Monday, October 4, 2010

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, LGB people considered LGB portrayal in broadcast media to be important”

I love the BBC. Sometimes, when I survey the UK TV listings and find only gardening and cookery shows on primetime, or when everything on iPlayer makes me want to cry with boredom, or when University Challenge is canceled so the Ryder Cup highlights can be shown, I forget that.

But the Beeb really is a terrific institution. If you can look past the endless anodyne costume dramas and the gigantic embarrassment that is BBC Three, there’s an awful lot to like. These are the people that bring us news coverage of a neutrality envied the world over, web content unmatched by other traditional broadcasters, and a wealth of radio talent to cater to all tastes (my personal favorite being Mark Kermode, whose show I’ll be seeing live in London this week).

One of the best things about the BBC, however, is its willingness to regulate itself. It has its own governing body in the form of BBC Trust, which tries to make sure (in its own words) that “the BBC has the right standards and that its programmes live up to those standards”. If there are investigations going on into BBC content, you can bet your boots it will be reported impartially on the BBC news website.

Auntie, bless her wee cotton socks, has a whole list of editorial guidelines, covering not only the expected areas of accuracy, impartiality, and privacy, but also things like “War, Terror & Emergencies” or “Interacting with our Audiences”. On top of this, when criticized she conducts research into the relevant area with a view to changing her conduct.

I refer specifically, of course, to Stonewall’s Unseen on Screen report (which can be found here) about gay people on youth TV, and the BBC’s response to its finding that “BBC1 transmitted just 44 seconds of positive and realistic [LGB] portrayal out of a total 39 hours and 30 minutes of programming.” Auntie conducted a survey and a public consultation, in which I quite happily took part.

Now the BBC has published the results, in a report entitled Portrayal of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People on the BBC (which you can read here). It makes for pretty interesting reading, even if some of the findings are on a par with investigations into the Pope’s preferred brand of Christianity for duh-factor (I love the dry “Perhaps unsurprisingly” in the quote I’ve pulled for my title).

My two favorite factoids are:

(i) “LGB people were also particularly conscious that there should be more portrayal of other groups, such as disabled and black and minority ethnic audiences, as well as their own.” (p11)

(ii) “More heterosexual women thought the portrayal of LGB people to be important than did heterosexual men.” (p13)

That first one makes sense, since often queer people tend to be more aware of things like majority privilege and the representation of minority groups in the media – I know I mentioned other minority groups in my answer to the survey, including trans people, who are almost completely ignored by both the BBC report and of course Stonewall generally.

The second ties into a phenomenon I find fascinating: that of straight women who are major queer allies. I don’t know why straight women should be more interested in queer people than straight men, but the facts here seem to bear out the presentation in a lot of fiction of straight women with gay male best friends, à la Will & Grace, Sex & the City, and so on.

A lot of people have a lot of opinions about this trend, so I won’t add mine. I’ll just point out that I, as a gay woman with a lot of straight male friends, rarely if ever see a representation of a life like mine in film or TV.

Of course, one rarely sees gay women represented on TV at all, particularly on the BBC – as most people questioned for the report seem to agree. It’s very heartening to see dear old Auntie taking notice of this problem and looking toward doing something about it, starting with hotly anticipated new drama Lip Service. Maybe we’ll finally see some realistic and relatable lesbian representation on the BBC.

– Though, on a second look, I find that Lip Service will be on BBC Three. Maybe next year, eh, Auntie?

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