BBC Outs Itself for Gay and Lesbian Stereotypes

Downnton Abbey - P 2012

“Downton Abbey,” “Doctor Who” praised; Scottish lesbian comedy “Lip Service'”s efforts called "laughable" by two-year long study.

LONDON – U.K. public broadcaster the BBC should be bolder and more creative with its depiction of lesbian, gay and bisexual people who are still sidelined and stereotyped on television, says a new report commissioned by the BBC itself.

According to the report, lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people were "still relatively invisible" across all media, "especially lesbian women and bisexual people."

The groups' depiction in the media "still needs to reflect the diversity of LGB people and to avoid stereotypes."

The report, after two years of research, concludes that the BBC should feature more lesbian, gay and bisexual people across its bouquet of channels and programming. It also called for the BBC to put LGB folks on children's shows and sport, and to cover LGB issues on BBC News in a more nuanced fashion.

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The investigation into the media portrayal of LGB audiences consisted of interviews with LGB organizations and reps and comes two years after a 2010 study carried out by the BBC.

In two parts, the updated research also features the views of around 3,500 people on the BBC's own independently run audience reaction panel, Pulse.

The BBC's acting director general Tim Davie, chairman of the BBC working group which commissioned the review, said: "The BBC has a fundamental obligation to serve all its audiences. In fact, it's one of the BBC's public purposes to reflect the diversity of UK life. 

"I'm proud to have led this work for three years, and this review underlines our commitment and sets a direction for the work to continue."

Shows praised by the research for having LGB characters in them include Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Holby City.

"Doctor Who quite often has a gay character in it but it isn't always an issue or the plotline," said anti-hate crime charity Galop. "It's just incidental, which has been quite nice."

The report also leveled criticism at BBC drama Lip Service, a show about a group of lesbians living in Glasgow which went out on BBC3.

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The actors trade union Equity noted that while the show is written by a lesbian/bisexual woman which has a positive impact, the episodes "were directed by men and the majority of the lesbian characters were played by heterosexual actors and this clearly impacts on the quality and integrity of the representation. Some of it was laughable."

High-profile LGB presenters, such as Clare Balding, the face of the BBC London 2012 Olympic Games coverage -- who recently won an award for her impact on production at the British Women in Film and TV Awards -- and the ceremony's host Sue Perkins, a comedian and one of the presenters of BBC2's The Great British Bake-Off, were among the names garnering praise for the BBC in the report.

But coverage of LGB issues on TV news programs, including the BBC, was criticized for giving "too much time to homophobic viewpoints" as part of an effort to make discussion of issues "unnecessarily and deliberately confrontational".

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The report said, "The LGB expert participants feel that the BBC should be more creative and bolder in how it represents LGB people across the range of genres and platforms."

While all broadcasters had responsibility to reflect the diversity of their audiences, the report singled out the BBC as having an "extra obligation" because of its role as a flagship broadcaster and global name.

The BBC is also tasked with reconsidering the way it constructed news and current affairs debates. The report said it should be "more creative and nuanced" with its presentation rather than setting up a debate with "two extreme perspectives."

And drama makers are being called on to be "bolder" while comedy producers found themselves warned that the "biggest risk [was] the portrayal of LGB people being the focus of the joke. If the author or source of the humor is LGB, this is felt to be more authentic or appropriate and so there is more acceptance."