Stonewall criticises BBC’s gay representation

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The chief executive of the UK’s leading gay equality organisation has told a diversity conference that gay and lesbian people are “massively underserved” by the BBC.

Ben Summerskill said that £200m of the BBC’s £3bn licence fee is paid by gay citizens, who were not getting proper representation on screen.

“I have always been a huge advocate of the BBC and I do think it has served historically as a cultural glue for so many people in this country,” he told last week’s conference organised by actor’s unions Equity, according to The Stage.

“But I think it is putting the opportunity of continuing to do that in peril if it does not properly engage and portray the way Britain is in the 21st century, rather than the way a small number of people at the top of that organisation imagine it might be.”

Recent research by Stonewall found that gay people and their lives are five times more likely to be portrayed in negative terms on the BBC and that gay life is most likely to appear in entertainment programmes, and is rarely featured in factual programmes such as documentaries or news.

In 168 hours of primetime broadcasting there was a mere six minutes of “realistic portrayal” of gay and lesbian lives.

The corporation has defended homophobic comments made by Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles, Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson and light entertainment host Patrick Kielty in recent times.

In July Clarkson was criticised by broadcasting watchdog Ofcom for using homophobic cockney-rhyming slang to describe a car.

Clarkson, who also writes columns for tabloid newspapers, asked a member of the audience if he would buy the car, to which he replied “no, its a bit gay.”

The presenter then said “A bit gay, yes, very ginger beer.”

Ofcom decided that the use of the word ‘gay’ could mean foolish or stupid, according to the dictionary.

But they went on to criticise the presenter’s comments, ruling that “the use of the word became capable of giving offence.

“In the context, there was no justification for using the word in this way.”

No further action was taken as the BBC has already admitted it caused offence.

In March Patrick Kielty was merely told to be careful about his use of language after calling a reality show contestant a ‘gayer.’

Last year Chris Moyles came under fire for describing a ringtone as ‘gay,’ using the word to mean the same as ‘rubbish,’ on his Radio 1 show.

BBC governors backed the DJ saying he “met the required editorial standards and did not demonstrate homophobia.”

In July Kevin Brennan, the new Minister for Children, told an audience of education professionals and activists in London that homophobic language used on TV and radio is unacceptable.

Speaking at the Stonewall Education for All conference, the minister said that the perception that the use of words like ‘poof’ or ‘gay’ is ‘just a bit of harmless banter’ contributes to homophobic bullying in schools.

In a thinly veiled attack on Moyles, Mr Brennan said:

“Our objective is nothing less than a fully inclusive society. Where all minority groups are valued and respected, and every individual is able to simply be who they are.

“It’s clear that we aren’t there yet.

“Just one example is the casual use of homophobic language by mainstream radio DJs.

“This is too often seen as harmless banter instead of the offensive insult that it really represents.”