Comment: Our battle with Channel 4 over their ‘Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ ad

By Joseph Jones

Channel 4 created a toxic stereotype with their 'Bigger Fatter Gysier' ad – so we fought back.

Channel 4 and its partner, production company Firecracker, created their own version of Gypsy reality. The boundaries between Irish travellers, Romani gypsies and fiction became so blurred that viewers were left in a soup of negative stereotypes so thick that no one could be blamed for being confused by it all. People lost track of who was who.

When the new series of My Big Fat Gypsie Wedding started, Channel 4 advertised it with an ad saying: 'Bigger Fatter Gypsier campaign'. Once it hit the streets, even Joe Public started to ask questions about the motives behind the programme and the campaign. Honda, who sponsored it, ran for cover.

Members of the general public were looking up the Gypsy Council telephone number and ringing to apologise on behalf of the settled community.

Channel 4 and Firecracker adopted a classic approach to the criticism when it became more intense, pretending everything was fine and claiming that gypsies and travellers were in agreement with everything. They played down the negativity and tried to spin a positive angle into their actions, but unsurprisingly very few believed them.

As usual, when the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) started to get complaints about the campaign they tried to bat them away too. The Gypsy Council didn’t make a direct complaint to the ASA in the beginning, as we guessed it would not be accepted (their previous form told us that). Instead we felt the campaign was ill judged enough to warrant a complaint to the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission).

Our suspicion was confirmed when the ASA concluded there was no case to answer, in spite of the many complaints they received. However there was a slight difference on this occasional as the up swell of general unease surrounding the campaign was simply too great to be ignored.

After an investigation by Sir Hayden Phillips, the ASA were told they should look again at their decision, and so reluctantly they relented.

The Gypsy Council waited for a response from Trevor Philips, chair of EHRC. Three months to the day after we sent our complaint to Trevor Phillips, an emailed response crept into our inbox from Mark Hammond (CEO of EHRC) referring us back to the ASA and Ofcom.

When we were told a complaint would be considered by the ASA, the Gypsy Council submitted a one, only to be informed that in spite of the ruling by Sir Hayden our complaint would not be considered, because it was out of time.
It seemed partially the fault of the EHRC that our complaint took so long so we resorted once more to contacting Phillips. He ignored us again, but Hammond responded on June 11th to say someone would look into why the Gypsy Council was not allowed to submit a complaint to the ASA. I presume someone from the EHRC will get back to us soon.

It was the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB) whose complaint was heard. The ASA maintained their 100% record of refusing to accept a complaint from the Gypsy Council. Many of us regard them as useless. It's barely worth taking the time to write or call them, and I wouldn’t give you tupence (showing my age there) for the regulatory bodies that are looking after the interests of the Romany Gypsy community in the UK.

But to return to the source of all this nonsense: the Big Fat Gypsy Wedding franchise. From what I saw of Firecracker it was certainly ground breaking with its schizophrenic management style, if nothing else.

As a community what we saw can be summarised as something like this: one minute friendly; then threatening us with legal action. Offering inducements for access or co-operation; inevitably followed by negative programming. Then Firecracker would revert back to an embarrassing 'please help us, we want to be your friend' position.

In the end we had just had enough of them, and told them to stop emailing and telephoning us and wasting our time and our money. Seemingly (from what I saw) the majority of people (particularly the researchers) working for Firecracker were fresh out of college, and desperate to get a foot on the ladder of the TV world. They were able to say, hand on heart, that the previous programmes were nothing to do with them. Several times I have had them on the phone to me pathetically pleading to be allowed to film events because their job was on the line.

Now their adverts have been banned by the ASA, I wonder who is going to be prepared to pay for that intellectual property.

Joseph Jones the chairperson of the Gypsy Council of Britain.

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