Thursday, January 30, 2014

Given the significant number of Newsround reports relating to the forthcoming winter games in Sochi, it is quite disappointing to note that the programme has been almost completely silent about homophobia - and not just in Russia.

The issue is, however, concerning the UK Government, as was clear from a report last night on the BBC's News at Ten.

Huw Edwards on BBC News at Ten

Huw Edwards: The Government is to give extra funding to gay rights groups, including Stonewall, operating in Russia. The Winter Olympics start next Friday in the Russian resort of Sochi. But the hostile attitude of the authorities, including a law against the promotion of homosexuality, has overshadowed much of the lead-up to the games. The BBC has learned that the Culture Secretary is to step up British support for gay campaigners amid concerns that homophobic attacks are increasing. This report by our sports editor, David Bond, does contain some images of violence.

David Bond: It was hardly the sort of day for an outdoor performance of Swan Lake. But these ballet dancers outside the Russian Embassy in West London this morning were part of a demonstration against the law which they say oppresses gay people. Today the minister representing the UK Government in Sochi said they wanted to do more to help those calling for change.

Maria Miller: We're already putting in place additional support to make sure that gay rights organisations have got the sort of support and expertise that I think can make a real difference in the work that they're doing on the ground in Russia.

David Bond: This could be seen as quite incendiary though, couldn't it?

David Bond with Maria Miller -Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Maria Miller: I think it's important that we state very clearly that as a country we believe in freedom of speech. We believe in the importance of universal human rights.

Video of protest being violently suppressed by Russian ОМОН police (Отряд мобильный особого назначения)

David Bond: The British Government is channeling funds and support for protests like this through action groups like Stonewall. Activists in Russia welcomed the UK's move.

Nikolai Bayev: The more countries like the United Kingdom provide us with such support the better our fight against homophobia will be here in Russia.

David Bond's report went on to show extremist video footage posted online of gay people being tortured.

David Bond: The Russian president, Vladimir Putin sees the Sochi games as an opportunity to impose Russia on the world stage, projecting him as a leader of a modern and powerful nation. But the very public debate about gay rights has left many wondering whether Putin's Russia is actually going backwards.

Australian snowboarder, Belle Brockhoff, said she wanted to go to Sochi to show that she wasn't intimidated.

David Bond: All Olympics come with political noise. Sochi has had more than most. And how Russia tackles this question of gay rights will have a big bearing on whether the games are seen as a success.

Monday, January 27, 2014

One of today's main stories on Newsround was about Holocaust Memorial Day.

From the 7.40am bulletin -

Leah: Today people in the UK will remember the six million Jews and other people killed by the German Nazi Party during the second world war. Services are taking place all around the country as part of National Holocaust Memorial Day. And I've been looking at what it means.

Leah explained the significance of Holocaust Memorial Day and talked to two refugees, Henry and Ingrid, who, along with a few thousand other children left Nazi Germany as refugees before the war. Henry and Ingrid spoke of their experiences to kids at a school assembly in South Lanarkshire. And afterwards Newsround interviewed some of the kids -

"It was really eye-opening hearing Ingrid's and Henry's story"

"Quite emotional when you saw how important this was to them, and how they thought it was important to spread the message"

".. it was real life, and real people."

From the 4.20pm bulletin -

Ricky: Services have been taking place across the world today as part of the National Holocaust Day memorial day. It's to remember the six million Jews and other people killed by the German Nazi Party during the second world war, over 70 years ago. Ayshah's been finding out what it all means.

Ayshah: It's never easy to think about World War II, but it's important to understand what happened and make sure it's never forgotten. During the war Germany was ruled by the Nazis - a racist government led by Adolf Hitler. He believed people from certain religions or races were inferior, and wanted to get rid of them. ...

Ayshah said that learning about the terrible things that happened in history can help us try and prevent them from happening again.

Perhaps it would have been a good idea for Newsround to include a bit more about the ideology which led to the terrible events of the Holocaust - the demonisation of certain groups in society, and the failure to stand up to racism and other forms of prejudice.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

As expected, last week's TV interviews with President Putin were another propaganda opportunity for Russia and the Sochi winter games. True, quite a lot of time was devoted to questions about gay rights, but Putin's responses weren't challenged. Andrew Marr's repeated talk of the rarity of such interviews came across as deference to Mr Putin, made that much worse by the one-way obsequious pleasantries in their face to face meeting -

Marr: Mr President, very nice to speak to you again. Thank you for that very long discussion.

There followed more of Marr toadying up to Putin and finishing the interview with .... "Thank you very much Mr President (Marr bows and shakes hands with Putin) Thank you. Thank you so much."

Marr bows to President Putin before taking his leave

So a coup for Andrew Marr, then. And Putin would have been pleased, too.

Things haven't been going quite so well for the Sochi winter games sponsors. On 21st January McDonalds tweeted "We’re kicking off a way to send your well wishes to any Olympian today. Are you ready to send your #CheersToSochi?" They included a link to their webpage for sending messages to competing athletes and teams.

But many people around the world are now aware of the human rights abuses in Russia. The #cheerstosochi tag was quickly adopted as a Twitter rallying point to criticise the Sochi Olympic games sponsors. Companies like McDonalds and Coca Cola are now worried that their sponsorship money and investments in Russia will backfire, doing more harm than good.

Recently Newsround has been reporting about the Sochi games on an almost daily basis. However the programme has still not even mentioned the prejudice and discrimination faced by people in Russia, nor the outrage these abuses have caused in the West.

In the UK, LGBT History Month is just a week away.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Yesterday's BBC News included an item about the Winter Olympics, which start in February. The Andrew Marr show, tomorrow, will include Marr's full interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. What we don't know is whether it was the BBC or the Russian authorities primarily behind the meeting, and whether any conditions needed to be met by the BBC before the interview was approved.

Anyone who takes an interest in journalism will know that some interviewers are more tenacious than others in their questioning. What would happen, for example, if an interviewer had concentrated on the fate of Vladislav Tornovoi and other Russians murdered on account of their sexual orientation? Truth is that Marr avoids asking his guests any such awkward questions.

In the excerpt on this webpage Marr tells viewers that Putin "very rarely gives interviews to foreign journalists." We see Mr Marr shake hands with Mr Putin as he says "Nice to see you again."

Andrew Marr has a reputation for giving his subjects an easy time, whilst other journalists like Jeremy Paxman, Andrew Neil and John Humphrys can make their victims' lives quite uncomfortable. George Entwistle found that out to his cost, which probably explains why the current BBC director general, Lord Hall, prefers to stick with the gentler interview style of Jeremy Vine.

Andrew Marr considers whether all the money, risk, and controversy about the Sochi Winter Olympics are really worth it. He says Sochi is "a huge project and a huge gamble, but already one Mr Putin thinks he is winning." With such tame scrutiny by the BBC, that is hardly surprising. Newsround has carried dozens of reports and promotions for this Winter Olympics, but has yet to even mention the dire situation faced by lesbian and gay Russians.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

One of the main stories on yesterday's Newsround was about Moshi Monsters, and concerns from a charity that helps those with facial disfigurements. Today at 4.20pm Newsround reported "a row" about an app which an eating disorder charity believes is unsuitable for children.

Ricky: First to a row about apps on smartphones that turn plastic surgery into a game, which a charity has said are dangerous. Players are presented with a figure of a girl and are invited to "fix" her, making her thinner using surgery techniques. Apple and Google have removed a version aimed at kids aged 9 and older, but a very similar version is still available aimed at kids aged 12 and above. And the charity for eating disorders, B-eat told Leah today that's sending a bad message.

Susan Ringwood (from B-eat): We're very concerned about this app because we know how dangerous it can be for young people to feel bad about themselves and their bodies. And we don't see how his app can do anything but add to their insecurities - it's really quite dangerous.

Leah: So in order to get an app onto the app store it does have to be approved. What do you think about that?

Susan Ringwood: We understand that these apps have to be approved before they're put up on these sites, so if this really has gone through an approval process, I don't think it's rigorous enough. I don't think it's taken into account enough of the consequences - the serious consequences - that could come from people having access to this. We're not in favour of people banning things, but they should have a very much more responsible attitude than's been shown here.

The plastic surgery app

Ricky: Well Google told us earlier that they don't comment on individual apps, but will remove apps that breach guidelines. We've asked Apple several times today about whether they feel the plastic surgery game is appropriate for kids to play. But we've heard, so far, nothing back from them.

Plastic surgery game - 'dangerous' says charity

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The first news story on both of this morning's Newsround TV bulletins was about a petition to the makers of Moshi Monsters.

Newsround on Tuesday 14th January 2014 at 8.15am -

Leah: First this morning, an image charity is urging people to sign a petition to force the makers of Moshi Monsters to change the name of its evil characters. A group called Changing Faces says names like 'Fish Lips' and 'Freakface' reinforce negative views of people with facial disfigurements like scars, spots or bad eyes. The charity say the fact Moshi Monsters baddies have these traits makes people associate disfigurement with being bad, and could encourage bullying. Moshi makers say they're speaking to the charity, and apologise for any offence caused. Last summer Changing Faces made a similar complaint about Lego.

A new BBC children's interactive game show called Ludus starts next week. CBBC has already screened promos for the show and the accompanying app.

As you will notice from the trailer, supervillain Ludus is quite camp and speaks with a lisp. But Ludus is not the only camp villain on children's TV. Take, for example, Count Dracula on CBBC's Young Dracula series. He is as camp as Christmas. Even cartoons like Pet Squad include camp villains, yet camp hero figures are very few and far between. The thoughtless approach of having facially disfigured villains in Moshi Monsters is not entirely dissimilar to the thoughtless approach of having camp villains on BBC children's TV. Heroes are a diverse lot. We need to see (and hear) them fairly represented by the media.

Moshi Monsters criticised

Monday, January 13, 2014

Was Newsround right not to cover last week's news about Thomas Hitzlsperger coming out?

You don't have to be ashamed of being gay. At least that was the message that came across in the final episode from series 2 of CBBC's Wizards vs Aliens.

It would be great to see that message continue on CBBC in 2014, not just in children's dramas, but also on factual programmes. After all, homophobia is just as much an issue as racism. And prejudice of all types needs to be challenged.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Newsround Blog regulars may recall that, in March 2012 on The Big Questions, Michael Johnson disturbingly appeared to condone homophobia while rightly being vocal in condemning racism. He drew attention to the way racism had affected his seven year old son, who had been called names at school. I suggested that BBC programmes aimed at young people mirror Mr Johnson's stance towards diversity.

Mr Johnson was appointed to the Football Association's Inclusion Advisory Board in December 2013, but it seems the FA were unaware of his previously stated views. Concerns over his appointment appeared in The Guardian and other newspapers and media outlets last week.

The BBC chose not to report the furore, but it has now reported Michael Johnson's decision to step down from the FA's Inclusion Board.

Mr Johnson has said that he no longer holds the homophobic views expressed back in March 2012

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Nelson Mandela believed that the character of a society could be judged by the way it treats its children. So how will Britain's main public service broadcaster measure up in 2014?

According to ChildWise, in 2013, more children aged 5-16 watched BBC than CBBC, and the most watched programme amongst that age group was EastEnders. One of the main EastEnders storylines over the Christmas/New Year holiday period dealt with Johnny Carter coming out as gay. To date the story has been reasonably sensitively handled. But, as always with the BBC, that is no guarantee of things to come. In fact EastEnders has been responsible for some incredibly nasty storylines involving LGBT characters.

Bearing in mind the almost total absence of lesbian and gay teen characters on BBC Children's, the Corporation has an even higher duty to ensure that minority is portrayed fairly. Equally important, however, is the need to correct the shortfall. Time will tell. Surveys indicate there are around two people in the UK who don't identify as white for every one person who doesn't identify as heterosexual - 13% and 6.5% respectively. (Office for National Statistics) ... diverse portrayal on BBC Children’s is critically important (pdf). The BBC cite examples of diversity within Newsround's reporting team, as well as a few other CBBC programmes.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

There can be few regular viewers to CBBC Newsround who aren't aware of Nelson Mandela's enormous legacy to the world. Four years ago Ore Oduba was sent out to South Africa to set the scene for that country hosting World Cup 2010. His reports informed viewers about the shameful way black people had been treated under the apartheid regime.

Nelson Mandela's recent death and funeral received a great deal of coverage by the BBC. Newsround's Ricky Boleto was just one of the well over a hundred BBC employees dispatched to South Africa to help report on Mandela's legacy. In Mandela's Children Ricky says that for children of all ages Mandela is seen as a true hero.

One fact not widely known in Britain is that South Africa is one of the few countries whose constitution (section 9) specifically bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. A result of that equality is that same sex marriage has been legal there for a number of years.

From Mandela's Children -

Ricky: The people of South Africa are about to say their final goodbye to Nelson Mandela - a man who changed their country and the world for the better. But as Nelson Mandela, himself, once said The true character of society can be revealed in the way it treats its children. ...

Happy New Year