Benefits Street cleared by Ofcom of breaching broadcasting rules

The controversial documentary series prompted more than 900 complaints

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The Independent Culture

Controversial Channel 4 series Benefits Street has been cleared of breaching broadcasting rules by regulator Ofcom.

The documentary series, which portrayed the lives of people living on James Turner Street in Birmingham, prompted a furore when it was screened in January, with over 900 complaints sent to Ofcom.

In particular, concerns were raised that benefit claimants were presented in a pejorative way; others questioned the treatment of under 18s in the programme and the depiction of seemingly criminal activities.

The complaints sparked discussions in Parliament, as well as public meetings in the area - but Ofcom has said the broadcaster did not breach any of its responsibilities under the broadcasting code.

A total of 887 complaints were received about the way those on benefits were portrayed but Ofcom has ruled that the show did not claim to reflect the experiences of all claimants but had focused on residents in that street.

Some viewers also raised fears about children and young people featured in the show and the care which was given by programme makers for their welfare and dignity, although none of the 23 complaints were from those featured, or their parents.

A spokesman for Ofcom said: “After a thorough assessment of the evidence, Ofcom found sufficient steps were taken before, during and after production to protect the welfare of the children that appeared in the programme and that any potentially offensive material was justified by the context in which it was presented. Ofcom has therefore concluded that the series did not breach its rules.”

There were also 40 complaints about the programmes demonstrating criminal techniques, including shoplifting methods. But Ofcom said it was satisfied that there was an editorial justification for their inclusion and there were not enough details for people to copy the techniques, so did not investigate further in its ruling.

A spokeswoman for Channel 4 said: “We welcome Ofcom's finding that Benefits Street did not breach the code in any respect.

"We are proud that our robust duty of care protocols for the child contributors have been praised for 'demonstrating best practice', and for the recognition that we 'ensured the interests of the under-18s who featured in Benefits Street were protected and that due care was applied before, during and after production'.

“Ofcom noted that the series 'illustrated important issues facing some children living in contemporary Britain' and that 'the children's welfare was at the heart of the production'.”

 Additional reporting by Press Association