Four Things we learnt from Channel 4′s BFGW Guilty Verdict
The Advertising Standards Authority have eventually decided that last February’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding billboard advertising sexualised a child and was likely to cause prejudice and harm to Romani and Traveller children. There are many things to learn from Today’s decision and this affair as a whole, here are just four of them…
1. After many hours of great work by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, these racist and offensive pieces of advertising have been called out for what they are. A very small victory has been won, but a victory nonetheless. For Channel 4 and BFGW’s sponsor Toyota, this is embarrassing. Yet as most people know, the Advertising Standards Authority [ASA] is a toothless being. Channel 4 has apologised, saying it had not meant to cause offence, which is as weak an apology as you’ll get.
2. The ASA upheld complaints around the sexualisation of a child, as well as the negative effects the adverts would have upon Traveller and Romani children. During the investigation a leading Traveller educationalist found evidence that the adverts had caused even more problems for children in the classroom. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission described during the investigation that anti-Traveller and Romani racism is the last respectable form in the UK. The children of these families know this better than anyone. Whilst Channel 4 executives received their six-figure salaries, they gave no thought to those they had exploited to be in that position.
3. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, and its undeniable popularity, cannot be ignored. It exposes the double-edged nature of some people’s almost obsessive interest in the travelling way of life. It is a double-edge sword of intrigue and fear. The intrigue is something that Channel 4 have cashed in on big-time, and in and of itself can be a positive thing. Of course those of us who live in concrete blocks are interested in others who have the freedom to move around. A cultural exchange, on an equal footing, should be encouraged. But on the other side is fear and racism, and Channel 4 not only cashed in on it, but fueled it. This is the fear and racism that prevents Travellers from gaining planning permission and keeps over 20% homeless. It is the fear and racism that brought hundreds of riot cops crashing down on the families at Dale Farm last October. We must challenge this in every way we can, starting with the Fight for Sites Mass Action on October 19th at the heart of government in Victoria.
4. The ITMB and their solicitors have called this decision ‘groundbreaking’. If these billboards have been found to stir up prejudice and are harmful to children, what does this say for the TV show that they advertise? In fact BFGW will end soon, as a result of corporate strategy rather than any self-awareness on Channel 4’s behalf. But we’ll still have ‘spin-offs’ like ‘Thelma’s Gypsy Girls’ that contain as much racist caricaturing as before. It seems that many people’s healthy fascination with a different way of life will still be filtered through the prism of harmful and racist stereotypes. Lets hope that the ITMB are right. One things for sure, we have a fight on our hands.