Big Fat Gypsy Weddings poster 'endorsed negative stereotypes'
Channel 4's four posters, promoting the second series of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings which aired early this year, featured the words "Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier" over images of Gypsy boys and girls.
The Advertising Standards Authority ruled on Wednesday that the campaign was irresponsible, offensive and reaffirmed negative stereotypes and prejudice against the Traveller and Gypsy communities.
"As a result of this decision, Channel 4's Big Fat Gypsy brand has been held up to be morally bankrupt," said Yvonne MacNamara, chief executive of the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain. "Channel 4 should hang its corporate head in shame."
The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, and several co-complainants, successfully appealed against the original decision made in March by the ASA not to investigate the campaign, despite almost 400 complaints about the ads.
Channel 4's posters included a one of young boy with an aggressive look on his face, two young women in low-cut tops and three girls elaborately dressed for their first communion.
The ASA found that one of the girls in a low-cut top, wearing heavy makeup and with part of her bra visible, was 15 – a year below the legal age children are allowed to appear in ads.
Channel 4 said that the girl had turned 16 before the image was used, adding that the poster was "not more revealing than any number of other ads, for example, swimwear products".
"Although we understood that the girl was depicted in her own choice of dress we considered that, in choosing that image for use in a poster, Channel 4 had acted irresponsibly by depicting a child in a sexualised way," said the ASA.
The ASA was equally critical about Channel 4's use of the image of the aggressive-looking young boy.
"He was depicted in a way that was offensive and endorsed negative stereotypes about him and his community," the watchdog ruled. "We considered that the ad reaffirmed commonly held prejudices about Gypsy and Traveller children in a way that was likely to cause distress and mental harm to children from those communities, including to the boy featured in the ad, by suggesting that was an acceptable way to portray him."
Channel 4 said that the ad campaign used "real and intimate" photographic portraits in a "journalistic, reportage style that reflected the journalistic intent of the series".
The broadcaster said in its submission to the ASA that the campaign was approved at the highest level, which would imply it was signed off by the Channel 4 chief executive, David Abraham.
"It was not Channel 4's intention for these adverts to cause offence but we are sorry this was the case among some members of the Gypsy and Traveller community," said a Channel 4 spokesman. "All responsible action was taken pre-publication: the posters were voluntarily submitted to the industry's independent CAP copy advice team who advised that they believed they complied with the advertising code; consent was obtained from contributors; and the posters were shared with those featured, who had no objections."
Channel 4 has been backing away from its hit franchise, which derives its name from the hit movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding and has delivered massive audiences for the broadcaster.
In August, the Channel 4 chief creative officer, Jay Hunt, told the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival that the broadcaster would not be making any more series of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. However, there will be six "Gypsy-themed" one-off specials next year.
In March media regulator Ofcom dismissed complaints that the TV campaign for the show breached any aspects of the broadcasting code.
"The ASA's powerful findings represent a fundamental turning point in how Travellers and Gypsies can be portrayed in the media in the future," said David Enright, a parner with law firm Howe & Co, which represented ITMB.