Travellers lose legal challenge over handling of their complaint about ‘My Big, Fat Gypsy Wedding’
Gypsy campaigners have lost their High Court challenge over Ofcom's handling of their complaint about the Big Fat Gypsy Wedding television programmes.
Mr Justice Ouseley today dismissed a judicial review brought against the communications watchdog by the Traveller Movement, a charity supporting 300,000 gypsies and travellers.
At a hearing in London at the end of last year, its lawyers said that Ofcom unlawfully dismissed its complaint in November 2013 after conducting a procedurally unfair investigation into accusations that the BFGW programmes gave a negative portrayal of travelling communities and confirmed social prejudices in a way likely to cause harm to children in those communities.
The charity had claimed that the Channel 4 broadcasts of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and Thelma's Gypsy Girls had depicted children in a sexualised way and portrayed men and boys as feckless, violent and criminal.
Both series, but particularly BFGW, it alleged, strongly advanced the untrue and highly damaging new racial stereotype that the communities engaged in and endorsed violent sexual assaults of female children and young women - grabbing - as a cultural norm.
But, Ofcom's counsel, Dinah Rose QC, told the judge that it was fully aware of the sensitivity of potentially racially negative stereotypes and had conducted a "careful and painstaking" investigation before concluding that the programmes did not breach the Broadcasting Code.
Ultimately, it had concluded that Channel 4 had not depicted such stereotypes but that the programmes were, in fact, a balanced portrayal which offered considerable insight into those communities, including the challenges they faced when dealing with prejudice.
Ofcom had examined in detail the allegations about grabbing, sexualisation and the depiction of young men and boys, and concluded it was not made out on the facts that the programmes as broadcast did perpetrate any such negative stereotypes.
Ms Rose said that the campaigners' case in support of its bid to have the decision quashed was very narrow and significantly there was no challenge to Ofcom's central findings.
Adrienne Page QC, for Channel 4, said there were no complaints from any of the participants in the programmes and Ofcom had found that the scenes were appropriately contextualised and justified.
The contextualising of the grabbing incidents had gone right to the top of the organisation and was the aspect that received the most careful and intense consideration.
The judge refused permission to appeal although the Traveller Movement can renew its application directly to the Court of Appeal.
Later, chief executive officer, Yvonne MacNamara, said: "Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that Ofcom were within the law when they decided to put limited weight on the Traveller Movement's expert evidence, saying that it did not show 'widespread harm'. He also ruled that Ofcom acted within the law when it refused to look at any further evidence as part of its investigation, or consider an approach from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
"However, we do not accept the judgment and have sought leave to appeal because we maintain that Ofcom's procedures are biased towards the big broadcasters and disempower the complainant.
"The Traveller Movement, as a small charity, simply does not have the resources to undertake extensive national research on a scale needed to provide the apparent quantifiable level of evidence that the TV regulator needs to establish 'widespread harm'."
She added: "We will continue to fight for the right of gypsies and travellers to be represented in the media in a fair and balanced way. We will continue to oppose Ofcom's unfair and biased complaints process, and we call on Channel 4 to stop making programmes that harm traveller and gypsy children and to become, instead, the champions of the most marginalised communities in the UK."