Sunday, October 28, 2012

John Simpson is one of the BBC's most respected journalists. He appeared on Panorama's investigation (iPlayer) into what the BBC knew about Jimmy Savile and why the Newsnight investigation had been dropped -

John Simpson: This is the worst crisis that I can remember in my nearly 50 years at the BBC. I don't think the BBC has handled it terribly well. All we have, as an organisation, is the trust of people - the people that watch us and listen to us. And if we don't have that - we start to lose that - that's very dangerous for the BBC.

John Simpson's comments were the basis of a detailed news report in children's newspaper, First News. But, although all this has been such a big story in Britain, the BBC's own flagship news and current affairs programme for children has yet to say a word about either Jimmy Savile's abuse or about the BBC crisis.

The BBC's editorial guidelines cover all situations that could arise as a broadcaster, including controversial news. The guideline in Section 4.4.15 deals with impartiality when the BBC, itself, is the story -
When dealing with controversial subjects concerning the BBC, our reporting must remain duly impartial, as well as accurate and fair. We need to ensure the BBC's impartiality is not brought into question (my emphasis) ...

The fact that Newsround publicised last year's Savile tribute but has, so far, completely failed to report the current controversy, does exactly that - it further brings the impartiality and integrity of the BBC children's department into question.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Scandal Incorporated

My last blog drew attention to the failure of Newsround to follow-through on their Friday morning item about the efficacy of wearing anti-racism T-shirts. So kids who rely on Newsround for sports news might not have known the views of Sir Alex Ferguson. But today's 10am bulletin began with a report from Ferguson's perspective -

Manchester United may have beaten Stoke 4-2 yesterday, but Rio Ferdinand is in big trouble with the side's boss for refusing to wear a special T-shirt in training. Ferdinand said he didn't wear a 'Kick It Out' anti-racism shirt because he doesn't think the campaign is doing enough to tackle issues in the game. But Ferguson says he feels let down and the player's actions will be dealt with.

Because of Ferguson's entirely inappropriate stance, this story has the potential to escalate. We'll have to wait and see. Newsround's midday bulletin was more balanced, as it also reported on the action taken by Swansea and Wigan teams.

The first story on last Tuesday's Newsround was about age restrictions on social networking sites. Ricky told viewers ".. if you're under 13 you're not allowed to use websites like Facebook and Twitter." Peter Bradley from Kidscape said that the rules are there to protect children against things such as cyberbullying, and stressed the need for kids not to give away any personal information on the internet. Ricky ended his video report with ".. for now, the rules to keep you guys safe are staying put."

A headline news story - the scandal embroiling the BBC - has yet to receive so much as a mention on Newsround. But there can surely be few kids who have not seen some of the newspaper headlines about Jimmy Savile or about Newsnight's controversial editorial decision. Last year Newsround called for kids to take part in a tribute to Jimmy Savile who, they said, was well known for fixing it for children's dreams to come true.

Newsround's continued failure to report the news impartially results in kids losing faith - another nail in the coffin of socially relevant TV.

This Blog is expecting the Savile story to be reported on Newsround very shortly - probably tomorrow.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lately Newsround has been pretty good on covering racism stories. On Wednesday at 5pm, for example, it was introduced by Leah and Ricky -

Leah: It's Wednesday 17th October. I'm Leah and this is Ricky.

Ricky: You're live with Newsround. On today's show - Racism rears its ugly head in football once again. ....

Yesterday, the 8.17am bulletin began with the news about Jason Roberts telling footballers to protest against the lack of action to combat racism in the sport -

Leah: A top Premier League striker's urging black players to stop wearing 'Kick Racism Out Of Football' T-shirts during warm-ups for this weekend's games. Reading's Jason Roberts says he's ditching the T-shirts in protest at the organisation not taking a stronger stance against John Terry. The Chelsea captain accepted a four match ban for abusing Rio Ferdinand's brother Anton, yesterday.

Jason Roberts: The players are very frustrated. And, you know, if you're asking me, if players ask me about it and wearing T-shirts, they have. And I can only speak for myself - I find it very hard to wear a T-Shirt and to hold a banner after what's happened last year.

Although the John Terry racism story grew during the day, for some reason Newsround chose not to revisit the issue, either on the later TV bulletins or on their website. Two interesting developments were Roberto Di Matteo's coyness on John Terry's captaincy and Sir Alex Ferguson saying he disagreed with Jason Roberts. In the normal course of events football managers are freely given air time on Newsround, so it was doubly strange that this wasn't covered. But then it has always been difficult to fathom BBC editorial judgement.

Today, Newsround mentioned that Chelsea have "taken firm disciplinary action" against John Terry.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Today is Spirit Day, marking the victims of homophobia. Anyone can show solidarity with the principle of tolerance and mutual respect by wearing the colour purple.

Despite several promises of change, BBC children's TV continues to apply a different standard of 'editorial judgement' to anti-gay discrimination than it does to news about discrimination based other types of prejudice.

In September Newsround reported about four Christians who allege they are being discriminated against. Two of those people want to be granted the legal right to discriminate against lesbian and gay couples, though that would not have been obvious to anyone who saw the Newsround reports.

Yesterday a gay couple, who were turned away from a 'Christian' Bed-and-Breakfast, won their case of discrimination and will receive £3,600 damages. But that case went unreported by Newsround.

Nick Griffin, of the racist and homophobic BNP, was annoyed about the judgement. He tweeted the gay couple's address, and suggested that a 'British Justice team' would arrive at the address. Griffin's Twitter account was temporarily suspended and the tweet with the gay couple's address has now been removed.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Esther Rantzen interviewed by Martine Croxall
BBC News channel 5.21pm Saturday 13th October 2012

Martine Croxall: The TV presenter and founder of the ChildLine charity, Esther Rantzen, appeared in the ITV documentary on Jimmy Savile aired last week. I've been speaking to her, and she told me that many people must now bear responsibility for what happened.

Esther Rantzen: I feel we were all culpable. I feel that viewers, charities, influential people from the Prime Minister through to the Royal Family helped to create, for Jimmy Savile, an image of being an icon - a national icon, a national treasure - and I think that's what made it particularly difficult for children.I just want to say that children always find it very very difficult to speak up about abuse.

Martine Croxall: Of course they do, of course they do but ...

Esther Rantzen (right) talks about ChildLine - BBC News channel 13th October 2012

Esther Rantzen: And that is why ChildLine - and I'm here really to say to any child watching today - ChildLine 0800 1111 - is a way that abused children can ask for help safely and confidentially.

Martine Croxall: So much easier, though, for children to ask for help if when adults hear rumours they do something about it. The NSPCC says 'Everyone has a responsibility to protect children. You do not have to be a parent. If you are worried about any child act straight away.' And it's clear, isn't it, that people didn't, including you?

Esther Rantzen: Pardon?

Martine Croxall: Including you. You say that you're culpable too.

Esther Rantzen: Can you tell me a child that I was worried about that I didn't help?

Martine Croxall: It seems, well, peculiar to appear in a documentary on television last week ..

Esther Rantzen: Yes

Martine Croxall: .. saying that you were aware of rumours about abuse ..

Esther Rantzen: Yes

Martine Croxall: .. and then to say you didn't know anything specific.

Esther Rantzen: Of course I didn't know anything specific. For 26 years, at ChildLine, we've been hearing from specific children talking about abuse they're suffering, and we have done our best to investigate, to support them, to make them safe. There has never been a child that has reported abuse to me, that I have not taken action to protect. And the same is true of ChildLine. And the same is true of the NSPCC. When you hear a rumour in a television office, that a television presenter has a particular sexual taste, you can't actually then proceed back. Nobody who talked to me about Jimmy Savile had ever met him. Nobody had ever worked with him.

Martine Croxall: But why then appear in a documentary, as you did last week, saying there were rumours, there was gossip and we all blocked our ears to it?

Esther Rantzen: Because, as I've said to you, I believe we're all culpable. I think we, who created this 'national treasure' so that children couldn't speak out against him, made it all the more difficult for children, who find it difficult anyway, to disclose this kind of crime in which the shame and the fear actually is transferred from the abuser to the child.

Martine Croxall: This is the subject which comes up a lot with people when you talk about the time, years ago. Very few women you speak to who didn't feel that they were in some way subjected to unwanted attention but didn't feel that they could say anything to anyone. The reports in The Sun today: Shy Keenan, who is an anti-abuse campaigner, she says that she alerted you to concerns about Jimmy Savile 18 years ago.

Esther Rantzen: She says. I have no memory of even meeting her.

Martine Croxall: But there's a photograph of you here with her.

Esther Rantzen: I don't know where it was taken. It could have been in a green room. You'll understand that, having launched ChildLine in 1986, we continued our campaign trying to protect children. And a number of people in the field of child protection came to see us, came to talk to us. Now she says that she told me there were rumours about Jimmy Savile - which I don't remember. But had she done so, I would have said I do hope she's taken them to the police if she has any evidence. You can't go to the police without evidence.

Martine Croxall: But it seems ... How regularly did you hear rumours about Jimmy Savile when you were working in the BBC?

Esther Rantzen: Not regularly at all. He was not often talked about. Where I worked we were talking about, for example, the abuse that took place in a boys' school which we investigated. And the owner, who was a paedophile, thanks to our investigation was sent to prison. He employed other teachers. That was the sort of thing that we were trying to investigate when children came forward and asked for help. In that case it was a child who wrote to me at ChildLine. And I was able to find evidence against three teachers. Only recently another teacher who worked at that school has just been convicted, because only recently has another one of his victims come forward. A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a lady in her 80's, who told me that she had been abused as a child by someone in her family who was a judge. And she was told she would never be believed, no matter if she asked for help. That's where I think we're all culpable. We make it so difficult for children to speak out. And that's why ChildLine exists.

Martine Croxall: But how can .. how can the people who ... many people who come forward now with these claims about Jimmy Savile feel that they can have proper justice? The man has died.

Esther Rantzen: I know, I know and that is absolutely tragic, because of course they should be able to put their accusations to the man himself. And of course they should have justice, I know. But at least they're being heard now - being heard for the first time. And when you think of one of those people who gave evidence in that documentary, who was at a special school who told her teacher what Savile had done to her. And was punished for it. Think how many years - and she said in the documentary - 'I wasn't believed then, and I don't expect to be believed now.' Well they are being believed. They are corroborating each other, and more and more are tragically coming forward every day.

Martine Croxall: In retrospect, with the gift of hindsight, was it a mistake to appear on the documentary that ITV made, saying that you'd heard these rumours? Because now, of course, we're pressing you for specifics.

Esther Rantzen: That's alright. I mean I'm happy to be pressed by you. But when they asked me to appear, it was to give my view about the credibility of the women. Because I've heard so many children and adult survivors talking about their experience - that's what they wanted me to do.

Martine Croxall: But you went further than that, didn't you?

Esther Rantzen: Because I felt ..

Martine Croxall: You did say you'd heard gossip, you'd heard rumours and we all turned a blind eye.

Esther Rantzen: I felt terrible. I felt terrible listening to them. Because I thought to myself 'I appeared on Jim'll Fix It. I was one of the people that helped to create this mythology of the Saint Jimmy'

Martine Croxall: But had heard the rumours.

Esther Rantzen: And the rumours were everywhere. They were in your newsroom. They were in Fleet Street's newsroom. They were in the music industry. But rumours, you realise a journalist must distinguish between, as Ian Hislop said so well last night, 'there are things you know - that is you know from people who've experienced something or witnessed something - and there's rumour, which you don't know.'

Martine Croxall: Of course there is. But when rumours become so regular and prevalent ..

Esther Rantzen: Rife is the word on the tip of your tongue.

Martine Croxall: .. don't you try to establish whether there's more to it than that?

Esther Rantzen: Right. Here you are, and I'm saying to you of course I've never met the man, and I've never worked with him, but I hear Jimmy Savile attacks girls.

Martine Croxall: But you had met him, hadn't you?

Esther Rantzen: No, no, no. At the time I heard this rumour I hadn't met him. I was a researcher, a junior researcher. And I was being told it by a junior researcher who had contacts in Fleet Street. The big newspapers tried to investigate him on several occasions. The police tried to investigate him. But everything depended on the evidence of children standing up in court. Without it you can't broadcast, you can't publish, you can't take a case. Operation Yewtree, now, is able to look at individual statements by adult survivors, see how they corroborate each other. And that, at last, is evidence.

Martine Croxall: What could people have done in the 80's and 90's?

Esther Rantzen: Well. We launched ChildLine. We launched ChildLine specifically to find a way for children to talk about something they found impossible to disclose to the people around them. It gives them anonymity, it gives them confidentiality. And the first thing we do to a child is say 'this is not your fault.'

Martine Croxall: How much more readily are children believed these days than they were, say 20 or 30 years ago?

Esther Rantzen: I think that's an excellent question. I think they are believed more often now. The children who ring ChildLine now, ring within a month of it starting in half the cases. (unclear) When we opened ChildLine in 1986 people were telling us about abuse which had been going on for 15 years - all their lives. Fortunately, now, they're starting to disclose earlier, and are being believed earlier.

Martine Croxall: Do you think, looking back on the documentary of last week, it was a mistake to mention the rumours that you knew of?

Esther Rantzen: I'm not here to defend myself. The fact is that everybody working in the music industry, television and in journalism had heard those rumours. It's .. it was as they say an open secret. You know, I believe, I've been told by someone who worked in the field, that there were rumours in the NHS. A journalist tells me that there were rumours in military intelligence. But the trouble is that, you know, that a lie goes half way around the world before truth has got its boots on. And we have to be very careful about distinguishing between rumours, which have no evidence, and real evidence of the kind that's coming out now.

Martine Croxall: Esther Rantzen, TV presenter and founder of ChildLine.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Last night, after an inordinate delay, Newsnight finally bit the bullet and got round to reporting the Jimmy Savile affair.

Eddie Mair: On Newsnight tonight - why did the institutions that could have stopped him, fail to do so? In the studio, people who know the workings of the BBC, the tabloids and children's charities. .....

(from video report)
Liz MacKean: ... When rumours attach themselves to public figures the media are often the first to get wind of it. It's become clear that happened in this case and yet newspapers and broadcasters didn't run with the story. Why not? Several former BBC staff have come out to say they were aware of Savile's predatory behaviour in the 70's and 80's. The BBC has announced it will hold an independent inquiry into who knew what about their fallen star once the police give the green light. More recent decisions are also under scrutiny.

Liz MacKean: After Savile died, I was part of a Newsnight team that investigated claims of sexual abuse. The allegations centred on Duncroft School in Surrey, but they included Stoke Mandeville hospital and Television Centre. Newsnight decided not to run the story for editorial reasons. The BBC is under pressure to explain why the story was not broadcast, and whether any influence was brought to bear by senior executives ahead of the Christmas tribute programmes for Savile. ...

Guests in the Newsnight studio were Jon Brown of the NSPCC, newspaper journalist Paul Connew, Vanessa Feltz and Kevin Marsh former editor of Radio4's Today programme. Eddie Mair said that the BBC had declined to take part in the live discussion.

Incidentally I emailed Kevin Marsh at the BBC in 2006 about a completely unrelated matter, but received no reply.

The Newsnight discussion was fine as far as it went, but the elephant in the room was that Newsnight is in possession of all the relevant information, yet they failed to disclose any of it. The programme last night was a perfect opportunity to shed light on the rationale for not broadcasting their investigation late last year, and to disclose the internal debate which took place relating to the decision. But it seems the BBC has, once again, used its 'editorial judgement' and made the wrong decision. Failings of this kind are rapidly undermining trust in Britain's national broadcaster.

At the time of writing, Newsround has failed to mention anything about the Jimmy Savile controversy, though last year they were giving publicity to one of the BBC Savile tribute programmes and asked kids aged 14 or under to write in if they wanted to take part -

Classic TV show Jim'll Fix It comes back for Christmas

Peter Rippon's BBC blog on 2nd October 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ofcom received more than 1000 complaints about the X Factor results programme last Sunday. This was from Newsround on Wednesday at 4.25pm -

Leah: Next, to the latest X Factor drama. And the TV watchdog, Ofcom, is looking into complaints about Sunday night's sing-off. In the last hour they've told us that they've had more than one thousand complaints this series after Carolynne Poole left the show on Sunday night, following a controversial sing-off result which saw Louis send the judges' vote to deadlock. Gary Barlow walked off. It's not the first time the X Factor has received complaints from viewers, of course.

Today Newsround reported what Olly Murs had to say about the show. This was from the early afternoon programme -

Leah: Finally, we caught up with Olly Murs today. He says he's frustrated that people are accusing the X Factor of faking things for extra drama. He was speaking about last week's show when Louis Walsh caused Gary Barlow to storm off live on air, which upset lots of viewers.

Olly Murs: It's upsetting when people say it because I've been part of the show, and behind camera it does get feisty down there. But it is about the contestants, and when I was a contestant on the show I'd hate to think that my show was a fix - that it was fake.

Gary Barlow's disdain for Rylan Clark was obvious on the Saturday night X Factor live show. After receiving high praise from Louis, and more muted praise from Tulisa, it was Gary's turn -

Gary Barlow: Rylan, I am back on the show this year. There's one thing I wanted to change from last year - I wanted to have some fun this year. And I really was having fun till you started singing tonight. (audience jeers) I thought that was .. I'm embarrassed to be sat here. And you know what, I said 'no' to you at the first audition. Which means you (points to Tulisa) should be ashamed of yourself; you (points to Louis) should be ashamed of yourself. And Nicole I don't know how you've even shown up here tonight ....

Gary Barlow & Nicole Scherzinger on X Factor (6th October 2012)

One issue not reported by Newsround is the fact that Rylan Clark had been eliciting a large number of hate messages on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Many of the offensive tweets were also homophobic in nature. This one is typical of hundreds - if not thousands - of others.

In October 2008 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said urgent measures were needed to address intolerance and discrimination against vulnerable groups in the United Kingdom, including LGBT children. The Committee was
"concerned at the general climate of intolerance and negative public attitudes ... which appears to exist in the State party, including in the media, and may be often the underlying cause of further infringements of their rights."

Regrettably, four years later and BBC children's TV has still done nothing to directly address the issue of homophobia and homophobic bullying. No wonder the level of prejudice seems to be on the increase, rather than on the decline

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Correspondence with the BBC is frequently met with a thank you for getting in touch, and a promise that concerns have been logged and passed on. So it came as something of a welcome surprise when I received a more thoughtful and courteous, if somewhat belated, response to my latest email about continuing discrimination on children's services.

My enquiry was sent on 20th August, and detailed reasons for concluding that BBC children's TV is still not inclusive. Although three different programmes were cited in my message, the BBC's reply only responded to what I had to say about the first series of Leonardo. According to the programme's executive producer, whilst Lisa is clearly in love with Leonardo, he remains "sublimely unaware" of Lisa’s crush. The subtext is that he does not respond to her sexually, although he does recognise her feminine beauty which, as an artist, of course he would appreciate.

The Corporation's reply, dated 2nd October, ended with an assurance that they "are always thinking about the portrayal of sexuality in CBBC programming." It remains to be seen how "thinking about" the portrayal of sexuality in CBBC programming will yield concrete results in terms of diversity and inclusiveness.

One of the best new series on CBBC must surely be Wolfblood, in which Rhydian and Maddy are striving, against the odds, to stop their friends from finding out who they really are - wolfbloods. Allegories are fine, but aren't they just a way of not dealing with real life? There's tonnes of hetero love and romance on CBBC but lesbian and gay equivalents are avoided.

Newsround is still showing those clips of celebrities talking about their time at school: When I Was 10. Today Lemar Obika was answering the questions. Lemar was one of the contestants from the BBC's Fame Academy series 1, and has a new album, Invincible, out tomorrow. Amongst the questions put to him was "Did you fancy anyone at school?" He said he had a few crushes, including one girl who lived along his street.

Alex Parks won Fame Academy series 2, but because she was a proud lesbian, the media, including the BBC, treated her very differently, and effectively stifled her career. A CBBC interview on 14th November 2003 presumably contributed to her disillusionment.

In February 2006 Alex wrote "...A lot of you have asked if I'm disappointed with the way my record releases have gone and of course I am. I've had almost no support from the media - hardly any coverage on the radio and TV or in the press and whether that's because they don't like my music, or they don't like me, or maybe because I came from a reality TV programme - I don't know. ..."

Saturday, October 06, 2012

BBC Blue Peter says it's giving kids a chance to participate in the Children's Commissioner's Takeover Day. From the end of Thursday's programme -

Barney: .... if you'd like to achieve you're dreams - let's say your dreams are to produce Blue Peter, the show that's on telly - we might be able to make that come true for you.

Helen: Yes, now next month there is a day that sees children take over places normally controlled by adults. So, in the past we've seen children run local government offices, they've run schools, they've run museums - and even Radio 1. So yeah, you've guessed it, we want you to take over Blue Peter.

Barney: It's an amazing competition - your chance to be a producer on the show, and on the website. Take a look at this.

Barney: You'll work behind the scenes to decide what goes into the programme and what gets shown on TV. From what happens in the studio ... to what happens when we go out on the road. You'll also get to work with the best of the Blue Peter team and find out what it's like to make the show. ... It's a chance for you to run the show and become one of the producers behind Blue Peter.

Helen: ... in no more than 250 words we want you to tell us what you'd like to see on Blue Peter. We want to know what you think we should be doing in this studio and out on the road.

Barney: There are two age categories: 6-9 and 10-12. Go to the website and download an application form. And we'd like everything in by 10am that's Monday morning on 22nd October ......

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

BBC editorial judgement was, once again, called into question yesterday when it was claimed that Newsnight's editor had vetoed transmission of an investigation into Jimmy Savile. It seems that some people at the Corporation were aware Savile was abusing children, but no-one was prepared to go public at the time.

Child safety was one of the topics broached at last week's Church and the Media Conference. During the discussion it was clear that CBBC bosses are aware, whether it's appropriate or not, that young people use social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

As for Newsround - it's unlikely they'll report the news about Jimmy Savile.

When Megan Stammers went missing, it was not until last Tuesday that her abduction was reported by Newsround (see previous blog)

Today's news about missing toddler April Jones wasn't reported on Newsround's morning TV bulletins, though the story is now on their website.

Sometimes caution in reporting a story is appropriate, other times not. However, in general a more open approach by BBC bosses would empower children to better understand the issues, and know when and how to speak out.

Going back to Newsnight, the BBC would have done well to have gone ahead with their report, but ensured that it was balanced and gave a rounded portrait of Mr Savile.