'Skint' new series: Channel 4 accused of chasing ratings with 'poverty tourism' shows

The broadcaster has been accused of exploiting the poor

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The Independent Culture

Channel 4 has been accused of chasing ratings by broadcasting “exploitative” TV programmes which amount to “poverty tourism”.

The criticism is aimed at the broadcaster’s announcement that it will air a new series of Skint. As part of an investigation into poverty in Scunthorpe, the first episode follows the lives of people living on the Westcliff Estate.

MP Austin Mitchell, the MP for the constituency of Grimsby which features in the programme, has slammed Channel 4 for commissioning a second series of Skint which will begin next week.

He accused Channel 4 of using “poverty tourism” to attract ratings following the success of the similarly controversial Benefits Streets. He went on to demand that the channel “considers the ethics” of its programmes which he said make “poverty an object of blame” and “concentrates hatred on the least well-educated” and the “most deprived”.

The Labour MP told Radio Times magazine that poverty shouldn't be treated as “entertainment” because “it's private, debilitating and alienating.

"Channel 4 has discovered that poverty tourism does more for ratings than celebrity culture, missions to explain or any highfalutin attempts to hold government to account," he argued.

"Kicking people when they're down (and gullible) is so much easier and less expensive than intelligent programming.

"Victims don't sue, and when do-gooders complain, they can always be accused of wanting to censor serious seekers after truth. So we get a proliferation of misery telly and programmes like Benefits Street, Immigration Street and Skint."

He suggested that Channel 4 could instead “turn the cameras on the bankers punishing the poor, with Benefits Bankers, Tax-Evading Toffs and Fiddling Financiers".

"When is television going to do its job and take on all that? All it needs is guts and a sense of fairness," he said.

Deirdre Kelly, known as 'White Dee' appeared on 'Benefits Street'

However, prior to Mr Mitchell’s comments, Channel 4 executive Ralph Lee defended the show, and accused those offended by it of “calling for a form of censorship.”

"We can't let this kind of criticism have a chilling effect on making programmes," he said.

"I am always really suspicious of that. I defend our right - and the necessity - to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society," he added.

A Channel 4 spokeswoman told the Huffington Post on Tuesday that "Poverty and inequality are some of the most pressing issues facing British society so it would be a dereliction of our public service remit if we shied away from documenting their effects and deny a voice to those most severely affected.

"This sympathetic observational documentary, filmed over a year, demonstrates the courage and resilience of individuals, families and those working hard to support others - allowing them to tell their stories about living in one of Britain's most deprived areas and suffering the devastating effect of de-industrialisation," she said.

Channel 4 also said that other programmes such as the Dispatches How The Rich Get Richer addressed the topic of inequality.

It added the people who feature in Skint were “briefed extensively” before any filming took place, and are allowed to view episodes they appear before they are broadcast.