BBC accused of 'institutionalised homophobia'

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The Independent Online

The BBC is "almost endemically" homophobic in its portrayal of gay and lesbians across a range of programmes, a report concluded.

Presenters such as Anne Robinson, Jeremy Clarkson, and Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles were among those criticised in a study for the gay rights group Stonewall.

The report also found "low-level homophobia" was institutionalised throughout factual and entertainment programming on the BBC. A monitoring exercise by researchers at the University of Leeds found that, during 168 hours of programming, only 0.4 per cent of the output tackled gay and lesbian issues and 80 per cent of that coverage was deemed negative.

Focus groups singled out the BBC as the worst broadcaster in terms of its portrayal of gay men and women and issues surrounding them. Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said: "At a time when the BBC is seeking renewal of its charter, it is difficult to argue that 1.5 million gay households should be expected to continue making such a substantial contribution to channels on which their real lives are hardly reflected and which are often punctuated with derisive and demeaning depictions of them."

The researchers watched 168 hours of programming on BBC1 and BBC2, broadcast between 7pm and 10pm over a period of eight weeks. During that time, lesbian and gays, references to them, or related issues featured in just 38 minutes of coverage, of which 32 were deemed derogatory or offensive and just six minutes were deemed positive. Robinson came in for criticism for repeatedly using gay innuendo to belittle a contestant on The Weakest Link - Celebrity Chefs.

The presenter asked a contestant: "What do you do in your restaurant - just mince around?" She then asked him: "Before you go, and bear in mind that this is a family show, what's the strangest thing you've ever put in your mouth?"

The report said it was not unusual to hear the Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson unfavourably describing cars as "gay". Chris Moyles treated gay people "like zoo animals".

Focus groups of gays and heterosexuals said that when homosexuality was portrayed in soap operas or dramas on the BBC, it was clichéd and centred on characters either in crisis about their sexual orientation or as promiscuous predators trying to seduce a straight person. Once their "coming out" or sexually orientated storylines were over, they were commonly written out, the report said.

Other channels were seen as portraying gay and lesbian people in a more positive light. Shows such as Channel 4's Queer as Folk and ITV's Bad Girls were among those praised.