Date: 1st September 2021
In April 2020, Channel 4 aired a dispatches programme titled “Dispatches: The Truth about Traveller Crime”, which caused widespread offence and distress by alleging that crime proliferates around certain Irish Traveller sites, and that some sites were supposed ‘no-go’ areas, despite a lack of convincing official data to support this narrative.
The coverage of Traveller communities in this broadcast was not proportionate and balanced, nor sensitive to the status of Travellers as protected ethnic minorities in the UK. Following the broadcast, NGOS and grassroots organisations noted a spike in hate crime against GRT communities; including supremacist calls for mass sterilisation of a protected minority.
Ofcom received over 7300 complaints regarding this broadcast, and in May 2020 announced an investigation into alleged breaches of content standards. In its decision published today, Ofcom announced they have not upheld the complaint (the ruling can be found here) and have considered that the programme:
For many who have watched this programme, these findings will stretch credulity to breaking point. In their ruling, Ofcom conceded that “certain sequences and contributions…had the potential to cause harm and offence by perpetuating negative stereotypes of Gypsies and Travellers as widely participating in violent and criminal activity.” They further noted that “this could have had the effect of exacerbating tensions”. To acknowledge these facts and not uphold the legitimate complaints made makes it difficult to understand this verdict as anything other than a whitewash.
Traveller Movement CEO Yvonne MacNamara said:
“We disagree with the ruling Ofcom have reached in the strongest possible terms, and are considering the next steps available to us as an organisation. Additionally, it is deeply disappointing that the process by which Ofcom reached this result does not reflect an organisation which takes seriously its statutory duty to protect the public from harmful content. It is extremely important for Ofcom to reflect on their practices and culture, and asses to the extent to which their decision making procedures are rooted in institutional racism – that is to say the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin.”
“We are further dismayed by the manner in which Ofcom has engaged with complainants and community organisations throughout this process. It is unacceptable that complainants have waited 16 months for Ofcom to reach a decision. On the 28th June, Lord Simon Woolley and I wrote jointly to Ofcom to request an update on why this investigation has taken so long, and have only received a response this morning – after their decision had been published. Regrettably this is indicative of an environment in which the concerns of minority groups, and advocacy organisations representing them, are not taken seriously by the regulator. The Traveller Movement reiterates its call for Channel 4 to remove the broadcast from its on demand streaming services, and is considering its next steps carefully”
Traveller Movement Chair of Trustees Pauline Anderson OBE said:
“I am extremely disappointed by Ofcom’s decision not to uphold this complaint. I was personally impacted by this horrendous and discriminatory programme, and feel most aggrieved by this outcome. At a time when my community is struggling greatly with COVID-19, this racist programme attacked us all, labelled us as criminals and set community cohesion back twenty years. This programme did nothing but sow division, and left my community vulnerable to hate crime and abuse. It is an absolute disgrace to journalism and should be removed from C4 on demand immediately.”
A spokesperson for the Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association said:
We are disappointed that such an inflammatory programme has not been found in breach of the broadcasting code. Documentaries like these fuel prejudice against GRT communities. Our communities are already subjected to high levels of racism and discrimination, and this documentary has made it much worse as evidenced by the spike in online hate crime. It is unacceptable that serving police officers contributed to this toxic debate – evidently there is much work to be done to bridge the gap between police and GRT communities. We renew our call for the NPCC lead for GRT communities to support a national review into the service provision by police to GRT communities.
A spokesperson for Friends, Families, and Travellers said:
Ofcom’s decision sets an extremely dangerous precedent for the treatment of minority groups in the UK. Through My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and now this, it’s not the first time Channel 4 have chosen to humiliate and further marginalise Gypsy and Traveller people. It is clear that Ofcom are no longer fit for purpose and lack the ability to challenge even the most obvious forms of racism and prejudice.
Dispatches’ misrepresentation of the facts in its storytelling did not just cause great offence. The show actively led to immense real-life harm for Gypsy and Traveller people. In the days after the show airing, thousands of Gypsy and Traveller people shared with us the ways in which Dispatches contributed to the abuse and hate they experience on a daily basis. Everyone deserves to live a life free of hate and discrimination.”
Mattey Mitchell, Campaigns Officer at Friends, Families and Travellers, said:
As a Romany person myself, Ofcom’s response is deeply disappointing. Disappointing in its failure to address the damage done by title-bait TV shows, but also in its own wording; having read the report, I was left feeling that investigators failed to show even a superficial understanding of the many and diverse communities that the UK labels ‘Gypsies and Travellers’. We all rely on the protection of nonbiased agencies such as Ofcom yet the report, which took 16 months to investigate, shows only the barest, most rudimentary understanding of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people – going so far as to introduce us as the ‘Gypsy and Traveller community’. How can one fairly adjudicate allegations of race discrimination when one demonstrates such a poor understanding of the relevant communities? This outcome only highlights the rigged match we’re forced to play for representation, and is particularly frustrating when you are powerless to respond.
Two members of the travelling community, whose names have been changed to protect their idenities said:
Kerry: “The C4 programme literally said that we’re [Travellers] people who do crime. After the programme went up I had gorja [settled] friends and family ringing asking whether it was true. Some of them knew better, but other people were judging me for it. I work in a nice place, but my work don’t know that I’m a Traveller, I don’t tell them because of programmes like this. If people knew that I was a Traveller, things would be completely different. That’s the kind of thing we have to do because of programmes like this. In a job I had before, I told them after a while that I’m a Traveller and they took responsibilities away from me, they wouldn’t let me do things on my own anymore. That’s what programmes like this do to us. I was on the team that produced the flowers for Harry and Meghan’s wedding, but I never thought I could tell people who I was.”
Maureen: “People who we used to call neighbours and friends have asked us how we got the money to set up our business – is it that we’ve been robbing ATMs or breaking into people’s houses? It’s hard to answer, I want to be polite, but I’m angry, it’s upsetting. I’m 62. I don’t rob or steal. There’s good and bad in everybody. I don’t think Channel 4 can make up for this. It takes so much to win back people’s trust.”
Greg Sproston, Policy & Campaigns Manager
T: +44 7481 477229
Notes to Editor
* The Traveller Movement (TM) is a national community development policy and voice charity who campaign against discrimination, promote inclusion, participation and community engagement for the Irish Traveller and Gypsy communities in Britain. TM is proud to work in partnership with the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities together with service providers and policy makers across the UK to better promote social inclusion and community cohesion.
Read the Traveller Movement’s previous statement in relation to the Dispatches programme here