UK Travellers lose ‘My Big, Fat Gypsy Wedding’ case

Group complained programme portrayed them in ‘racially stereotypical way’

A Traveller bride featured in Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Photograph: Kieran Clancy

A Traveller bride featured in Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Photograph: Kieran Clancy

 

The British broadcasting regulator “dealt meticulously” with complaints from Irish travellers about Channel 4’s My Big, Fat Gypsy Wedding before it rejected them, the High Court in London has ruled.

Dismissing the Traveller Movement’s legal action, a judge said the regulator, Ofcom had “painstakingly considered” claims that the programme had portrayed Travellers “in a negative and racially stereotypical way”.

The programme brought 10 million viewers to Channel 4, though the station was forced to change some of its advertising after the Travellers’ group lodged complaints with the British advertising regulator.

One 17-year-old girl complained that she had been manipulated and portrayed as a “freak, violent, tarty and stupid”, while another edition of the series had portrayed children as “wild, uncontrollable, foul-mouthed, illiterate, uneducated, violent and dangeros”.

The Traveller Movement had argued it had not been given the opportunity to respond to Ofcom’s preliminary ruling, even though Channel 4 was able to do so, adding that it would have produced more evidence if it had been asked.

This would have supported claims that the programmes had caused harm, lawyers for the group argued, adding that Ofcom had “acted irrationally” in not accepting help offered by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In the ruling, Mr Justice Ouseley said judgments about programmes are “more complex” in cases where it is alleged that harm has been caused “by changing particular attitudes and opinions” that would encourage prejudice.

However, the regulator must satisfy itself that “there is a sufficient causal link” between the programme and instances of harm, but also take proper account of the broadcasters’ right to freedom of expression.

Defending the case, counsel for Ofcom rgued there was “no clearly definable link” between the series and claims that harm had been caused, as against cases that may have arisen from “pre-existing prejudice”.

Ofcom’s decision - partly based on the grounds that there was no clear evidence of harm, that the programmes had not encouraged or condoned harmful behaviour - was “clearly rational”, even “if perhaps not the only possible assessment of the evidence”.

The Traveller Movement has applied to the court for leave to appeal.