Images courtesy of Elisabeth Blanchet.
The Advertising Standards Authority has found that two Channel 4 ads were offensive and irresponsible in the way in which they depicted members of the gypsy and traveller community.
The two ads, which appeared last January, were used to promote Channel 4's My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. They were part of a four-poster ad campaign featuring various members of the gypsy community.
One of the offending posters featured a close-up of a young boy looking directly at the camera, with large text splashed across the ad that said: "BIGGER. FATTER. GYPSIER." The other ad depicted two young women wearing low-cut tops, with the same strapline superposed by Channel 4.
The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain and eight other complainants contacted the ASA and challenged the use of the ads.
Channel 4 said that while it "noted the complainants had expressed concern that the boy pictured in [the first] ad was shown as having an aggressive expression on his face, [it] did not agree that this was the case, or that his face, when taken with the strapline, constituted a negative stereotype".
For the second ad, Channel 4 noted that the picture had been taken at a New Year's Eve party hosted by Paddy Doherty, which was featured in the fifth episode of the series. According to the network, the series revealed the great effort taken by female members of the community to dress up for social occasions and outdo one another, "and the picture in the ad was one such example".
Images courtesy of Elisabeth Blanchet
Channel 4 added that "the young women had chosen to dress in the manner depicted, which was entirely in keeping with similar dresses worn by their peers at that event and others", the ASA reports.
Channel 4 believed the image was a fair and accurate representation of one aspect of the Irish traveller culture, which was shown in both Series One and Two. According to the ASA, Channel 4's executives "referred to their comments regarding the use of the word 'gypsier' in the context of this ad and said, even if a minority of the audience believed the dresses portrayed members of the community negatively, this would not in itself be likely to cause serious or widespread offence, given that the strapline was a clear reference to the series, especially as it was preceded by the words, Bigger. Fatter."
However, the ASA found against Channel 4, arguing that the word "gypsier" would be interpreted by many members of the gypsy and traveller community, and some of the wider public, to mean that the boy's aggressive behaviour and the appearance of the girls were typical of the younger members of that community.
The ASA also found that, in the second ad, Channel 4 had acted irresponsibly by depicting a child in a sexualised way.
Speaking to BJP, Elisabeth Blanchet, author of the images, welcomes the rulings. "When C4 first hired me, the brief was that I shoot like I usually do, in a photojournalistic way, close to the people," she says. "Then they changed their brief and asked me to stage pictures. There was an email from one of the creative directors at 4 Creative (in charge of Channel 4 advertising), who emailed some suggestions. He suggested, among other things, that I take pictures of a 'gypsy couple kissing with a dirty kiss'. He also wrote, 'We need the tackiest dresses'. I have already made public that email and made sure the ASA got it during its inquiry, as I was deeply shocked and replied 'no' to his suggestions."
Blanchet adds that she was unaware her images would be used with the strapline, Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier. "They didn't tell me either that they had cropped the picture with the two girls and reversed it. I was happy with the images I had provided, but not with the posters with the slogan, which I found shocking and disrespectful."
She continues: "There was a first inquiry from the ASA in February which ruled that the pictures were not offensive, but in the spring there were more complaints and the ASA re-inquired. At that time, my photographs were exhibited at Autograph ABP as part of a group show about gypsies and I had received a lot of feedback from gypsies and travellers who were not happy with the ads and with the programme itself. I realised that the way gypsies were portrayed in the show was pejorative to the gypsy and traveller community. So I decided to make public the email from C4 and told my part of the story at a symposium I was invited to by Amnesty International called, Roma and Representation in the Media.
"I am happy with the ASA results, even though I am in an uncomfortable situation as they are my photos. I wish there would be an OFCOM enquiry into the programme itself, which is very disrespectful and dares present itself as a documentary when it's just a fake reality show."
Still in the same case, the ASA found that two other Channel 4 ads for the same programme did not represent members of the gypsy and traveller community in a negative light.
For more information about the ruling, visit the ASA website.
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