It was billed as an exclusive insight into a “secretive world.” But whilst millions may be tuning into to watch each episode of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, many of those are reacting with fury to way Gypsies and Traveller are being shown.
From Romany Gypsies outraged at Channel 4 describing the sexual assault of girls as a Gypsy tradition, to howls ofprotest from mums worried about kids as young as six getting spray tans, the series has opened a much needed nationwide debate on how the Gypsy and Traveller community is shown in the media.
Far from being a “secretive community” Romany Gypsy people in particular are making their feelings plain on facebook, twitter, the Channel 4 website and by officially complaining to OFCOM the government’s media regulator which has legal powers to publish Channel 4 if it decides it has broken it’s broadcasting code.
Travellers Times reader and Romany woman Emma Doe from Sussex summed up her complaints to OFCOM:
“This programme has misrepresented Gypsies and the bizarre ‘grabbing’ ritual is something I have never heard of. I have spoken to several other families this morning (just in case I was missing a massive piece of my heritage) and this is not practised by Gypsies in Sussex and Surrey. I know that much. The only thing we know of is ‘jumping the broomstick’.
This programme goes out to millions of people with a scene of a disturbing ritual - grabbing a girl and trying to force her to kiss you. I have no idea if this is an Irish Traveller custom but it is most definitely not an English Gypsy custom and this programme has presented this as a fact. Where is the research supporting this grabbing custom? How many English Gypsies did they ask about this? .
Now thanks to this programme another ridiculous belief is added to the list of misconceptions and prejudices against Gypsies."
Trailer trashed: The first programme in the series claimed that the sexual assault or "grabbing" of young women is a Gypsy courtship tradition
By noon today OFCOM had received 32 complaints with many sure to follow. Thousands more Gypsies and Traveller have joined face book protest sites like “My Big Fat Gypsy Protest”. One page called “My Big Fat Gyp Wedding ain't about proper travellers” currently has almost 1400 members.
The Rural Media Company, publishers of Travellers Times magazine and website has made a complaint to OFCOM. We have produced a guide below to what points Gypsies and Travellers should make in their complaints to ensure the complaint sticks.
In the next 24 hours with ITV news, BBC local and national radio and even the Sun also expected to reveal the scale of the protest over the TV series, it looks as if Gypsies and Travellers may finally have the last word over the way they are represented.
How to complain to OFCOM - by Jane Jackson, Rural Media Company, publishers of Travellers Times
You don’t need to read the Ofcom regulations to complain. The main grounds for a complaint about MBFGW are:
It is a program/series which “misleads the audience and leads to harm and offence”.
“Inaccuracy” is not enough for a complaint, there has to be some harmful effect or offence created by it.
MBFGW does not call itself an authored program i.e. one which expresses a particular person’s point of view. Quite the opposite: it suggests it is a documentary giving the audience access to a (secret) community to learn more about it. It has a voice-over (written by the program makers) to tell us what is happening in the program and this is the main source of misleading information about the Gypsy and Travellers communities. That voice often suggests that what we are seeing on the screen is typical of the Gypsy community in the UK, but this very far from the truth.
The Gypsy and Travellers communities are the most frequently stereotyped and the mostly likely to suffer prejudice and racist abuse. They do not have access to the mainstream media to challenge misleading and damaging coverage. In the light of this, it is particularly harmful and offensive to them to be portrayed inaccurately, and in such a way that will put them at risk of racist attacks, prejudice, and exclusion and damage their lives even further.
It is a good idea to refer people who really want to know more about Gypsies and Travellers to www.travellerstimes.org.uk
Here's a copy of our complaint which was sent to OFCOM today:
Your information will be passed to the relevant Ofcom team.
You submitted the following information:
Contact phone number:
Organisation (if applicable):
The Rural Media Company
Address Line 1:
The Rural Media Co Sullivan House
Address Line 2 (if applicable):
72-80 Widemarsh Street
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Big Fat Gypsy Weddings
Date and time of broadcast
(e.g. 01 January 2009 23:00):
25 Jan 2011 21:00
Channel / station:
Description (please use 1500 characters or less):
The series publicity and voice-over (i.e. voice of authority) is badly misrepresenting several distinct Gypsy and Travellers communities by describing certain customs as common to all, by filming extreme cases (because no one else would take part in the programme for fear of exactly what has happened) and by not working with any community leaders to get the facts right. This is cheap, nasty media exploitation of the GRT communities, who have no access to the media themselves to redress the balance.
To complain to OFCOM, visit: