Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bearing in mind its own involvement, why was the BBC one of the media organisations not to mention the recent pandagate furore? Look on BBC web pages and you'll find nothing about the widespread anger.

Meanwhile hacks have lined up to make light of the whole issue. Richard Littlejohn, for example, simply couldn't resist a dig at women, especially if there's an opportunity to add in a bit of homophobia at the same time.

Women's groups recently provided evidence to the Leveson Inquiry about the harm done by the media. If you saw the BBC News channel reporting of the Royal Family's arrival at church at Christmas you would have noticed the emphasis on fashion and clothes worn by female members of the entourage.

Jeremy Paxman, Andrew Marr and others haven't always been too kind about blogs and bloggers. But, in reality, we frequently do a good job in holding big media organisations to account.

Without proper scrutiny, to give another instance, the BBC Press Office tweet about pandagate (see previous blog) might, at first sight, have seemed reasonable. There was, they said "Benson the carp on the 2009 male list." But the Corporation only needs read its own Magazine to know that the male "face" of August 2009 was, in fact, female.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The BBC's sexist credentials were on show, once again, when the Corporation published Faces of the Year 2011. There's been considerable anger over the choice of a panda to represent the woman's face of December. The Guardian's Zoe Williams made her views known, last night, on Sky News' preview of today's papers.

The BBC's press office tried to play down the furore with this comment on Twitter:-

Sweetie isn't the first non-human on Faces of the year list, Peppa Pig last year and Benson the carp on the 2009 male list #pandagate

Sweetie (or Tian Tian) is the female giant panda which arrived at Edinburgh Zoo earlier this month, along with a male panda called Sunshine (Yang Guang)

So, reading the BBC's press comment, you could be forgiven for thinking the BBC wasn't sexist or misogynistic after all. If they chose a male carp in 2009 that proves the point, doesn't it?

No, actually.

Let's take a closer look at the evidence, to see why.

Newsround Blog has been able to trace BBC Magazine 'Faces of the Year' back to 2007. In that year and the following year the list was split into two, one for men and one for women. The were no non-human faces in either 2007 or 2008 -

Men 2007
Women 2007

Men 2008
Women 2008

However when we reach 2009, you will see that the lists are no longer titled "Faces of the year - the men" and "Faces of the year - the women" The titles are changed to "Faces of the year - part one" and "Faces of the year - part two" respectively

And if you check the two parts you will observe the wording of part 1 states: "Some of the males who have made the headlines in 2009 ... " whereas part 2 states: "Some of the women who have made the headlines in 2009 ... "

Take particular notice of the term "males" rather than "men" in part 1.

But now look what happens in 2010:-

Although the female list includes a pig, albeit a fictional pig, the BBC had no qualms about using the title "Faces of the year 2010 - the women"

Men 2010
Women 2010

And then in 2011 - when no women were shortlisted for BBC Sports Personality of the Year - a panda was chosen by the BBC as the "woman" best representing December 2011.

Men 2011
Women 2011

BBC misogyny?

Guilty as charged.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Newsround Blog's review of 2011 - In a nutshell there were signs of progress, but prejudice has yet to be overcome.

The first series of Sadie J began in January and, although gender traditional roles were challenged, the comedy stopped short at portrayal of even a single lesbian, gay or bisexual character. I suspect the second series will be no better.

Ballet Boys was a documentary about three brothers from Liverpool. The boys didn't identify as gay, but this documentary stood out for acknowledging and affirming children who are LGB. The programme was an exception, as no other CBBC programme of 2011 dealt with the issue.

If Ballet Boys was a high point of the year, in May we had one its lowest points - the CBBC drama Leonardo. The BBC has now confirmed that it is signed up to all four sections of the Creative Diversity Pledge (blog 11 December 2011) and Kindle Entertainment has confirmed it is signed up to two of the sections of the CDN Pledge, including "Encouraging diversity in output." So exactly why Leonardo da Vinci's sexual orientation was misrepresented is something of a mystery. Unless, of course, it was simply down to prejudice.

It seems that promises BBC children's TV would improve in terms of diversity have come to nothing. But what about programmes which, though not specifically targeted for children, are nevertheless popular with young audiences?

After years of doubt and occasional misdirection it is now known that Ben Mitchell from Eastenders identifies as gay. In September we saw him having to come to terms with it. On 29 September 2011 a greatly distressed Ben broke down in tears. Almost invariably, when the BBC screens a powerful story on Eastenders, there's a message during the closing credits with a BBC Action Helpline number to call for viewers "affected by any of the issues." But on that occasion there was nothing.

Despite the absence of young lesbian and gay role models on TV the BBC has no qualms in portraying Ben as an obnoxious, evil teenager. Perhaps it's because BBC producers accept the Vatican's teaching that "homosexual persons" have a tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.

BBC bosses ought to read the recently published Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/19/41) which makes clear that the media have a role to play by eliminating negative stereotyping of LGBT people in television programmes popular among young people.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

BBC Sports Personality and Young Sports Personality (Part 2)

Generally speaking the BBC is not noted as being a politically correct organisation - in fact the current Director-General, Mark Thompson, has sometimes been forthright in his support for anti-politically correct voices such as Jeremy Clarkson. And perhaps Clarkson, with his unashamed male chauvinistic message, has served to encourage the Corporation's disdain for women.

In September 2006 I blogged about misogyny on children's TV. Things have been slow to change, with boys dressing up as girls still good for a laugh, but never the other way round. Mark told Sam to "run like the girl that you are."

Three years later, on 8th October 2009 (3.55pm) CBBC continuity presenter Iain Stirling was similarly addressed by a CBBC colleague: "Iain you run like a girl, scream like a girl, are you a girl?" And a few minutes later: "Iain, I still can't get over the fact that you run like a girl. What's with you man? Sort it out."

Iain has frequently been a target at the BBC, and was referred to as a "pansy" during a continuity break on 23rd September 2010.

It's only been a year since solicitors for the Corporation were doing their best - with licence payers' money - to defeat Miriam O'Reilly in an Employment Tribunal after she'd been brave enough to stand up to the discrimination. Since then Miriam has been offered a few morsels of work at the BBC, but hardly enough to demonstrate any real degree of contriteness for what happened.

The BBC needs to improve its diversity credentials.

Surprising as it may seem, from the 1960's onwards the proportion of female winners of Sports Personality of the Year declined over each decade of the 20th century. And boys have outnumbered girls by more than two to one in the Young Sports Personality category, since its inception in 2001.

This year the shortlist for the Young Sports Personality was decided on 21st November. The panel reconvened on 6th December, and narrowed the shortlist to the top three - Lucy Garner, Lauren Taylor & Eleanor Simmonds. Maybe the panel thought this would help paper over the controversy about the main award. But only a complete culture change at the BBC, especially amongst its sports commentators, will subvert long-standing sexism and homophobia.

Following today's announcement that John Terry is to be charged over alleged racial abuse, Lord Ouseley from Kick It Out told BBC News at 4.09pm : ".. It's a very sad day for football, but it's also a day where hopefully the authorities are making it clear that racism, homophobia, sexism and other forms of unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated. People will not be allowed to get away with it, however difficult it is to establish the facts ..."

Friday, December 16, 2011

BBC Sports Personality and Young Sports Personality (Part 1)

It's 2011. Not that you'd guess that from a quick look at the names on the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Many, including the British Olympic Association, are furious about the fact that there isn't a single woman on the list.

So how did this unfortunate situation come about?

There is a problem at the BBC. On the face of it, the Corporation is modern and forward-thinking. But look a little deeper and you soon see the old-fashioned male-dominated macho culture which led to women being sidelined in this year's list.

The BBC says that a range of sports experts from newspapers and magazines across the UK were asked to send in their top 10 selections. But, really, what on earth are magazines like Nuts and Zoo doing there?!

Now, it is true that women occupy senior positions at the BBC, with nearly half the current BBC Executive Board being women, and even a female Head of Sport. Nevertheless the old macho culture prevails.

Newsround is quite good on gender equality issues, and reported the SPOTY controversy on 29th November. Their 5pm bulletin that day included an interview with Peter Spencer of the Manchester Evening News, and a sofa chat with BBC sports reporter Matt Slater. But perhaps they could have asked some women on too. Clare Balding, for example, has been outspoken about the issue.

Hayley read out a short comment by Rebecca Adlington: "I think there have been some great women in sport this year, including my best friend Keri-Anne Payne. I'm sad they haven't been recognised."

On Thursday 8th December Ore told Newsround viewers that the final three nominees for BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year had been announced. He said it's an all-girls shortlist, and that "the decision will be made by sporting experts, including me."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cerrie Burnell is a presenter for CBeebies, so it was a surprise to see her answering questions on Sunday's CBBC Newsround, in what Leah called "a festive" When I Was 10, as questions put to Cerrie were mainly about Christmas. Cerrie has most of her right arm missing and, perhaps coincidentally, it is currently UK Disability History Month (22nd November - 22nd December)

When Cerrie first appeared on CBeebies some parents complained that their kids were frightened by her. In fact, young children are usually more curious than frightened, and responsible parents would have taken the opportunity to carefully explain that not all people are the same, but that we are all entitled to equal respect.

Considering the theme of this year's UKDHM is Celebrating Our Struggle for Equality, it was a pity that Cerrie wasn't asked what it was like for her at school with a disability, and how she was treated by other kids.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Creative Diversity Network, or Cultural Diversity Network as it was known until September 2011, held its award ceremony last Tuesday.

When I contacted CDN in 2010 I was told by the Secretariat's Nick Sammons that the CDN dealt with issues around ethnic diversity, not sexual orientation. However, since then, the CDN claims "a broader remit than previously, to include all aspects of diversity." I have asked the BBC which aspects of the Diversity Pledge it has signed up to, and am awaiting a reply.

Tony Marchant's new drama Postcode is about the interaction between a number of teenagers living in the same part of town, but from very different backgrounds and cultures. The first episode was broadcast on the same day as the CDN Awards.

Jamal, a refugee from Somalia, and Zac, who is white and attends a posh school, first meet whilst browsing through an Arsenal FC magazine in a shop owned by Sheela's dad.

Jamal is about to steal the magazine, but Zac warns him about the CCTV camera. Zac gets hassled by gang leader Anthony outside the shop, but Jamal speaks up for Zac. We see the ups and downs of a developing friendship between the two, and how that ultimately helps to secure Jamal and his family's refugee status in the UK.

Postcode portrayed characters from diverse backgrounds, but as I feared it was one further demonstration that BBC children's TV is still failing to address the portrayal of LGB people. In fact the short series took us no further along that route than did the Sadie J comedy series broadcast earlier this year.

A Newsround Special: Welcome to My World was about two boys from Lewisham, Sachen and Patric, who agreed to live with each other's families for a few days. It was first broadcast immediately after Postcode.

This week there'll be a new documentary series about the working lives of kids from other countries: Show Me What You're Made Of. Also this week Ricky will present a special series of reports from the USA. He's been on a road trip, to find out what Americans think about Barack Obama three years after he became President. I'd say it's a pretty safe bet we'll hear absolutely nothing about LGBT rights, even though that's been a major area of political interest in the States.

At least two BBC employees have recently used the term 'pansy' in a pejorative sense on a social networking site, contrary to this part of BBC Editorial Guidelines. Will the Corporation treat these incidents seriously, as it undoubtedly would had racist terms been used instead?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The theme of Anti-Bullying Week 2011 was "Stop and think – words can hurt." But condemning hurtful words alone isn't always enough. Some words such as "gay" need to be used - and used in a positive way. Black History Month, LGBT History Month and UK Disability History Month are helpful reminders, but they're not an excuse to ignore diversity at other times. Inclusive children's TV all year, with affirmative portrayal of minorities, has the potential to get the message across a lot more effectively.

In December 2010 I was told by Joe Godwin, Director of BBC Children's that, in 2011, I could expect to see more programmes on CBBC that "portray encouraging role models" as well as a diverse range of families and programming that tackles issues.

So how has BBC children's TV measured up to the claim?

As far as I'm aware only one kids' programme in 2011 said anything positive about being gay. That was the Bafta-nominated Ballet Boys documentary. I've blogged several times already about CBBC's Leonardo, which could have been a perfect opportunity to counter homophobia. And there were literally dozens of other kids' programmes toeing the heteronormative line.

School for Stars, for example, has just finished its run on CBBC. It's a reality series about the lives of pupils attending the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. In episode 1 the narrator, Reggie Yates, said "Like any school, who's going out with who matters." The words "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" were heard a total of 29 times throughout the series, but never once in the context of a same-sex friendship.

A new children's drama series, Postcode, will be screened over the next three evenings on the CBBC Channel at 5.45pm. According to this press release, Postcode is "a contemporary, urban drama reflecting the realities of life for young people in Britain today. ... [it] will follow the friendships and frustrations among a group of young people – from backgrounds as diverse as Somalian, Polish, Pakistani and Irish – who share a postcode but very little else."

I don't know much else about this production, but I'd be very surprised, in a pleasant way, if this drama actually included even one LGBT character. Not holding my breath though.

Friday, December 02, 2011

My previous blog on Wednesday ended with the hope that Newsround would take human rights more seriously. And to be fair, it has recently been doing quite a lot to enlighten viewers about women's equality. Tuesday's Newsround led with a report on the controversy surrounding the BBC Sports Personality of the Year nominations - all of which were for men, for the first time in 5 years. The BBC has since said it will review the procedures by which nominees are chosen.

Thursday's Newsround at 5pm began with another women's equality story - this time a report by Nel Hedayat, who used to live in Afghanistan.

Ore: First to Afghanistan. Improving women's rights there was a key target of British and American troops after they overthrew the Taliban 10 years ago.

Hayley: The Taliban had been ruling the country, and under their strict regime women weren't allowed to do basic things like go to school.

Ore: But international troops are now getting ready to leave Afghanistan, and women there are really worried that things will go back to how they used to be. Here's Nel with more.

Nel's video report.

Hayley: Well Nel has come to speak to us now. Is it right that you used to live in Afghanistan?

Nel: Yes, yep.

Hayley: And you've recently gone over there to make a documentary about what it's like.

Nel: Yes.

Hayley: How do you feel girls and women - how is their life over there?

Nel: Well under the Taliban it was really, really strict. And women suffered immensely. My auntie, for example, she used to be a teacher. And under the Taliban she was forced to do it secretly. And my cousin had to attend a secret school just to be able to learn to read. With the troops there it was safe for her.

Ore: So would you say that it's fair to say when the troops were there it changed young girls' lives hugely?

Nel: Absolutely. Absolutely, it just meant that girls were able to go outside and play. They were able to go to school. That they were able to eventually get a job. And the worry is now that the girls that were able to do this - you know they're not going to be able to do it once the troops leave.

Hayley: So it's quite risky. What's the biggest risk they've got?

Nel: The biggest risk they've got is that they could be punished for doing the very things that they enjoy doing. Otherwise they'll be forced to stay at home and just completely be ignored.

Hayley: Thank you Nel.

Ore: Right, cheers for that.

Today's Newsround included a short Q & A section with the Archbishop of York answering questions put to him by pupils from York Minster School. The Archbishop was keen to promote it on Twitter - here and here.

Ore: ... This is the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu - the second most important man in the Church of England. Over the years he's chopped up his dog collar on TV and lived for a week in a tent to protest against human rights abuse around the world. And he's hiked 280 miles for charity ...

Unfortunately the Archbishop of York has a poor record on some human rights issues. Here is a case where Sentamu, quite disgracefully, invokes the name of William Wilberforce to support discrimination against gay people.

So Newsround does cover human rights, and as we've seen, it's particularly good on gender equality. But, like the Archbishop, the programme still hasn't demonstrated any interest in lesbian rights and equality.