The Catholic Church has criticised Channel 4 for airing a “sensationalist” documentary on Travellers, warning it risks stoking racism against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities.
The documentary, titled The Truth About Traveller Crime, was broadcast as part of the channel’s award-winning investigative current affairs programme Dispatches and promised that reporter Anja Popp would explore ‘the truth’ behind alleged crimes and scare stories linked to GRT communities.
However, since the documentary aired on Thursday 16th April many GRT groups and individuals have spoken out in strong criticism of the channel and those behind the programme, noting and providing evidence that it has caused an increase in hateful comments and social media posts against the communities.
Fr Dan Mason, National Catholic Chaplain for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers warned that the “selective examples and dubious statistics” used in the programme, which was broadcast amid the Covid-19 pandemic, could reinforce prejudice against the communities, which he added would be “dangerous and irresponsible at the best of times”.
“Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities make a valuable contribution to our society, yet face extraordinary levels of racism and discrimination. Almost every man, woman and child has suffered some form of hate speech or hate crime,” said Fr Mason.
“Channel 4’s programme used sensationalist language, selective examples and dubious statistics which will only reinforce this prejudice. Such broadcasts would be dangerous and irresponsible at the best of times. Coming amid a national crisis, and a pandemic that’s hitting minority communities so hard, is particularly unacceptable.
“Pope Paul VI reminded us that our GRT sisters and brothers are at the heart of the Church. We will continue to stand in solidarity with them.”
Meanwhile, Pauline Anderson OBE, chair of the Traveller Movement, accused the “sensationalist TV show” of misusing her interview and “sowing division” at the time of a national crisis.
“I am absolutely appalled at the misuse of my interview in this sensationalist TV show. At a time of national crisis when broadcasters should be bringing people together, they are instead sowing division and leaving my community vulnerable to hate crime and abuse. It’s an absolute disgrace to journalism. We expect more from Channel 4,” she said.
In a statement, the Traveller Movement accused the programme and its producers of demonstrating ‘a complete disregard for impartial and accurate reporting’, instead resorting to ‘the tired damaging stereotypical trope that ‘Travellers equals crime’.’
It said the programme ‘relied on weak and unsubstantiated data to falsely imply a cause-and-effect relationship between Traveller site locations and crime rates’ and failed to consult with experts or organisations working with GRT communities in order to add balance. The movement also said that when it requested the raw data on which the programme relied, Channel 4 refused to share it.
In the statement, the Traveller Movement also said that National Police Chiefs’ Council were not consulted and called the broadcast an ‘appalling’ and ‘sensationalised’ programme and stated ‘there is no evidence that links higher crime levels to Traveller sites nor do we have ‘no go’ sites’.
‘Let’s just replace the word ‘Traveller’ with any other ethnic minority to reveal just how racist this programme is,’ the movement added.
In a statement responding to correspondence received regarding the documentary, Channel 4 said: ‘Channel 4 has a strong track record and remit to conduct public debate including about difficult and uncomfortable issues. This programme examined an important issue which was addressed fairly, accurately, and with due impartiality in accordance with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.
‘The programme analysed crime statistics regarding the association between crime levels and some traveller sites. The programme included contributions from Travellers and Traveller advocates as well as contributors who told of their experiences of living near certain Traveller sites and who questioned the authorities’ approach to criminality. Other representative groups were approached but did not respond or declined to take part in the programme.’
The programme was broadcast only weeks after the Catholic Church called for solidarity with GRT communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Picture: Paddy Doherty and Anja Popp. (Channel 4).