BBC announces research and consultation findings into portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people
The BBC today published the results of its research into the portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people across its television, radio and online services.
The report is the result of audience research with over 2,000 members of the public across the UK. The BBC also held a public consultation, carried out over 10 weeks between January and April, which elicited over 9,400 responses. This is the largest study undertaken by the BBC into the portrayal of LGB people and continues the BBC’s commitment to better understand its audiences. It follows a study into disability portrayal conducted in March 2009 and plans to increase the amount of national and regional portrayal, announced in July this year.
The research and consultation findings reveal that the BBC has made progress with its portrayal of LGB people but could do more to better reflect the diversity of LGB audiences. Some of the key findings were:
* LGB people want to see more LGB portrayal and greater diversity within it
* LGB audiences want greater authenticity in LGB portrayal, less reliance on stereotypes and further integration across genres to reflect the everyday lives of LGB people
* The clear majority of the UK population are comfortable with LGB portrayal or do not feel strongly about it
* Intimacy, both emotional and physical, is the primary concern for people who are uncomfortable with LGB portrayal
* The BBC has made progress and compares relatively well to other broadcasters but there is more to be done
The published report includes the results of the study, conducted by 2CV and Kantar Media for the BBC together with the public consultation and will be shared with production teams, commissioners and decision-makers both across the BBC and the wider industry. Recommendations based on the report’s findings have also been made to the BBC’s Diversity Board, chaired by BBC Director-General, Mark Thompson.
These recommendations are:
1. The BBC commits to addressing the issues raised through the audience research and consultation to achieve accurate and authentic portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people across its services
2. All BBC Editorial Heads will be responsible for identifying how to address the key issues raised and overseeing resulting activity
3. All BBC Editorial Heads will be responsible for debriefing outcomes of research and consultation with their teams
4. BBC will review this research and consultation again in two years to ascertain whether the BBC has moved forward in the eyes of our audiences
5. BBC Working Group on the Portrayal and Inclusion of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Audiences will monitor pan-BBC implementation on behalf of the Diversity Board
Tim Davie, Chair of the BBC Working Group on Portrayal and Inclusion of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Audiences, responsible for commissioning the research, said: “The BBC has a responsibility to serve all our audiences as best we can and there are clear commitments we are taking from this study. We have already begun to share the research with content teams across the BBC in order to continue the progress we have made towards achieving more authentic and diverse portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”
Amanda Rice, BBC Head of Diversity, said: “The publication of this very significant piece of work sends a clear signal to all our licence fee payers that the BBC is committed to meaningful engagement with all audiences. Not only is this a key priority within our diversity strategy, it is also one of the best ways we can continue to learn about what the UK’s diverse communities want and expect of the BBC.”
The research comprised of a qualitative phase, consisting of focus groups and in-depth interviews with LGB and heterosexual people, and a quantitative survey whose participants were drawn from a nationally representative sample and a ’boost’ sample of LGB respondents, to achieve the broadest spectrum of views. LGB participants were made up of people who were out and established, recently out and not yet out. Heterosexual audiences consisted of some people who were more comfortable with LGB issues and portrayal and some who were less comfortable. Of the nationally representative sample, the majority of which were a heterosexual audience: 49% were found to be comfortable with LGB portrayal, 32% were ambivalent and 18% were found to be uncomfortable – with half of this group (9%) very uncomfortable.
Quality, quantity and authenticity
When shown the research stimulus, audiences were surprised at the amount of portrayal of LGB people but there was evidently more that the BBC could do. Whilst 37% of the LGB sample rated the BBC’s LGB output as good or very good, 25% of the same sample rated it as poor. Those who rated the BBC positively said that its portrayal of LGB people was honest, fair and reflected real life whereas those who rated the BBC as poor said there was not enough LGB portrayal and it was too stereotypical. The lack of consensus illustrates the diversity of opinion, needs and viewing preferences amongst the LGB sample. Lesbian women felt that they were under-represented and LGB audiences, as a whole, perceived a real lack of portrayal of bisexual people. There was also an appeal for less reliance on stereotypes, particularly those of camp, gay men - although stereotypes were shown to have their place as part of a wider spectrum of portrayal.
Authenticity was crucial to the credibility of the BBC’s LGB portrayal and many believed that quality in this area had improved. However, LGB audiences were roughly split, with 43% thinking the BBC’s LGB portrayal was realistic compared to 38% believing it was stereotyped. This contradiction could be due to a number of factors shaping opinions on authenticity, such as tone, language, behaviour, visual identity, stereotypes and talent; all relative to differences in life experience and audience expectations for each particular genre.
Both LGB and comfortable heterosexual audiences wanted more instances of portrayal of LGB people to demonstrate greater inclusivity across BBC content.
Intimacy was the primary concern for uncomfortable audiences, who were highly resistant to any intimacy between LGB people, including kissing, hugging, hand holding and any implied intimacy or bedroom scenes whereas comfortable audiences felt that it was only fair to have parity with heterosexual displays of intimacy. The vast majority of LGB and comfortable audiences approached the issue in a similar way to heterosexual intimacy, with levels of intimacy, the watershed, platform and genre all key factors in acceptability. Such instances within portrayal of LGB people, due to their visual impact, could be considered among the landmark moments which stuck in the minds of viewers and provided personal and social momentum for LGB audiences.
LGB audiences also called for more overt portrayal; this included must-see moments and predominant LGB themes within programmes, such as EastEnders, Tipping The Velvet and The Wire and shows such as Queer As Folk and The L Word from other broadcasters. These were felt to be very important to LGB and many comfortable audiences, broadening perceptions of the LGB community, providing role models and serving as a talking point. Uncomfortable heterosexual audiences had concerns about overt portrayal particularly during prime time because of potentially young audiences and also portrayal that they found distasteful creeping into programmes they valued.
Channel 4’s portrayal of LGB people was rated as ’ground-breaking’ by 38% of the LGB audience compared with 23% who would use this term for the BBC’s LGB portrayal. On the other hand, the BBC garnered trust from uncomfortable audiences to approach the issue of LGB portrayal in a sensitive way. LGB audiences recognised the need for sensitivity but called for broadcasters to have pride and confidence in LGB portrayal.
Role of talent
LGB talent were seen as positive role models and credible representation for LGB audiences and some comfortable heterosexual people, particularly when their sexuality was known but not referenced. For those LGB audiences who were not yet out or recently out, the importance of visible LGB talent across genres was even greater, not only as personal role models but as a reference point for family and friends. LGB characters in drama held a similar role for LGB audiences.
Expectations of genre
The research showed that genre lends critically important context to portrayal of LGB people in broadcast media and audience needs differ according to genre.
Drama, in particular continuing drama, was shown to play a key role in addressing LGB issues and engaging uncomfortable heterosexual audiences. Authenticity in reflecting both LGB and heterosexual audiences’ views was seen as key. It was also felt that LGB characters should become more embedded before storylines around their sexuality were developed and that storylines shouldn’t only revolve around their sexuality. Both LGB and comfortable heterosexual audiences believed that LGB characters should experience more positive resolutions to storylines.
Comedy and Entertainment
The only real objections raised in this area were anything perceived as malicious; this included casual remarks which could be regarded as homophobic. Humour was of great importance to audiences in this genre, with an expectation that comedy was meant to be provocative and shouldn’t be too restricted by a politically correct agenda. As such, there was more acceptance of stereotyping, if done intelligently and offset by less stereotypical LGB characters. Jokes at the expense of the LGB community were more readily accepted if they came from within the community, such as a gay character.
News & Current Affairs
All audiences expected factual reporting and impartial language. It was also felt that a person’s sexuality should only be mentioned when particularly relevant and that broadcasters had a duty of care in relaying implications from news stories. Language and tone was seen as particularly important in that reporting should be judgement-free and not sensationalised. Audiences saw the use of LGB talent in news reporting as a powerful contribution to the BBC’s LGB portrayal because of the authoritative nature of the role.
There were limited expectations from all audiences in this area as any incidents of portrayal would be secondary to the sport itself. However, ’out’ LGB talent, as with news reporting, were shown to have a positive impact on portrayal of LGB people. Broadcasting presenters aside, portrayal of LGB people was accepted as something of a taboo in the world of sport, particularly football and rugby, by both LGB and heterosexual audiences but the use of language, should it be referred to, was extremely important. Some viewers felt that LGB partners of sportspeople during commentary at sporting events were not referenced in the same way as heterosexual partners would be.
There were expectations that portrayal of LGB people in this area would focus on appropriate themes for children such as emotions, relationships and family. Uncomfortable heterosexual audiences saw children’s television as no-go area for LGB portrayal, believing it to be irrelevant to children of a young age and also for fear of it being presented as a choice. However, some LGB and comfortable heterosexual audiences saw a need for some degree of portrayal of LGB people in children’s content. There were a number of uncomfortable heterosexual parents who were outraged to find a reference to LGB parents on a BBC website for young children, whereas comfortable parents were pleasantly surprised by this.
Desired role of the BBC
The research findings point to the following for the BBC:
* An editorial commitment from the BBC to better reflect the diversity of LGB audiences, tailored by genre. Importantly, both heterosexual and LGB audiences called for more realistic coverage, less-sensationalised coverage and less reliance on stereotypes
* Integrating the ’worlds’ of heterosexual and LGB people so that sexual orientation is less a topic to cover and more an identity to reflect in the mix
To make the most of creative opportunities in:
* Incidental LGB portrayal across genres, fairly representing and reflecting everyday lives
* Overt and/or landmark content tailored to people hungry for more portrayal of LGB people and for that to sometimes be challenging and iconic
* To flag and endorse upcoming LGB portrayal to engage with LGB audiences, whilst taking into account the needs and sensibilities of other audiences
Tim Davie will be speaking at the Westminster Media Forum, ’Reflecting Diversity – the LGBT community and the media’ on Thursday 30 September to present the research and consultation findings, talk about next steps for the BBC and take part in a panel discussion on the portrayal of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the media as a whole.
The full report is available here: Portrayal of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People on the BBC
The qualitative phase of the research consisted of focus groups and in-depth interviews with LGB and heterosexual people, which were conducted by 2CV Research for the BBC. Thirty research sessions of two hours each were conducted in total, fairly evenly split between the LGB and the heterosexual audiences.
The quantitative survey was conducted by Kantar Media for the BBC and comprised two samples. Firstly, a nationally representative sample of 1,625 UK adults aged 16+ were surveyed face-to-face. Secondly, a boost sample of 510 LGB respondents completed the same questionnaire online. The LGB boost sample was obtained from Kantar Media’s online Lightspeed panel.
The principal method of public consultation was online. A web form setting out 12 questions was available via a link from the BBC website between 22 January and 2 April 2010. We also offered an offline version of the consultation questions and individual submissions were subsequently fed into the analysis.
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