Sunday 19 February 2012

Channel Four's Big Fat Racist Advert

*Update below

Travelling along the North Circular in Hendon a few days ago, Mrs Angry caught sight of the following billboard advert at the side of the motorway- this smaller scale version obviously photographed in a tube station:

Here is another on the same theme: a very young boy used to promote Channel 4's money making racist propaganda:

and another, featuring young girls at a wedding

These posters are to promote the new series of Channel 4's provocative, sensationalising 'Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' programmes which pretend to examine the way of life of 'gypsies' in modern day Britain, whilst exploiting the subject as much as possible for the lowest form of entertainment - caricaturing and stereotyping an entire community in the process.

The men in this series - even the young boys - are portrayed as menacing, predatory, shiftless, criminal. The women, the young women, of course, because no one is interested in the older ones, are presented only as tarts, stupid: vulgar, comical.

This series has rejected the notion that it might offer a study of an alternative culture, or a balanced consideration of the social conditions in which these people are placed: the series makers have instead used their access to the travelling community as an opportunity to stigmatise, humiliate, and victimise a marginalised group of people who have faced centuries of prejudice and persecution, and still, in the twenty first century, are treated with fear, loathing and a total lack of respect for their human rights.

Can you imagine that Channel 4 would dare to make a series about any other ethnic minority group in such an offensive and irresponsible manner? Would they dare to use an advertising campaign using images of a small Jewish boy snarling at the camera, and the statement 'more Jewish', or a black child, or Muslim? No: it would be unthinkable. If you are a member of any of those groups, how would you feel if your child's image was used in this way? Were their parents even asked for permission to use their images for such a purpose?

And why does this series persist in calling Travellers gypsies? How many times must it be pointed out that Irish travellers are not gypsies, who are, in this country anyway, of Roma origin and have an entirely different ancestry, customs, history, language - culture. Yes, culture.

Irish travellers have no Roma ancestry, are a nomadic people who have been a part of Irish life for as long as records exist, and probably before.

And of all times to make another series like this, and to launch a set of adverts with such inflammatory wording, only months after the Dale Farm evictions, when feelings are still running so high: just stupidly irresponsible.

Can anyone remember when Channel 4 used to make innovative documentaries, for an intelligent audience? Pretty tragic, isn't it, what this station has become?

What does this say about us as a society, here in 2012, when we use such cynical and casual racism to sell a television programme to an audience jaded by what Jeremy Paxman once described as the 'freak show' ethos of the channel, the continual diet of mindless reality shows and voyeurism that is paraded nightly for our amusement.

Of course they are only following in the tradition of the tabloid press, whose crocodile tears and hand wringing over the hacking debacle still leaves them with no compunction over the shameless pursuit of their favourite targets, the gypsy and travelling communities.

The Express is bad enough but, dear God, what would the Daily Mail do without its constant run of stories that obsessively demonise such people?

If a gypsy or traveller is found guilty of a crime, it is, in the eyes of the Mail, because they are a gypsy or traveller.

If a member of any other ethnic minority is convicted or accused of something, this is supposed to be irrelevant and according to PCC guidelines, should not anyway be reported. You don't read about the racial origins of a fraudulent banker, or someone convicted of oh, let's see - tax evasion, drink driving, or a mugger or rapist, do you? Most crimes are not perpetrated by gypsies, as it happens, but reading the Mail you might be forgiven for thinking that all gypsies and travellers are criminals.

Article 12 of the PCC code of practice states:


i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

In the Mail, there is a non stop barrage of stories about gypsies and travellers in which they are presented as anti social, disruptive, and very often criminal: reports which relate to any law breaking, or perceived law breaking, focus on the ethnic background of the individual concerned in a manner which would not be allowed in relation to any other minority.

Is it a coincidence that now, sunk as we are in a recession, we are seeing an increased targeting of gypsies and travellers in the less responsible media? I don't think so. The persecution of an underclass is a predictable, terrible consequence of economic hardship. We remember with horror the increasingly acute vilification of Jews in pre war Germany: in a similar fashion here in a twenty first century Europe we are arguably creating a similarly useful scapegoat in our treatment of Roma and Travelling people both here in the UK and abroad. Here in the UK, of course, Travellers carry the added burden of being Irish, and as this last week's gaffe by Boris Johnson shows, the disdainful attitude of the British establishment to their troublesome friends across the water has never really gone away.

The relentless repetition of negative stories in the tabloid press conveys the impression to readers who probably have absolutely no real personal experience of traveller and gypsies that all such people are innately criminal and hateful and deserve to be ostracised by the rest of society.

Of course the Mail has a fine tradition in this regard: a heritage of which to be truly ashamed. In the 1930s, the owner Lord Rothermere supported fascism, was a friend of Hitler and Mussolini, and in one cheering editorial giving encouragement to Oswald Moseley, the paper declared: 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts'. Some habits die hard, don't they? And there is still a lot of money to be made in pandering to prejudice.

photo: Yad Vashem archives

Look at this ridiculous article published in 2009 by Tory boy Harry Phibbs, editor of Conservative Home's local government blog:

"The Government has issued a decree to local Councils to provide more caravan pitches for gypsies. Their argument seems to be that people have a 'right' to be gypsies and that if councils provide more authorised sites there will be less of a problem with gypsies occupying land illegally.

Er: people arguing that they have a 'right' to be gypsies? Just like someone might argue they have a right to be black, or Hindu, or a Mormon, or have green eyes, or perhaps to exist at all?

"This is a policy of appeasement of lawlessness. If people want to spend their lives travelling around in caravans then they must operate within the law. They should also rely on finding people willing to accommodate them - not expect special favours from the state."

He continues:

"It is not racist to state that gypsy camps frequently cause an increase in crime and mess. It is a statement of fact."

No, not racist, to make a sweeping generalisation about the criminal proclivities of an ethnic minority, and present it as fact, with no evidence.

Ah: some good news, though:

"There is an old fashioned romance to gypsies which can still exist in reality sometimes. There are still brightly coloured gypsy wagons drawn by ponies. Their occupants are similarly brightly dressed, sometimes with the big silver earrings and ancient pots and pans, who undertake honest temporary work for local farmers.

(Big silver earrings, and ancient pots and pans ... you've been reading too much George Borrow, Phibbs ... You'd have loved my three times great grandmother, though, except that she died around 1880. Things have moved on since then, did you know?)

"But there are many other gypsies who are a complete menace to those in proximity to them. Rather than insulting those who warn of the problems, the Government and local authorities should start addressing their concerns."

This is reminiscent of the views of our favourite Tory councillor and Assembly member, Brian Coleman, who also only approves of romantic nineteenth century romany gypsies ... in a BBC debate on the now shelved plans to compel councils to provide some stopping places for travellers and gypsies he commented:

“I do not know any councillor of any mainstream political party who would support traveller sites in their ward.

(There are some local authorities who run well organised offical council sites, actually, Cllr Coleman, such as in Durham, where they recognise the need to support all minority groups, and not just the residents who have the strongest lobbying influence. These sites receive no publicity, of course because their success does not sit well with the negative agenda of the popular press and media).

“We’re not talking traditional gypsies here, we’re not talking about this romantic vision of gypsies in attractive caravans, we’re talking about the itinerant Irish traveller community who come over and want to resurface people's drives and repair their roofs.

“This is a commuter who comes over from Ireland looking for work that should frankly stay put in Ireland.”


If only they would live in attractive caravans and wear flouncy shirts and dance around campfires: so much more romantic.

If only they had somewhere to park those caravans. And where, exactly, are they supposed to go? If they were to decide to stop travelling, and God knows that is almost impossible now, due to lack of places where they may legally stop, how would they live? How would they find homes? If they buy land and try to settle, inevitably planning permission will be denied, and a long eviction process begins, as in Dale Farm.

If only the London Borough of Barnet had not broken the law for 26 years by refusing to provide a single pitch for a gypsy family to stop in. Law breaking by gypsies is not allowed: law breaking by local authorities in this respect was completely ignored. I think Mr Harry Phibbs would call it appeasement of lawlessness.

And if only local authorities would not insist on ignoring the basic rights of such people, and force them to live without access to education, health care and without respect for their humanity, dignity and right to a peaceful existence.

gypsy boy, Germany 1943

If you feel you would like to complain about the Channel 4 adverts, please use this link:

*Update Tuesday: Mrs Angry has discovered this brilliant, scathing and perceptive open letter addressed to Channel Four, written by a Romany teenager, courtesy of his blog, Pipopotamus:

An Open Letter to Channel 4
Dear Channel 4,

I am writing to you with the hope that you will stop ruining my life. While your obsession with my ethnicity is flattering, it has become somewhat apparent to me that you might have gotten the wrong end of the stick. This is sort of awkward for me, because I don't want to be the one to break it to you, but your documentary, 'Big Fat Gypsy Weddings', is unfortunately a work of fiction. There is no need to be embarrassed, it can happen to the best of us, and thus I hope my letter will help you establish the facts, after all I'm sure you are passionate about fighting discrimination against ethnic minorities. Don't be modest now, we know you are...right?

It surprised me to discover that 99% of Britain's Gypsy and Traveller population are Irish. Correct me if I'm wrong, as I am sure you have done lots and lots of research on this topic, but just 10% of the Gypsy andTraveller population are actually Irish Travellers. The majority, like myself, are in fact Romany, yet your 'documentary' seems to ignore our existence. While I have nothing but respect for the Irish Traveller community, you seem to be unaware that we are two distinct ethnic groups and thus there are many differences between our cultures. While Irish Travellers originate from Ireland, we can trace our routes back to India, so it was hardly surprising that I was somewhat confused when you use the word Gypsy in the title of your 'documentary' about Irish Travellers. I was even more confused when your 'documentary' about Irish Travellers seemed to feature an alien culture that even most Irish Traveller's didn't recognise.

You correctly identified that many Gypsy and Traveller children leave school at a young age, however you failed to mention that this is not because we are all born to terrible parents, but because our communities suffer from great social exclusion. State education fails to adapt to anything but mainstream culture, thus we have to contend with a curriculum that is totally irrelevant to our way of life. Moreover, both teachers and students seem ignorant of our cultures, thus we are labelled as troublemakers and bullied for being different. The myths that you have been spreading have not helped matters. Indeed, I was subjected to physical attacks during your last series of your 'documentary' which ultimately led to my expulsion from school (long story), whilst my 12 year old cousin was beat up on her way home from school by a gang of girls who were calling her a prostitute.

As you can see, there are many reasons as to why Gypsy and Traveller children are failing to attend school, but you seem to have forgotten to feature those of us that do stay in education. Take myself, for example, I'm currently at college studying a range of subjects such as, History and Sociology. Moreover, my sister trained to be a hairdresser, my aunty went to university and is now a social worker and some of my cousins completed apprenticeships, thus clearly dropping out of education is not a prerequisite of living in a trailer.

Your 'documentary' has an unhealthy obsession with little girls. While I understand that the outfits worn by some of your younger stars could be considered a little risqué, I see only little girls having fun and dressing up for a special occasion. Your 'documentary' appears to be suggesting that we are inappropriately sexualising our children, yet the only people who are sexualising our children are the viewers who watch them and think they are sexy. In reality, our little girls can mostly be found in velour tracksuits and handmade frilly dresses, so I would suggest you should stop filming little girls dancing if you are finding that this is turning on your viewers.

After watching the last series of your 'documentary' it finally hit me why I was so unlucky in love. I would have been married by now, if only I had known that the key to a women's heart was to sexually assault her using a gypsy courting ritual called 'grabbing'. I asked my brother if he had grabbed his wife, but it turned out he had just asked her out on a date instead. It appears that in reality, no one actually knows what grabbing is, in fact Gypsy and Traveller men actually have a lot of respect for their women after all.

Speaking of love, I've been to many Gypsy and Traveller weddings, but I'm yet to attend a wedding where the bride's dress weighs more than my whole family. Don't get me wrong, I've seen some huge dresses but there is something you need to know: Thelma Madine is lying to you, she's not our dressmaker of choice. In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed for her because no one actually knows who she is and everything she says about us is actually untrue. Basically, you've been conned, so I suggest you find a new spokesperson for the Gypsy and Traveller communities, such as an actual Gypsy or Traveller like my Baba (grandma), she makes some right nice clothes you know.

It's hardly surprising that people are watching your 'documentary' purely to laugh at us, because even I laugh at the monstrosities that Thelma Madine creates. It is a shame that you haven’t featured any Gypsy or Traveller designers because the clothing that we were actually more traditionally known for before your 'documentary', is actually far more interesting than amusing. Last year, Leeds University Union thought it would be okay to laugh at the Gypsy and Traveller communities by hosting a Big Fat Gypsy Weddings fancy dress party. While the union holds events throughout the year to celebrate other ethnic minorities, your 'documentary' encouraged them to incite ethnic hatred. You'll be pleased to know that due to complaints from yours truly and friends, the event was shelved.

You seem to have misunderstood what a documentary about Gypsies should entail. Gypsies (as in Romany Gypsies that are completely different to Irish Travellers, that are like totally not Irish Travellers at all, get it?) are Europe's largest and most deprived ethnic minority. The majority of Romani people have never been to Rathkeale, let alone own houses there. In fact, most live in great poverty and I suggest you read my previous blogs. We suffer from discrimination on a daily basis and our human rights have historically been violated, yet you deem it acceptable to broadcast a misleading 'documentary' that has been made not to raise awareness of our plight but for entertainment. We are not a joke, we are human beings and your work of fiction is only strengthening stereotypes and ignorance.

Unlike those who star in your 'documentary' I am not after 5 minutes of fame, but what I am asking for, is for you to put humans above ratings. You can't ignore us forever.

Yours sincerely,


*Update Wednesday:

Both the Guardian here and Independent here today report that Honda, the sponsors of Channel Four documentaries, have publicly disassociated the company from the advertising campaign for this series. Pip Mc Kenzie, the Romany gypsy teenager who wrote the letter copied above, is said to have had 50,000 hits on his blog in two days.

After the Dale Farm evictions, and the Panorama programmed featuring the impact on the travelling women and children of the site, Mrs Angry, in her naivete, thought perhaps some sort of watershed had been reached, and that nothing like that would happen again. Watching the tabloid press continue their relentless targeting of gypsies and travellers, however, it has become clear that this was a misapprehension. The Channel Four adverts seem to indicate that in fact the blatant scapegoating of these groups was set to become even more dangerous.

Perhaps there are just a few indications that the battle to reclaim some pretence of justice for these people is beginning. Pip Mc Kenzie's letter to Channel Four was a declaration of intent, as loud as the voices of the women from Dale Farm: gypsies and travellers are defending their own rights under the law, and they are not going to sit back and allow themselves to be silenced any more.


Alice in Blunderland said...

Thank you for highlighting this and for the link Mrs A.Those posters would not be tolerated by others.

Mrs Angry said...

It just appalls me, Alice, that such bigotry is so prevalent. In fact it is so deeply embedded in most people's attitudes that they do not even consider it to be bigotry.