place in Macedonia.

This is from Newsround at 8.55am this morning -

Leah: Now to a couple who are deeply in love - and I mean really deeply. Here's the world's first underwater wedding. The couple tied the knot in Macedonia in full diving equipment. The ceremony took place in the springs of a famous river there. How romantic.

Get your facts right BBC! Underwater weddings are nothing new. Here's one from a few years ago. And the second picture on this Newsround web page was from even earlier, when thirty-six Thai couples got married underwater.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Last month the UK Youth Parliament held its annual meet in Northern Ireland for the first time. At the University of Ulster Jordanstown Campus. John Bercow, House of Commons Speaker, was there too. The event was facilitated by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum. One of my bugbears is that democratic participation is given such short shrift by Newsround.

Takeover Day will be on Friday 12 November 2010, and I was told on 26th April that this year Newsround is going to connect with the Children's Commissioner. It will be nice to see genuine youth participation in choice of news items, presentation etc (cf. blogs 13 April & 17 April 2010)

In line with the theme for the International Year of Youth 2010, the theme for this year’s International Youth Day tomorrow is "Dialogue and Mutual Understanding". It is planned that Global Youth Participation Week will take place during IYY in March 2011

International Youth Day will also mark the launch of "Yparticipate" a global youth-led initiative providing relevant tools for meaningful youth participation in decisions that affect them (

Friday, August 06, 2010

Lily Allen and Joe McElderry. Apart from both being B-list celebrities what have they got in common? Well both have featured on a front page of The Sun during the last week. Lily Allen, yesterday because she's having a baby; and Joe, on Saturday, coming out as gay.

The Sun 31st July 2010 and 5th August 2010
Neither of the stories was earth-shattering, but only Lily Allen made it to Newsround. In fact it was the first item at 7am yesterday -

Ricky: Good morning. You're waking up to Newsround. Let's find out what's going on in your world. First, pop star Lily Allen is pregnant. The singer says she's expecting a baby with boyfriend Sam Cooper, and they're both delighted. Earlier this year Lily said she wanted to quit music to concentrate on having a family. The baby is due early next year.

Anyone who missed it at 7am had plenty more chances throughout the day. At 5pm Ore beamed as he announced "Lily Allen is Pregnant!" and in the later bulletins Leah offered her congratulations to the couple. No-one could be left in doubt that this was anything but good news.

But what about Joe McElderry. No comment. I think Newsround's message to kids is pretty clear.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

In early July the BBC Trust finally conceded that the Corporation cannot ignore or underserve particular audience groups. After years of Newsround Blog telling the BBC where they'd got things wrong with children's services, it looked like the Trust had finally seen sense. (blog 6 July 2010)

The decision of their Editorial Standards Committee, published yesterday, not to uphold a complaint about the Have Your Say debate: Should homosexuals face execution? was made in June this year. It was one of the last decisions of the ESC as chaired by Richard Tait, who has now stepped down as a member of the BBC Governors/BBC Trust. In December 2009 there was widespread outrage at the BBC. One piece in The Telegraph headlined: How dare the BBC run a debate on whether murdering homosexuals is acceptable?

Professor Tait used to be chairman of the Governors' Programme Complaints Committee. In 2006 the GPCC, having noted that 'gay' was often used by young people to mean 'lame' or 'rubbish,' failed to uphold a complaint about Chris Moyles who had used the word in a pejorative way on his radio show.

In June 2008 I wrote to Richard Tait to ask about From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel: safeguarding impartiality in the 21st century - a report for which Professor Tait took responsibility. I wanted to know "the empirical evidence upon which a suggestion that the BBC institutionally supports equal rights for women and gay people was based." I asked if he could advise me as to sources for the claim, and whether any contrary evidence had been taken into account.

A reply by the Trust's Head of Editorial Standards on behalf of Professor Tait clarified the position. It seems that "the reference is to the BBC's stated commitment to equal opportunities; it was not within the remit of the Review to assess whether the BBC has fulfilled this policy."

I responded with (excerpt) -

"A person reading the report might reasonably come to the conclusion that the BBC institutionally supports women and gay people, do you not agree? The phrase 'institutional support' surely contains no connotation of policy as opposed to behaviour. The phrase 'spill over' also lends strong credence to this interpretation.

"In view of your reply, does Professor Tait or the BBC Trust agree that the Report could be misleading, or at least readily misconstrued?"

A few days after my response, I discovered strong evidence that the BBC had been discriminating on its CBBC Bullying message board. This evidence was put to Richard Tait on 31 July 2008.

The Trust's reply came on 21 August 2008 and, in short, re-stated the BBC's commitment to equal opportunities. The reply also said that the Trust is not involved in day to day decisions relating to the BBC's output, so is therefore not in a position to comment on the CBBC message board. The email ended by suggesting that further correspondence on the issue would be futile.

One of the BBC Trust responsibilities is to uphold the general law. In the instance mentioned above the Trust failed to comply with that duty.

Now, with new memberships in the offing, hopefully the BBC Trust will take things forward sensibly, making decisions fair to all audience groups.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Joe McElderry, winner of X Factor 2009, has come out as gay. The news was widely reported by the media, but not on any of Newsround's ten weekend editions nor on their website. Earlier in July a claim that Joe McElderry's Twitter page had been hacked also went unreported by Newsround. In general, though, showbiz news is one of Newsround's fortes - the others being sport, environmental news and animal stories.

There is a school of thought that a person's sexuality is unimportant and there's no need to make anything of it. That would be true if we lived in a perfectly tolerant society where LGBT people were fully accepted. And then, of course, Newsround Blog would also be an irrelevance.

Another school of thought says that a person's sexuality is a private matter and not anyone else's business. This argument is often used by faith driven organisations.

We're far from living in a tolerant and accepting society. You only need to check out Joe McElderry's website to see what I mean. I saved this copy of his website message on Saturday. Observe that nowhere did Joe actually say he was gay. That might be because the website, registered to Sony Music Entertainment UK Ltd, automatically blocks certain words from being displayed - and 'gay' seems to be one of those words. The comment posted by dsc on 31st July 2010 at 06:01am is an example. Almost certainly referring to a gay straight alliance, it is shown as beginning: I am an openly **** teacher who also advises a **** straight alliance in the US.

So it's ok to be straight, but gay is sometimes still treated as a four-letter word. And that's unfortunately true on the BBC as well. See blogs on 20 May 2010 and 17 June 2010.