The BBC is not reflecting gay life in its most popular youth programming, new research conducted by the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity Stonewall finds.
Just 1.7 per cent of the BBC's most popular programmes included references or portrayals of gay people or issues, compared with 6.5 per cent on Channel 4 and 5.6 per cent on ITV1. The charity says that, of the 126 hours of programming monitored by Stonewall for the survey, only 46 minutes featured "realistic and positive" depictions. Of this 46 minutes, 44 seconds was to be found in BBC programmes.
Overall, the charity found that 49 per cent of all depictions was stereotypical, with gay people shown to be "figures of fun, predatory or promiscuous". A third was "realistic but negative", featuring gay people upset or distressed, most commonly about issues arising from their sexuality.
The focus groups surrounding the research seem to have demonstrated the effect that this imbalance has on young viewers. William, aged 13, said that "a lot of bad stuff happens to them", while Adil, also 13, said that "they're always having arguments and crying". Later on in the report, Adil adds that "bisexuals seem greedy".
For me, the most telling statistic refers to the type of programming. Thirty-nine per cent of all portrayals was in soap operas, with only a "negligible" representation in magazine shows and none at all in dramas. The research used the top 20 most popular programmes among young people, including The One Show, Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, Coronation Street, The Bill, How to Look Good Naked and The Simpsons.
The recommendations in the Stonewall report, though worthy, are dispiriting in themselves. "Broadcasters' existing race, gender and disability policies and practices should be mirrored in relation to sexual orientation," it says. And: "Fact-based programmes should also ensure they include issues particular to gay people, both positive and negative, in the same way that issues concerning other population cohorts are often discussed."
That either of these is a recommendation at all is perhaps more shocking than the statistics themselves. There is still a way to go, it would seem, in placing negative portrayals of different sexualities squarely under the heading of "discrimination".
Read the full report from Stonewall here.