BBC told to put more gay presenters on children’s TV to ‘familiarise’ youngsters with different sexualities
BBC children’s programmes should include more lesbian, gay and bisexual people, a report of the corporation recommends.
A panel of nine experts said youngsters should be introduced to sexual diversity in their early years.
While there has been a gradual increased in the representation of these people, they remain ‘still relatively invisible’ in the media, they said.
The experts added that the BBC should be ‘more creative and bolder in its depiction of such groups of people, taking care to steer clear of stereotypes.’
The report concluded: ‘The LGB [lesbian, gay and bisexual] experts feel that the BBC should seek to incorporate the portrayal of LGB people within programming targeted at children, to familiarise audiences through incidental portrayal from an early age.’
Demonstrating positive experiences and outcomes will stop LGB children feeling isolated, it said, particularly in rural areas.
The report commissioned by the broadcaster, which drew on audience surveys and nine ‘LGB experts’, concluded that all genres of programming should regularly feature non-heterosexual people, with news and drama currently the biggest problem areas.
Of BBC News, the study claimed that too much time was given to ‘homophobic’ viewpoints.
‘As a public service broadcaster and a standard bearer on moral issues, the BBC is asked to reconsider the way in which it is perceived to set up these debates with two extreme perspectives and to be more creative and nuanced in its presentation,’ wrote Clare Luke of Solitaire Consulting, who produced the report.
Role models: Gay actor Andrew Payden-Smith, left, starred in CBBC drama Byker Grove and presented its breakfast shows for children. Former Big Brother Brian Dowling, right, hosted a showbiz slot on BBC Radio 1
For dramas and soaps, she recommended bolder storylines featuring gay characters, while documentaries were deemed to need more LGB presenters and portrayal of gay people in history.
As for comedy, the report concluded that the ‘biggest risk’ was LGB people being the focus of a joke.
This was judged as only truly acceptable when the comedians themselves were gay.
The report drew on a survey of around 3,000 viewers, in which one in five heterosexual men said they thought there were too many LGB people on BBC television.
More than one in ten people said there were uncomfortable with the portrayal of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the broadcast media.
Acting director general Tim Davie, chair of the BBC Working Group which commissioned the review, said: ‘The BBC has a fundamental obligation to serve all its audiences. In fact, it’s one of the BBC’s public purposes to reflect the diversity of UK life.
‘I’m proud to have led this work for three years, and this review underlines our commitment and sets a direction for the work to continue.’
Reacting to the report, Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, said: ‘I would object to my children being subjected to any sexualisation on a BBC television programme, whether homosexual or heterosexual. That is not the purpose of children’s TV.’
But Peter Tatchell, a gay rights campaigner for OutRage!, said: ‘This is a really positive proposal which can help increase understanding and combat prejudice. Every child deserves to grow up to be tolerant, kind, and supportive of other people who are gay or lesbian.’
Other areas criticised in the report include entertainment and sport, where researchers also believe homosexuals are under-represented on the BBC.
In comedy, it is feared homosexuals could become the focus of cruel jokes. ‘However, if the author or source of the humour is LGB, this is felt to be more authentic or appropriate and so there is more acceptance,’ the report said. In entertainment, gay presenters can act as role models, it said, provided they are there ‘because of their talent as opposed to their sexual orientation’.
Big Brother star Dowling became the first openly gay children’s TV presenter in the UK when he began presenting ITV’s SMTV Live in 2002.
In 2002, Dowling co-hosted the Elle Style Awards with BBC Radio 1 presenter Jo Whiley and he hosted a showbiz slot on Vernon Kay’s BBC Radio 1 Saturday morning show from 2004 to 2006.
Gay actor Andrew Hayden-Smith made his name as Ben in CBBC youth drama Byker Grove, and in 2002 became half of the main presenting team for the afternoon slot on BBC1, a position he would hold for just under four years.
During that time, he also occasionally presented the CBBC breakfast shows on BBC1 and BBC2 as well as the digital CBBC channel.
Performer John Barrowman, who has since appeared on BBC shows Doctor Who, Torchwood and Strictly Come Dancing, began his career presenting CBBC’s Saturday morning show Live and Kicking.
Gay rights campaigner Anthony Crank, best known for fronting Channel 4 youth show T4, works for BBC Radio Manchester as a regular cover presenter and presented BBC family shows including Holiday and Holiday Hit Squad.
BBC children’s presenter Kirsten O’Brien said in 2007 that ‘everyone at CBBC is either gay or childless and don’t like kids’.
However, the corporation insisted that her remarks about her colleagues during a stand-up show at the Edinburgh festival had been made in jest.
The SMart presenter’s words came shortly after a series of gaffes relating to BBC children’s shows.
Blue Peter was found to have used a studio guest to pose as a competition winner and presenter Richard Bacon admitted taking cocaine.
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