One of Stonewall's key priorities is to promote fair coverage of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the print and broadcast media – so that gay people are visible, portrayed realistically and discussed sensitively.

The media is an extremely powerful tool - television, radio, newspapers, magazines and advertising have the capacity to educate, inform, include and challenge millions of individuals.

For many gay people, the media provides their first images of gay sexuality – it can provide positive role models, and can help them realise they are not alone. However, the media can also be damaging to gay people, reinforcing stereotypes and perpetuating homophobic views.

What we know

Stonewall’s survey with 2,000 staff working in schools, The Teachers’ Report found that two thirds of secondary schools and three in four primary school teachers believe homophobic language in broadcast media affects the frequency of homophobic language and homophobic bullying in schools.

In July 2010 Stonewall published research into the representation of gay people on youth television.  Key findings from the sample of 126 hours include:

  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual people were portrayed for 5 hours and 43 minutes - 4.5 per cent of total programming.
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual people were portrayed negatively for two hours and three minutes.
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual people were positively and realistically portrayed for just 46 minutes, 0.6 per cent of total programmes monitored. 
  • Three quarters of portrayal was confined to just four programmes – Hollyoaks, I’m A Celebrity..., How to Look Good Naked and Emmerdale. 
  • Half (49 per cent) of all portrayal was stereotypical.
  • Gay people were depicted as figures of fun, predatory or promiscuous.
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual people were portrayed negatively for two hours and three minutes – accounting for 36 per cent of all portrayal.
  • Just seven minutes featured scenes where homophobia was challenged.

Download Unseen on Screen.

Stonewall research (Living Together) found that almost a fifth of people think TV is responsible for anti-gay prejudice and 38 per cent feel that TV and other media such as radio have a duty to reduce anti-gay prejudice.

In 2005 Stonewall carried out research into how the BBC represents lesbian, gay and bisexual lives. Tuned Out explored a range of areas including:

  • Does TV have a positive or negative impact?
  • Does the BBC challenge homophobia?
  • Do gay licence-payers get value for money?

We monitored 168 hours of peak time TV on BBC One and BBC Two: during that time, lesbian and gay people and their lives were realistically and positively portrayed for just six minutes.

  • Gay people are contributing almost £190 million every year towards BBC programming
  • Gay people and their lives are five times more likely to be portrayed in negative terms on the BBC
  •  Gay life is most likely to appear in entertainment programmes, and is rarely featured in factual programmes, like documentaries and the news
  •  BBC programmes frequently use gay sexuality for making jokes or as an insult, and rely heavily on clichéd stereotypes

Stonewall also spoke to gay and straight people from across the UK to find out how they feel about the way lesbians and gay men are portrayed on TV. They told us they wanted to see:

  • More documentaries to help everyone understand lesbian and gay lives - and not just ones focusing on negative issues
  •  More positive role models for young gay people
  •  More realistic and non-sensationalised / clichéd gay characters in soaps and drama
  • A more diverse range of lesbian and gay identities, beyond the urban stereotypes

What we have done

Stonewall has set up a Media monitor to improve the reporting of lesbian, gay and bisexual media issues by helping people to tell the media what they think.

We want you to take action and let the producers, editors, journalists, presenters and broadcasters know about how misrepresenting gay people affects you, and why they should challenge homophobia.

  • Have you read something homophobic in a newspaper?
  • Heard something offensive on the radio?
  • Fed up with gay stereotypes on TV?

It's time to tell the media how you feel!

To make a complaint about something you’ve seen or heard you can use the contact details listed below under Useful links.

Stonewall Cymru’s Look Out campaign to improve the reporting of lesbian, gay and bisexual media issues in Wales contains some useful tips and advice about making a complaint.

Be a media monitor for Stonewall

We need your help to continue our media monitoring. By letting us know what you’ve seen or heard that’s offended you, or that you thought was positive, you’ll be helping us with our future media research. Register your comments and be part of Stonewall's ongoing media monitoring.

What we are currently doing

Stonewall continues to work on the media portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. We believe that mainstream media outlets can and should use their position to tackle prejudice and celebrate the diversity of twenty-first century Britain.

We work together with Ofcom and a range of TV channels and media organisations to help them improve inclusion and representation and provide an honest and informed perspective on the real lives of lesbian and gay people.

Stonewall also continues to look at potential areas of research  into  the homophobia commonly heard and seen on radio and television and to  aid media organisations  in improving the representation of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and their lives.

Useful links

To make a complaint about something you’ve seen or heard, you can use the contact details shown or click on the links provided to make a complaint online.

  • BBC TV
    BBC Complaints
    PO Box 1922
    Glasgow G2 3WT
    Telephone: 08700 100 222
    Textphone: 08700 100 212

  •  ITV
    ITV Complaints
    Duty Office
    Gas Street
    Birmingham B1 2JT
    Telephone: 0870 600 6766
    Fax: 0121 634 4898

  • Channel 4
    Viewer Enquiries
    Channel 4 Television
    124 Horseferry Road
    London SW1P 2TX
    Telephone: 020 7306 8333

  • Channel 5
    22 Long Acre
    London WC2E 9LY
    Telephone: 0845 705 0505

  • Sky
    Phone: 08702 40 40 40

  • BBC Radio
    BBC Complaints
    PO Box 1922
    Glasgow G2 3WT
    Telephone: 08700 100 222
    Textphone: 08700 100 212

  • Virgin Radio
    1 Golden Square
    London W1F 9DJ
    Telephone: 08707 30 1215

  • Talksport Radio
    18 Hatfields
    London SE1 8DJ

  • Teletext
    10 Chiswick Park
    566 Chiswick High Road
    London W4 5TS.
    Tel:  0870 731 3000

  • Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO)
    Halton House, 20/23 Holborn
    EC1N 2JD
    Helpline: 0800 123 2220

  • Advertising Standards Authority
    Mid City Place
    71 High Holborn
    London WC1V 6QT
    Telephone: 020 7492 2222

  • Ofcom (Independent regulator)
    Riverside House
    2a Southwark Bridge Road
    London SE1 9HA
    Telephone: 020 7981 3000
    Textphone: 020 7981 3043

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