Philip Hensher: The BBC is not alone with a 'pink ceiling'

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The Independent Online

Stonewall's report on the representation of gay people in the BBC's output has, rather predictably, been savaged on all sides. Its conclusions, that the BBC routinely broadcasts material deliberately offensive to gay people, and makes very little effort to present any kind of realistic image of gay people, might seem on the surface difficult to deny. Anne Robinson, Chris Moyles, Jeremy Clarkson use terribly tired old jokes perpetually, and the samples Stonewall came up with are entirely accurate.

According to most commentators, however, we have no right whatever to object to any of this. After all, it's just a bit of fun. They've gone on to point out, too, that the BBC employs conspicuously gay personalities as presenters, including Graham Norton and Julian Clary. The implication is that one ought to be grateful for anything, even representation through mockery. I don't know about this. Certainly, these sorts of jokes, though seedy, banal and depressing, are only to be expected from such third-rate variety turns. They don't particularly offend me, but they are strikingly déclassé these days, and aren't very likely to last much longer.

The instances of the corporation's employment of Clary and Norton isn't as clear-cut as Stonewall's opponents in this argument would like to prove; it seems undeniable that the BBC, in employing them, has required them to drop the scabrous gay schtick with which they made their names, and as a result has a great deal of difficulty in coming up with any kind of plausible vehicle. Graham Norton, now, isn't permitted a tenth of the degree of vulgar innuendo allowed to, say, Jonathan Ross.

A more significant question, however, has been rather overlooked. Stonewall claims that, within the BBC, gay employees find that they hit what has been called "a pink ceiling"; that, after a certain point, they are not considered for further promotion. That, I think, sounds entirely plausible, and it certainly accords with one's impressions of many large organisations. When you consider the serious attempts the BBC has made to promote members of racial minorities, and give them a conspicuous place on screen, it is striking that almost the only conspicuously gay regular presenter outside the excesses of light entertainment is Evan Davis, the BBC News economics correspondent.

And one would like to know about the representation of gay people in the upper echelons of management. Of course, in any business organisation, a culture of homophobia will tend to discourage anyone lower down from discussing their sexuality. But, these days, I see no reason why the top management need not be asked about their sexuality for monitoring purposes, just as racial origins are monitored.

I strongly suspect that the BBC will find it difficult to show it promotes gay people; and, after all, a survey along these lines which produces refusals to answer will tell its own story about the attitudes prevailing within the organisation. If people don't feel entirely relaxed about saying where they are coming from, as they say, that ought to be as worrying as an exclusively heterosexual promotion policy.

In any case, the day is coming when gay people will not be shamed into silence on this matter, and when they will prefer a survey on this subject to being passed over as being "not the right sort of chap". By that point, I guess, the BBC will have lost a significant part of its talent to better employers.

A new vision for the Euro song contest

Like many people who watch the various stages of the Eurovision Song Contest, I often start to feel, like Stalin, that it would be better to get rid of the electorate and install a new one. The British entry last year, chosen by popular acclaim, sank without trace, and rightly so. One had started to think that the British public lacked a certain necessary bad taste.

I take it all back. On Saturday night, Daz Sampson, right, a middle-aged white man who couldn't dance and, evidently unable to sing, had taken to rapping instead, disported himself about a stage filled with lady dancers who, though hardly less young themselves, were done up as schoolgirls; and, incredibly, won the nomination. Marvellous.

I adore the Eurovision Song Contest. Surely, rather than second-guessing what will make them like us again, the best path to take is to present foreigners on all occasions with a cavorting rhymester leching over some superannuated schoolgirls to a mildly hip-hop beat. And that, I'm certain, is something we can all agree on.

* Outrage in Leeds as a university lecturer, Dr Frank Ellis, has used his position to propagate his views that black people are intrinsically more stupid than whites. The university, for the moment, is sticking by him on the basis that he is entitled to hold and express his views. But on the surface, it does look odd that someone employed by a university should hold views which have been so entirely discredited by research.

Well, not particularly. After all, arts departments in universities have, for years now, been teaching that truths are relative and culturally determined; even those which could be tested against evidence. One can't really start complaining now when the statements produced by relativist positions aren't very attractive ones. You can write off IQ tests in either direction, after all, as under - or overestimating individual cultural groups. There's no reason why Dr Ellis shouldn't come to his absurd conclusion, and the cultural relativists come to their own.