Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Some six weeks ago I contacted the Director of BBC Children's to alert him of my concerns about historical distortion on CBBC's Leonardo. I didn't hear back at the time, so last Tuesday, 24th May, I asked whether he would like to say what future plans are in the pipeline to make BBC Children's inclusive and diverse-friendly. Unfortunately I've had no response to the email, despite a reminder. This is the substantive text of my email -

I recently heard from a school in London about their excellent work during this year's LGBT History Month. Their email included some information about a training course they're running in a few days' time. Here is part of my reply -

Thanks for the email with the YouTube video about the wonderful work you're doing at Stoke Newington School. It would be nice to see your work complemented by inclusiveness in the media, and kids' TV in particular. We live in hope, of course, but Joe Godwin's repeated assurances to myself, to Schools Out and to other LGBT groups have not resulted in any perceptible improvement - in fact quite the reverse has happened recently. The new CBBC 'Leonardo' series is, in my view, both a deliberate misrepresentation of the historical Leonardo's sexual orientation and a betrayal of today's lesbian and gay kids.

As you can see, I'm worried about the direction BBC Children's is going. In my blog on 6th May 2011 I wrote "CBBC's Leonardo series is contrary to everything LGBT History Month stands for, quite apart from also being at odds with the BBC's Mission, Values and Public Purposes."

I intend to write more about this in my blog at the weekend or early next week, so I'd be very interested to hear your future plans, if any, for making CBBC inclusive and diverse-friendly. I would like, if you give permission, to publish what you say on my blog.

There are a couple of other issues.

I've now received FOI lists of your expenses for the last year or so, and noted that taxi fares in Canada seem somewhat excessive. Especially one single journey on 13th June 2010, which set back the licence payer £409.27p. However your flight to the Banff World TV Festival 2010 isn't listed, and neither is the hotel accommodation. Please could you kindly let me know who met those costs?

Finally, I've been waiting some time for details relating to the Fantasy Football Leaderboard scores.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

CBBC Newsround is usually quite good on reporting animal stories, but one item on Friday was less positive than usual about animal welfare.

With one notable exception, Newsround has been a very animal-friendly programme. Last week, for example, there was a series of reports by Leah on endangered species in the UK, as well as a report on attempts to save stranded pilot whales in Scotland. On Monday there was an item about caring for pet rabbits, and on Thursday about the new penguin enclosure at London Zoo.

So why the sudden out-of-character concern for the financial cost of helping animals in distress? Newsround Blog has been investigating, and I've come with some interesting background.

Newsround - Friday 27 May 2011 at 8.30am

Leah: Fire crews spend millions of pounds rescuing animals. But this morning we've heard they're being criticised by one campaign group who says saving animals isn't their job, and they're wasting taxpayers' money. Fire crews say they'll always help animals in trouble because they see it as part of their job. Call-outs have included: rescuing a cow from a tree, a snail from a wall and a duckling from a drain.

At 5pm the same day -

Ricky: Hello

Sonali: Yes, happy Friday. Ricky and Sonali here to get you in the know before you start your weekend.

Ricky: Yeah, got a packed show today. Here's a taste of what's in store: Firefighters are told they're spending too much time rescuing animals.

Sonali: And we ask Simon Cowell's bff what's really going on with Cheryl and the American X Factor.

In the report proper, Sonali told viewers that "a BBC investigation found UK fire services spent three million pounds rescuing 17,000 animals in the past 3 years. One emergency involved reuniting a duckling with its mum."

The BBC investigation was covered in detail on Friday's Radio 4 You and Yours programme.

Newsround Blog has found out that the origins of the "BBC investigation" goes back a few weeks. Look at this on the Taxpayers' Alliance website and you'll note the nascent story about fire crews being kept busy rescuing animals dates from early in April 2011. But now also look at this Taxpayers' Alliance press release and note that it was embargoed until the start of Friday 27 May 2011. Both these news items appear to have their origins with the Taxpayers' Alliance.

So what's going on? First of all, bear in mind that many of the BBC's traditional supporters - the sort of people who believe public service broadcasting exists for the greater good of society - would be shocked to learn that even one penny of licence fee money is being channelled into private healthcare. And the BBC would have become aware that the Taxpayers Alliance had got hold of the story as soon as they received Freedom of Information requests asking for details.

The BBC was, quite rightly, embarrassed about this information being made widely known, and Newsround Blog posits that BBC bosses decided news management was needed to preserve the Corporation's public service reputation.

The Taxpayers' Alliance story about BBC private healthcare costs was embargoed until 27 May 2011 - the very same day that the BBC pushed their spoiler story about the cost to taxpayers of firefighters rescuing trapped animals. It beggars belief that this was a pure coincidence. And we shouldn't forget that the BBC has form when it comes to burying unwelcome news items.

Newsround Blog can report that the BBC's news management achieved its aim of minimising, and in fact almost drowning out, news about staff private healthcare costs. No major sites went with the BBC private healthcare story.

Newsround's take on the animal rescue story was shaped not within the constraints of their typical editorial judgement, but presumably by a management edict that Newsround was to assist in helping to bury that day's Taxpayers' Alliance press release.

That's why, on this occasion, the programme offered less than wholehearted support for the animals.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nice to see Newsround helping to improve kids' rights. From Tuesday's 5pm bulletin -

Leah: Ricky's been pretty busy this week, because you've been asking him to look into things for you. His next investigation is one that we got most emails about. Lots of you are fed up with being banned from shops. Watch this.

After Ricky's report Leah asked kids to send in new suggestions for him to investigate. Perhaps Ricky could also help by showing Newsround viewers how to investigate things for themselves.

Talking of which, here's an update into my own enquiries about the BBC (blog on 20 April 2011)

My FOI request about Joe Godwin's expenses was answered last Wednesday. The links on Richard Deverell's disclosure page were put right last Thursday. The information in Joe Godwin's Declaration of Personal Interests is still incomplete, and the BBC's Head of Information Policy & Compliance, James Leaton Gray, is aware of the issue.

I did eventually hear back from Mr Gray personally, and amongst other things he says that his Department dealt with my FOI request "in accordance with international accountancy standards." He rejects my assertion of "a misleading and possibly dishonest response."

James Leaton Gray was sorry I wasn't satisfied with the service provided, and says that he and his team set great store by the work they do on behalf of correspondents.

I'm waiting to hear back from BBC Children's on the matter of the MOTD Kickabout Fantasy Football Leaderboard (blog 24 April 2011) as well as on some other issues.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

BBC News first named Ryan Giggs as the injunction-row footballer on Monday at 5pm. Earlier in the afternoon Laura Kuenssberg was telling viewers that, despite the footballer having been named in Parliament, the BBC was unable to repeat it on air. Meanwhile Sky News was openly reporting that Ryan Giggs was the footballer in question. This is from Newsround's bulletin just after 5pm yesterday -

Leah: First, we're talking secrets. Everyone's got them, but up until an hour ago if we told you this one we could be sent to prison.

Ricky: Yeah, that's because a judge ruled no-one was allowed to name a world-famous Premier League footballer who was trying to keep details of his life private.

Leah: It's got lots of people talking about what celebrities should be allowed to keep private, and in the past sixty minutes that's all changed. The footballer went to court to ban people reporting claims about his private life. He said it was no-one else's business. So nobody was allowed to say who he was - not on TV, radio, in the papers or online. If they did they could be fined or go to jail.

Ricky: But there was a problem - the Internet. It's easy to write whatever you like online, and lots of people did name the player. And today an MP called John Hemming used a special rule to name him as Ryan Giggs.

Leah: Making all this public is good news for people who think we should be told absolutely everything about celebs' lives - and role models. But it's bad news for famous people who think they have a right to keep some things private.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

CBBC's Leonardo establishes that, in spite of Joe Godwin's reassurance, children's TV has made no meaningful progress on LGBT inclusiveness. Luckily a small number of schools are making a real difference.

Teachers at Stoke Newington School are working right now to make things better. The School's activities during LGBT History Month 2011 included a project called LGBT Creative Day which was turned over to celebrating LGBT human rights. The banner for LGBT Creative Day was:-

Claiming our history
Celebrating our present
Creating our future

Stoke Newington School say they've almost eliminated homophobic bullying. Unfortunately their heartwarming work and achievements haven't yet been reported by CBBC Newsround.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ricky was in the studio on his own for Newsround's 5pm bulletin yesterday. Sonali reported live from a tiny Mediterranean island called Lampedusa. Thousands of refugees are fleeing unrest across North Africa and making their way to the Island. Sonali's report was very informative, and an example of Newsround at its best.

Newsround on Wednesday 18th May 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The First Post reports: A burly World Cup winning rugby player, with a wife and two children, may not appear to be an obvious candidate to become a gay rights activist. But 6ft 3in Ben Cohen has done just that. The former England winger has announced his retirement from the sport, aged 32, to dedicate his life to tackling bullying and homophobia.

Sport is often thought of as a bastion of homophobia, so it's good to see people like Ben Cohen stand up against prejudice. The showbiz and media worlds on the other hand are thought of as LGBT-friendly, but in reality homophobia insidiously pervades the industry, making it potentially far more harmful than the overt prejudice found in the sporting arena.

Simon Cowell is an exemplar.

Simon is quite happy to appear as Mr Nasty - the tough judge who doesn't suffer fools gladly. At the same time he likes the public to think of him as protective and supportive to those under his wing as mentor and agent. Despite Cowell's overt support for Joe McElderry when Joe came out as gay last July, it seems that Mr Cowell is very far from the well-meaning, easy-going and benign person that he'd like us to believe. Joe's career wasn't helped by the way he was treated by the BBC.

Newsround frequently covers stories about Simon Cowell's TV shows. At the end of yesterday's 5pm bulletin they reported that the X Factor axe has fallen on Dannii Minogue. Then this -

Leah: Talking of the X Factor, head over to the website because we want to know who you think should be on the judging panel. Let us know your thoughts this very minute!

There's no doubting that Simon is a mummy's boy but his credentials as a ladies' man are somewhat more suspect. What is the relevance of Simon's sexual orientation, you might ask. Well it's this. The showbiz and media worlds are generally seen as modern-thinking and entirely comfortable with LGBT people. So why does Simon Cowell pose as hetero when supposedly no-one really cares any more?

The truth is that people do care. No-one knows that better than these media types. They know it makes the difference between success and failure on talent shows, they know it affects marketability, they know that "straight is safe" and "gay is a gamble." Note on this YouTube clip Paula Abdul's indignant response to a reference to Simon Cowell's sexuality, although Simon himself sensibly makes light of it. But in this clip he loses his cool after Dannii Minogue quite properly raised the issue of the altered lyrics in Danyl's song (see blog on 11 October 2009)

Had Joe McElderry not fibbed about his sexuality at the start of his X Factor challenge his chances of winning would have been greatly diminished. He knew it. Simon Cowell knew it. In fact everyone in showbiz knows it. So we end up with a vicious circle whereby media moguls feed this prejudice for their own self-advancement.

That's why it's important that more people like Ben Cohen stand up and be counted.

It's that day of the year again - 17th May - International Day Against Homophobia - IDAHO

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Friday Download is possibly a sign that children's TV is spreading its wings, perhaps appealing to a wider range of kids including teenagers - a group which has, in recent years, been poorly served by the BBC.

The thinking behind Friday Download owes something to Channel 4's programmes for teens, but it seems CBBC is still reluctant to stray too far from its namby-pamby attitude.

On Friday 6 May 2011, the so-called 'TV download' segment - a selection of recommended television programmes presented by Ceallach - included this about Leonardo -

Ceallach: .. OK, the next show is Leonardo which is on CBBC. This show is based on Leonardo da Vinci as a teenager. Now some of you may know Leonardo da Vinci was a very very famous artist ....... but this is him as a teenager and what life was like for him hundreds and hundreds of years ago. It's a really factual show. It's really enjoyable to watch. You've got all his friends - Machiavelli, Lorenzo. And it's about him as a teenager doing his drawings and making some inventions, but at the same time people are trying to take his inventions. And it's all about what he goes through in the town of Florence. Let's take a look (video excerpt from Leonardo - Episode 6 - The Lightning Box)

Ceallach, for one, believes that Leonardo is factual (see previous blog for context,) and Friday Download did nothing to disabuse kids of that belief - in fact it reinforced it. Kids who take the trouble to do a few minutes research on the Internet - say by checking out Newsround Blog - know the truth about Leonardo da Vinci, and of course the truth about CBBC.

Why the title Friday Download? Well who doesn't like Friday, being as it's the start of the weekend. And everyone believes downloading is popular with kids. So put the two together and, hey presto, you get Friday Download.


Newswatch, on Friday dealt with the BBC move to Salford, but surprisingly failed to mention the recent news that Peter Salmon's second-in-command, Richard Deverell, has pulled out of the venture.

Peter Salmon was left with the last word on Newswatch -

Raymond Snoddy: You've managed to persuade about 55% of the staff involved to move to Salford, but isn't it a bit odd that some of the top brass like yourself haven't moved here permanently?

Peter Salmon: Well a lot of us are in the process of moving. I'm renting, for instance, this year and I'm buying a home next year. Lots of my senior colleagues are already here - they've bought their homes. We don't tend to hear stories of BBC bosses committing to buy homes. It just tends to be the odd individual who's still renting. That's because a lot of us are, you know, in a particular place in terms of our family lives. In terms of kids at school, all the rest of it, partners etcetera etcetera. But we're all very committed to this project. Inevitably bosses come and go just like staff. Presenters come and go just like staff. That's our business model. We encourage fluid careers, but we're very committed to this Centre.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Regular readers of Newsround Blog should be aware that Joe Godwin, Director of BBC Children's, attends the Kidscreen Summit in New York. This year he participated in a session which discussed children's heroes and superheroes (blog 10 April 2011)

Leonardo is being heavily promoted, and few kids who watch children's TV will have missed seeing the series trailer. The website describes it as a "drama following the adventures of the teenage Leonardo da Vinci and his friends." The opening title sequence of every episode broadcast so far sets the story in Florence in 1467.

Florence 1467

Nowhere are kids cautioned that Leonardo is makebelieve. It is a false and misleading account of the teenage years of Leonardo da Vinci.

The fifth episode 'It Must Be Love' portrays Leonardo as head-over-heels in love with a girl called Valentina, and apparently it's love at first sight. Chatting to a friend, Leonardo exclaims - "She is so beautiful. When I look at her I can barely breathe."

Leonardo on CBBC - Episode 5 - It Must Be Love
Leonardo and Valentina flirt together

The series fails children on multiple levels. One of the many issues with Leonardo is that, in reality, the eponymous superhero would have been more likely to be head-over-heels in love with one of his male friends (blog 13 April 2011)

Since my earlier blogs on this topic, I've found out more about the Kidscreen Summit Heroes And Superheroes session, and it seems the issue of LGBT heroes was not raised by any of the panel. This was particularly unfortunate because the reality of the My Hero project is so much at variance with its founding principles. For example there is currently no information about LGBT History Month on their website. I have raised this with them.

Despite CBBC's profoundly misleading account of the life of Leonardo da Vinci, it seems that Joe Godwin has, for years, been telling LGBT rights and support groups that CBBC inclusiveness will improve. On 12 March 2011 he spoke to Families Together London (FTL)

CBBC's Leonardo series is contrary to everything LGBT History Month stands for, quite apart from also being at odds with the BBC's Mission, Values and Public Purposes.

Leonardo is broadcast on Mondays on the CBBC Channel at 5.15pm.
Episode 5 - 'It Must Be Love' is repeated tomorrow at 10am on the CBBC Channel. The series is also presently available online in the UK.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

By way of an update on certain BBC disclosure pages, the broken links on Richard Deverell's page, which were listed in my blog dated 21 April 2011, are still not working.

The link to Joe Godwin's declaration of personal interests, mentioned in my blog on 24 April 2011, is now working although the declaration does seem curious in some respects.

I should mention, at this point, that the BBC department which has overall charge of Freedom of Information is, based on the evidence in my possession, bereft of credibility, as I hope was clear from the detailed sequence of events shown in my blog on 20 April 2011. The email was not rebutted by James Leaton Gray, and the matter was referred to the BBC's Chief Operating Officer for her comments.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Newsround's mistakes and editorial misjudgements just keep on coming. Take the news about Emma Watson. This was how Newsround reported the story yesterday:-
Harry Potter star Emma Watson has denied a report that she's being bullied. The 24-year-old star says she's never been bullied in her life, and reports that she's taking time off university because of being teased about her role as Hermione just aren't true.

Emma isn't 24 years old as Newsround said - she only turned 21 last month.

Honestly, CBBC ought to check its facts and accuracy before allowing programmes on air which mislead kids. Other examples - see blogs on 28 April 2011, 21 October 2010 and 11 December 2010