Thursday, July 28, 2011

As a rule I never put through official complaints about BBC programmes, but earlier this month I decided to break with habit and complained about CBBC's Leonardo series.

If you don't know what's wrong with Leonardo you're obviously not an avid Newsround Blog reader. Never mind, you can catch up on the essentials by checking out this blog entry on 6 May 2011.

My complaint drew upon the consensus amongst art historians that Leonardo da Vinci wasn't heterosexual, and I argued that deliberate misrepresentation of him in the TV series was part of a much wider problem on BBC children's TV. Quoting from the complaint:

Until 2005 the BBC was prepared to regularly portray lesbian and gay characters in kids' dramas. However since then I believe that not one single new CBBC drama has included LGBT characters or role models. Factual output is barely any better. For example the kids' news programme Newsround ignores virtually all news where LGBT issues are involved, and there has never been any specific mention of efforts to combat homophobia and homophobic bullying.

My complaint also quoted from BBC Producers' Guidelines which were withdrawn in 2005:

Gay and lesbian people, and those who are bisexual, make up a significant minority entitled to be served and treated fairly by the BBC.

The BBC responded:

Thanks for contacting us regarding CBBC's 'Leonardo'.

I understand that you're unhappy as you feel that this programme and many others are biased against homosexuality.

As you have mentioned gay and lesbian people make up a significant minority of the BBC’s audience. As a Public Service Broadcaster dedicated to reflect society, the BBC rightfully shows that homosexuals play a full range of roles within society and have the same right as other people to see that range truthfully explored in our programmes. Our dramas have a long-standing reputation for dealing with all subjects in a responsible way and by handling the issue carefully, people gain more understanding and tolerance of gay and lesbian people. We must make it clear that we show a range of programmes which is expected of us by the wide and diverse audience we serve but I'm sorry that you feel 'Leonardo' did not reflect this but I welcome your feedback on the programme.

We’re guided by the feedback that we receive and to that end I'd like to assure you that I've registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's made available to all BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Notice the BBC's response: ".. Our dramas have a long-standing reputation for dealing with all subjects in a responsible way and by handling the issue carefully, people gain more understanding and tolerance of gay and lesbian people. ..."

Had the BBC forgotten that my complaint was about BBC Children's?

And what does the BBC mean by this bit?: ".. We must make it clear that we show a range of programmes which is expected of us by the wide and diverse audience we serve .."

I'd suggest it means they take account of homophobic bigots, who don't want kids to see any LGBT portrayal or issues on children's TV.

In keeping with discriminatory practices on CBBC and Newsround, there wasn't a single mention of the happy news about same-sex marriages in New York at the weekend. That could have made a break from all the sombre news we've had recently.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nowadays Newsround's web presence is rarely, if ever, updated at the weekend. The current tragic news from Norway has, so far, only been reported on the TV bulletins.

Newsround's revamped website launched at the end of June (blog 29 June 2011.) You'd expect them to have asked for feedback from viewers. However, keen Newsround watchers would have noticed that the BBC seemed to take little interest what people actually thought of the changes. On the 30th June, Ore said rather unconvincingly I think: You guys obviously loving our brand new website right now.

Why was Newsround so indifferent to kids' opinions on the site? Why didn't they ask for feedback - perhaps on this webpage?

The answer is probably quite simple. CBBC suspected kids would be unhappy with the dumbed down site, and given the chance they would make their views known. A few kids might have had a bookmark to the old chat page and some managed to find their way to the message board via the A-Z link. But now the A-Z directory has been updated with a new-style page which doesn't link to Chat or to the Message boards.

Newsround A-Z index
Part of Newsround's A-Z index web page (screenshot)

It seems that the BBC is slowly strangling the remnants of children's message boards. Is this just to save money, or is there another reason?

Monday, July 18, 2011

With all the fuss about Murdoch's media empire showing no sign of abating, more people are, like Tom Watson, also starting to question the role of the BBC.

At a press conference today Tom McTague from the Daily Mirror asked Ed Miliband if he feels the BBC is part of the establishment, and whether it has too much power.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I'll be returning to CBBC's attitude to Joe McElderry in due course. But, as everyone knows, the story of the moment is about Rupert Murdoch and the phone hacking scandal. Tom Watson MP spoke to Simon McCoy on the BBC News channel this morning, and it was clear that like Newsround Blog Tom has concerns not only about Murdoch, but about the whole British media including the BBC. (see blog on 10 July 2011)

Simon McCoy interviewing Tom Watson this morning said "... the problem is as soon as you start to single out individual organisations the claim is that they all have their own agendas. And perhaps on this that draws away from the central argument here is: one man's power over a particular organisation and what that organisation did while he was in power ..."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

One of the stories on this morning's Newsround was about Nick Jonas participating in an American softball game. The rather baffling report included a short clip from an interview with Nick whose softball team, it seems, lost to a team with an American Idol winner called Jordin Sparks.

Below is the complete list of stories from all nine of yesterday's Newsround TV bulletins. There was no mention of Britain's Joe McElderry, who won ITV's Popstar to Operastar on Sunday evening. Former Bucks Fizz star Cheryl Baker was the runner-up.

Does anyone seriously believe that CBBC would not have reported the result had, say, Olly Murs taken part and won? (see blog on 6 June 2011)

CBBC - 7.40am

[0'30"] Atlantis shuttle and Space Station
[0'18"] Duke & Duchess of Cambridge on way home
[0'19"] Tour de France crash
[1'56"] first elk born in the UK in over 1000 years
[0'19"] fans in tears after JLS pull out of T4 on the Beach
[0'15"] David & Victoria Beckham - baby girl

BBC2 - 7.58am

[0'16"] Atlantis
[0'16"] Tour de France
[0'17"] Beckham baby girl Harper Seven

CBBC - 08.10am

[0'17"] Atlantis shuttle
[0'32"] Duke & Duchess of Cambridge
[0'19"] Tour de France
[0'21"] dog brought to UK from Afghanistan
[0'18"] JLS pull out of festival

CBBC - 3.30pm

[0'40"] fishing rules to change - no discarding
[0'18"] more and younger runaway kids according to new report
[0'18"] Atlantis and space station
[0'15"] England women's football (Hope Powell comment)
[0'11"] robot football

CBBC - 4.00pm

[0'16"] fishing rules
[0'16"] Hope Powell comment
[0'13"] Beckham baby

CBBC - 4.25pm

[0'17"] air show crash
[0'17"] space station
[0'15"] very old football, 'Rules, Regulations & Laws' book (owned by Sheffield FC) up for sale

BBC One - 5pm (main bulletin)

[1'56"] new fishing rules
[0'26"] air display plane crash
[1'30"] Atlantis shuttle/ Space station
[0'30"] comments made by England women's footie coach Hope Powell
[2'00"] elk introduced in Scotland
[0'18"] Beckham baby "big congratulations"

CBBC - 6.10pm

[0'08"] fishing rules
[0'07"] space station
[0'05"] robot footie

CBBC - 6.50pm

[1'56"] fishing rules to change
[0'15"] airshow plane crash
[1'25"] Atlantis and space station
[0'17"] women's football - remark by Hope Powell
[0'12"] robot football

(i) times as shown on CBBC schedule - sometimes out by a few minutes
(ii) approx durations of each item in mins and secs

Sunday, July 10, 2011

No-one could say that the last few days haven't been important in media-terms ... and we're not just talking about the Children's Media Conference in Sheffield, nor even the Premiere in London of the final Harry Potter film. Phone hacking made Newsround's lead story at 5pm on Wednesday:

Sonali: First - a huge scandal involving spying on phones, the police and one of Britain's biggest newspapers.

Ore: Journalists at the News of the World paper have already been caught out secretly listening to the voicemail of celebs to get juicy stories. But now it seems they may have gone further by listening in on the victims of serious crimes. (Ore's video report)

On Thursday the programme reported that the News of the World was to close, and on Friday Ricky told viewers about the 168-year-old history of the paper.

Newsround Blog has criticised the Murdoch empire on a number of occasions. This is from a blog on 30 September 2009:

However many the BBC's faults - and there are many - this country needs no lectures from the would-be monopolist Murdoch clan. Robust plurality and diversity should be the way forward. Judging from recent opinion polls there will likely be a Conservative government by next summer. Conservatives would be unwise to make the same mistake as Labour by grovelling to the Murdochs and further debasing UK politics. The omens, however, do not look good.

With everyone's attention on Murdoch's News Corp right now, we should not forget nor be complacent about that other media giant, the BBC, which does its level best to shut down scrutiny from those who have an inkling of its improper goings-on. In contrast to commercial interests the BBC is supposed to be a public service broadcaster.

Why care about inflated salaries when there are bigger fish to fry?

Monday, July 04, 2011

Pride London was held over the weekend but the BBC's lack of national television coverage of the celebration has caused dismay amongst the LGBT community. ITV1's London Tonight bulletin did broadcast a positive report, which included an interview with former England rugby star Ben Cohen, talking about his Stand Up Foundation and efforts to combat homophobic bullying:-

Now the Children's Media Conference 2011 begins on Wednesday. This year David Puttnam is to give the opening keynote speech on the theme of Thinking Differently. Lord Puttnam believes the UK is well placed to develop into a world powerhouse in "new ways of approaching learning for young people."

The BBC Mission is to "enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain," and of course the Corporation is already making some excellent educational kids' programmes which meet that remit. Horrible Histories is one award-winning example, but CBBC is also very good with nature and wildlife programmes. Other BBC children's programmes have somewhat less merit. MI High, for example, might have some 'pass-the-time' value but otherwise has very little going for it.

CBBC's dramatisation of the life of the young Leonardo da Vinci ends this evening. Few wouldn't have got its message that women were treated badly in the past. Racial equality was dealt with by making the programme colour-blind - in particular Niccolo Machiavelli was portrayed by a black actor. But when it comes to sexual orientation, Leonardo was a golden opportunity missed, and in that regard at least, it badly failed the BBC's audience.

Leonardo was filmed in South Africa - the country which overcame the evil of apartheid and last month co-sponsored a United Nations resolution on human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. How much will the Children's Media Conference theme of 'Thinking Differently' involve discussions to make children's TV inclusive for LGBT kids? Let's hope that delegates are bold enough to think differently and start tackling homophobic prejudice which, in recent times, has become rife in the showbiz/media world.

Pride London 2011 - picture from Stonewall UK
Pride London 2011