Friday, December 27, 2013

The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee heard evidence from Lord Hall and others on 22nd October 2013. An uncorrected transcript of the evidence was published on 29th October 2013, and a there is also a video of the evidence available on the Parliament TV website.

Even though he'd been BBC director general for over six months it seems, from Lord Hall's misleading or untrue responses to the Committee, that he's failed to get to grips with the job. For example he did not appear to know the current target age of BBC children's services . He did not seem to have anything other than the sketchiest knowledge of BBC Switch, nor why it was discontinued, and he did not realise that audiences for Newsround and Blue Peter had, according to the BBC Trust, fallen recently. In fact, Lord Hall told the Committee that audiences for those programmes were growing.

Philip Davies questions BBC director general, Tony Hall

All of this could, perhaps, be forgiven had Lord Hall attempted to correct his mistakes. After all he recently told viewers "we should own up to things we don't get right." I did inform him personally by email and suggested he wouldn't want to mislead Parliament.

I contacted the Committee on 20th November 2013 to ask whether they'd heard from anyone on behalf of the BBC in respect of possible errors given in evidence on 22nd October 2013 by BBC director general, Tony Hall. They replied that they'd received some supplementary evidence from the BBC, which relates to the oral evidence, and a few minor amendments correcting transcription errors. The Committee, I was told, had not received anything else. The supplementary evidence was published on Monday and it's now available on the Committee's website. The misleading information, to which I drew Lord Hall's attention, was not corrected, neither has he answered me personally about the matter.

Another BBC executive not noted for their willingness to correspond with the public is Helen Boaden. Philip Davies developed the argument - based on the Pollard Review and subsequent developments - that Ms Boaden, BBC Director of Radio and formerly Head of News, is unfit to remain in place as a senior director of the BBC. Both Lord Hall and Lord Patten were left floundering, attempting to deflect the argument by defending the Pollard Review which cost licence payers £3million.

Nevertheless, as we saw in my last blog entry, Lord Hall says he's enjoying himself at the BBC and that's sufficient enough for him. He'll almost certainly continue to stay well away from the likes of John Humphrys and Jeremy Paxman. Truth be told Lord Hall is completely out of his depth at the BBC, and his talents are better suited to running an opera house.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Jean Seaton shows scant understanding of the inner workings of the BBC in her recent Guardian article. At the time of Lord Hall's appointment to the director generalship of the BBC, Professor Seaton believed that being a member of the House of Lords was incompatible with his new role.

Ms Seaton starts her Guardian piece by acknowledging the recent criticism of larger-than-necessary payoffs by the HoC Public Accounts Committee. But, in trying to mitigate the damage, she distorts the truth - ironic in view of her association with The Orwell Prize.

Take this example ..
The real question is why did BBC salaries get so large? One issue were (sic) the non-executive directors, appointed from outside on to the executive board. These business people were supposed to be a solution but turned out to be a problem. The philosophy behind their appointment was that people from "outside" brought "commercial" realism to the BBC. But they did not seem to understand the actual business of public service, and they brought with them the 90s and noughties belief in, and casual acceptance of, gross salaries.
Of course the reason these people were brought into salary oversight was precisely because they were thought to be compliant when huge salaries are involved. This is the 'bonus culture' so encouraged by the banks, and enthusiastically embraced by BBC management for so long. People involved, like the Barclays Bank former chairman Marcus Agius, who told the Public Accounts Committee that he was entirely happy signing off on Mark Byford's payoff. He said "After sustained challenge and debate we were finally persuaded that, in the circumstances, it was the right decision on value-for-money grounds."

Ms Seaton seems to suggest that it was some terrible mistake that the executive board led to the excessive payoffs, rather than a much more likely deliberate policy to appoint people thus inclined to be helpful to management. After all, just think how few other people would have such an attitude. So it's not only the outside directors who didn't understand 'public service' but, more significantly, BBC management itself. Naturally Mark Thompson and Mr Agius continue to maintain the payoffs were justified completely. However the Public Accounts Committee concluded:
.. It is unacceptable for the BBC, or any other public body, to give departing senior managers huge severance payments that far exceed their contractual entitlements. .. Some of the justifications put forward by the BBC were extraordinary. For example, the former Director General, Mark Thompson, claimed that it was necessary to pay his former deputy and long-term colleague Mark Byford an extra £300,000, not because the BBC was obliged to, but to keep Mr Byford "fully focused" instead of "taking calls from head hunters". This increased Mr Byford's severance payment to more than £1 million.
The PAC went on to say that there was a failure at the most senior levels of the BBC to challenge the actual payments and prevailing culture, in which cronyism was a factor that allowed for the liberal use of other people's money. So the question arises as to what changes to the BBC's ethos will Lord Hall make? The omens are not good.

On 1st December 2011, both Nel & Hayley wore red ribbons on the 5pm edition of Newsround to mark World AIDS day. However, Graham Norton was censured very recently for wearing just such a ribbon. The BBC received numerous complaints that the Corporation was applying double standards. Some even suspect that homophobia accounts for the way Norton has been treated, especially as all his guests were wearing ribbons.

Hundreds of people wrote directly to Lord Hall, but despite a growing chorus of criticism Hall has shown a pathetic lack of concern. Last month he told BBC viewers: "I'm enjoying myself at the moment, and that's sufficient enough for me"

Tony Hall speaking to Jeremy Vine on Points of View last month

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Newsround's final TV bulletin of 2013 (yesterday 4.20pm) ended with each of the programme's six presenters choosing a story that stood out for them in 2013.

Newsround presenters (L to R) Ayshah, Nel, Leah, Ricky, Jenny, Martin

For Leah it was the children rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Leah's fiancé, Ricky, then chose the horsemeat scandal. Next was Jenny, who reminded viewers of Ruben's reports about fair treatment for kids with Down's Syndrome. Nel's choice was smartphones which allow you to smell texts. Ayshah liked interviewing Chris Hadfield, the singing spaceman. Last up was Martin, whose choice was a story about an owl with work experience.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The final episode from Wizards vs Aliens received almost universal praise on social media for the way it handled Benny coming out as gay. Towards the end of the programme Tom suggests he could use his enhanced magic to "change" Benny and make him happy. Benny, though, says he is happy the way he is.

The BBC has frequently faced criticism that it is biased against LGBT people, not least from Newsround Blog itself. Others disagree and claim the corporation is not homophobic. Wizards vs Aliens would seem to suggest the latter point of view is correct ...

However, the BBC makes loads of children's TV programmes each year, and this excerpt from Dani's Castle, first shown on Friday, is far more typical of the CBBC channel. In fact, the previous time there were young gay characters on CBBC was over eight years ago. So we await proportionate representation - a third series of Wizards vs Aliens in which Benny kisses a boyfriend in the way Tom kissed Chloe, or perhaps completely new CBBC series ideas where some of the protagonists are lesbian or gay.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The second series of Wizards vs Aliens concluded yesterday with somewhat of a surprise - and I'm not referring to wizards winning an all out war with the aliens. No, the big surprise, for many, was that Benny has come out as gay to his best friend Tom Clarke. There's no denying that the relevant scene was very sensitively written and acted; though, as it happens, the word "gay" was never actually spoken.

Tom tells Benny that they need to save the world in order that Benny can go on his very first date. They win the war, and save the world. So the big question becomes whether or not we'll see any more of Benny. Will we ever see him go on his first date?

That was the last episode of the current series, and no decision has yet been made about the commissioning of a third series.

Benny coming out as gay might seem like groundbreaking children's television but, surprising as it may seem to those unfamiliar with Newsround Blog, gay characters first appeared on kids' TV more than twenty years ago. And although Benny has yet to go on his gay date, kids actually saw teens coming out and dating in the past, before programmes like Byker Grove and Grange Hill were axed.

The reality, then, is that children's TV has just recently been playing catch-up, and there's no guarantee that it'll continue to do so. There is no room for complacency. Furthermore, lesbians have been even more poorly represented on TV than their male counterparts.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Tom Daley was the first guest to be interviewed on last night's Jonathan Ross Show. Thankfully Ross has moved away completely from the undercurrent of homophobia on his old BBC show. The Tom Daley interview, which was well received by the Radio Times and on Twitter, was recorded a few days ago, after Tom came out via YouTube.

Tom Daley on ITV's Jonathan Ross Show

Excerpt from the chat show -

Tom Daley: When you're growing up you may always have those kind of thoughts, but you think no, it can't be right. I felt like there was something wrong with me. I didn't know other people out there felt that way. I didn't know it was something that people, like, do - I just literally felt so alone and I felt so locked away, like I couldn't say anything. I couldn't be who I wanted to be. From Monday I felt like I could just be myself.

A bit later in the interview Ross told Tom that he'd become very much a role model. Ross continued "Whether you're aware of this or not, I think you will find you've become a very important figure to a lot of people."

Tom Daley, like thousands of kids, was bullied and felt isolated because of prejudice in society. Schools and the media, especially children's TV, could do so much more to change things.

Below is another Tom - Tom Clarke - from Wizards vs Aliens:-

Tom Clarke falls for Chloe on CBBC's Wizards vs Aliens

Now, as far as we know, Tom only fancies girls. And Tom is typical of every teen character currently portrayed on BBC children's TV - not one of them is seen in a lesbian or gay relationship. This kind of homophobic discrimination must not be allowed to continue.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Full marks go to CBBC Newsround for their reporting of Tom Daley coming out on Monday. The story appeared on their website early that afternoon and it was reported as third story on both the 4.20pm and the 6.50pm bulletins.

Newsround's coverage was just right, not making a huge deal of Tom's announcement, but at the same time not minimising the significance and problems faced by other LGBT people. The short clip from Tom's YouTube video cut to the chase by avoiding unnecessary explanations and extraneous details.

One thing clear, even from that short clip, is that 19-year-old Tom was quite embarrassed to reveal he was in a relationship with another man. But should we be surprised? After all we know that Tom was bullied at school and that the bullying got so bad that he was eventually forced to change schools.

Tom Daley reveals he's dating a guy

Like thousands of other schoolchildren in Britain, Tom would have heard 'gay' being used in pejorative contexts on an almost daily basis. Some of that negativity is bound to rub off and scar. Such insidious language urgently needs to be tackled in Britain's primary and secondary schools. And luckily there are now some teachers, celebrities and organisations leading the way.

Eliminating homophobic prejudice, though, isn't only about raising awareness of offensive and hurtful language. It's also about inclusion for all - making everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, feel wanted and valuable members of society. In recent times that's something children's TV has not done well. There was a session devoted to this topic at this year's Children's Media Conference, though whether any media companies have followed up with plans for inclusive programmes is a completely different matter. CBBC is one of the Conference sponsors, so I have asked CBBC's media people about any plans they may have for including relevant teen protagonists/role models in their drama. Waiting to hear back.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Newsround reports on Tom Daley coming out

This was the third story on Newsround at 4.20pm yesterday -

Newsround report about Tom Daley coming out

Leah: Fellow sports stars and swimming officials have given their support to diver Tom Daley after he revealed he's got a boyfriend. It's being seen as a big step because some athletes have said it's difficult for high profile stars to be openly gay. The Olympic bronze medalist posted a video online announcing the news. He says he couldn't be happier.

brief clip from Tom Daley's YouTube announcement followed
Tom Daley: I met someone and they make me feel so happy, so safe, and everything just feels great. And well that someone ... is a guy.

A very similar report (again the third story) on the 6.50pm bulletin -

Leah: Sports stars and swimming bosses have given their support to diver Tom Daley today after he revealed he's got a boyfriend. It's being seen as a big step because some athletes have said it's difficult for high profile stars to be openly gay. Tom posted a video online announcing the news. He says he couldn't be happier.

brief clip from Tom Daley's YouTube announcement followed
Tom Daley: I met someone and they make me feel so happy, so safe, and everything just feels great. And well that someone ... is a guy.

The news story is also on Newsround's website.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Viewers who rely entirely on CBBC Newsround for gossip about what's happening on the X Factor will be completely unaware of the recent off the rails behaviour of last year's winner, James Arthur. Fortunately there are other sources of information including, of course, Newsround Blog.

James Arthur sang on last night's X Factor results programme and afterwards spoke to presenter Dermot O'Leary.

Dermot O'Leary clapped Mr Arthur's performance of 'Recovery' and exclaimed "JAMES ARTHUR, EVERYONE!" Then he spoke to Mr Arthur -

Dermot O'Leary seeks contrition from James Arthur - (ITV1 on 1st Dec 2013)

Dermot: New single from the album out now. It's been quite a year for you, young man, in particular the last couple of weeks.

James: Yeah, erm y'know it's been an amazing year for me. It's been incredible highs, paired with some terrible lows. Y'know I've made a few very st .. erm silly mistakes but I just want to thank all the people that have stuck with me and supported me. I wanna thank the X Factor for giving me the opportunity to do my ... (audience cheer) Above all I want to say sorry for abusing my position as an X Factor winner, because, you know, I owe everything to this thing, so thank you very much. (more cheering)

Dermot: So, chamomile tea and early to bed from now on, is it?

James: How d'you know I was on the chamomile tea? Yeah I love chamomile tea now - it's very calming.

Dermot: Alright mate, listen it's great to have you with us. Thanks so much. Give it up for the one and only JAMES ARTHUR! (audience cheers)