BBC gay report is “flawed progress”


London – 30 September 2010

“The BBC’s research on its portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people is ground-breaking progress. But is also flawed in key aspects,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of the LGBT rights campaign group, OutRage!

“The report does not adequately address complaints that the BBC gives proportionately little airtime to gay people or issues, and that its news coverage of homophobic hate crimes and gay human rights violations is often patchy. In the name of balance, the BBC too often reports extreme homophobic views, whereas it would not give a platform to similar racist or anti-Semitic opinions.  It is guilty of featuring too many camp, stereotypical gay comedians and either neglecting or sensationalising transgender people,” he added.

Mr Tatchell was commenting on the publication today of the BBC report, Portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people on the BBC:

“The real bench mark is to compare the BBC’s portrayal of gay issues with its depiction of black issues. Quite rightly, the BBC has a zero tolerance of racism but when it comes to homophobia it seems to show more leeway. Why two different responses to prejudice?

“At a time when the BBC national news was almost daily reporting the murder of young men and racists attacks, in 2008 it failed to report the homophobic murder of 18-year-old Michael Causer in Liverpool, other than on the Merseyside section of the BBC website. In contrast, the earlier racist murder of black Liverpudlian, Anthony Walker, received national BBC news coverage for days. This is evidence of the BBC’s double standards on racism and homophobia.

“I salute those BBC trustees, executives, editors and journalists who have made positive changes to include and fairly represent the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) communities. Progress has been made. We need to acknowledge that.

“Congratulations to the Beeb for its ground-breaking gay Muslim storyline in Eastenders, which has helped highlight some of the dilemmas faced by an often hidden section of the gay and Muslim communities.

“But more remains to be done.

In 2006, the BBC was stung when gay lobby group Stonewall published a damning report, Tuned Out, by Leeds University researchers. They examined 168 hours of prime-time BBC 1 and BBC 2 television programmes; finding that positive gay references totalled a mere six minutes, compared to 32 minutes of negative, disparaging coverage. In other words, gay people were five times more likely to be portrayed in negative terms than in positive ones. Over half of all gay references were jokes, which mostly played on stereotypes of sexually predatory or effeminate gay men. Lesbian and gay issues were rarely mentioned in BBC factual output. Overall lesbian lives and concerns were particularly poorly represented in BBC programming.

“Sadly, there is little evidence that BBC coverage of LGB issues has improved significantly since Tuned Out was published.

“Last December, the BBC reported on legislation before the Ugandan parliament that seeks to impose the death penalty for repeated same-sex acts. In response, the corporation’s Have Your Say Africa website hosted an online debate: ‘Should homosexuals face execution?’  The BBC would not, I suspect, hold online debates such as: ‘Should black people be lynched?’ Moreover, the BBC’s commentary announcing the debate put a very weak case against the execution of LGB Ugandans. To some people, it read like a tacit invitation for respondents to endorse the state-sponsored killing of LGBs.

“This faux pas followed the furore over Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles using the word ‘gay’ as an insult and getting away with it. Indeed, the BBC governors ruled that the word ‘gay’ was an acceptable on-air synonym for ‘rubbish.’

“The BBC 3 television programme, The Most Annoying People of 2008, included an interview with BBC Radio 5 presenter, DJ Spooney, where he was given free rein, without challenge or rebuke, to disparage lesbians: ‘Let the munters and mingers get each other. That’s cool. No one really wants them ones.’” If he had been a white DJ making similar  remarks about black women he would have been disciplined or even sacked.

“The BBC has few known gay, lesbian or bisexual people in senior management or trustee positions and it refuses to recognise that this represents a shortcoming in its diversity policy.

“Are any of its 12 trustees openly gay? And who is the corporation’s most senior openly lesbian or gay executive? A BBC press officer told journalist Simon Edge that these questions are an outrageous intrusion.  But the BBC would not think twice about saying how many executives or trustees are black or Asian.

“This attitude is symptomatic of a bigger, wider problem at the BBC. Progress yes, but more needs to be done to make the BBC fit for lesbian, gay and bisexual audiences,” said Mr Tatchell.