Irish Travellers in Britain have won a victory over the programme Big Fat Gypsy Weddings after the advertising watchdog ordered a formal investigation into its promotional posters.
The Advertising Standards Authority has made an embarrassing climb down after reviewing its earlier decision not to investigate a complaint into the controversial campaign for the Channel 4 programme.
The previous finding was "flawed", the ASA chairman Lord Smith decided, ordering the new investigation into a billboard campaign which used pictures of children and the slogan "Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier".
The Irish Traveller Movement had appealed against the decision not to take action, and the teenage Romany blogger Pip Mckenzie wrote an open letter to Channel 4 to complain.
In his letter, Mckenzie, 17, claimed he had been the victim of physical violence as a result of the advertising. "We are not a joke – we are human beings and your work of fiction is only strengthening stereotypes and ignorance," he wrote. Mckenzie said his 12-year-old cousin had been beaten up by girls calling her a prostitute. I am sick of casual racism towards Gypsies and Travellers," he told The Independent earlier this year. "I'm scared to make friends in case people decide not to be my friend once they find out what I am."
The investigation follows a meeting between Lord Smith and independent reviewer Sir Hayden Phillips, a former senior civil servant. The decision is damaging to the show's sponsor Honda, which has already expressed its concerns to Channel 4.
Last night, Yvonne MacNamara, director of the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, described the announcement as "a great victory". She said: "It may prove a turning point as to how Travellers and Gypsies are portrayed in the media. It is unfortunate that Travellers who complained had to fight tooth and nail to get the ASA to act on this outrageous and damaging advertising campaign."
Solicitor David Enright, who represented the Travellers in appealing the ASA decision, expressed surprise at the watchdog's failure to take action earlier. "We were shocked when the ASA initially decided not to investigate the hundreds of complaints it had received about this campaign. The ASA has clearly been forced to look at this matter again and realised how serious it is."
Channel 4 first screened Big Fat Gypsy Weddings in 2010 and commissioned a second season for this year. The show has been popular, with audiences of up to 8 million – some of the broadcaster's best ratings since Big Brother.
In a statement yesterday, the ASA said: "Following a recommendation from the independent reviewer, the ASA Council has decided its original decision not to conduct a formal investigation into complaints about the advertising campaign for Big Fat Gypsy Weddings was flawed. It has decided a formal investigation should now commence."
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