Letter: Protection for minority groups on TV

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From Ms Sue Slipman

Sir: What a strange leading article ("Babies, BBC and the BCC", 24 February): praising the defeat of David by Goliath is rather different to the position previously adopted by the Independent.

You are right that our complaint about the BBC's Panorama programme Babies on Benefit was not just about the misrepresentation of individuals. Had the programme been saying that some lone parents bear out Ministers' worst nightmares, we could have had no argument with it, apart from the grievances of individuals who claimed misrepresentation. But the programme went further and presented individuals as if they were typical of, and represented, wider groups of people.

It claimed, for instance, that Michelle Ellis (unmarried, five children by two different men and living on benefit) was typical of "half a million women". In fact, she is a statistical freak.

Throughout Babies on Benefit, the programme makers used statistics that covered the entirety of diverse groups of lone parents, while claiming to be talking about young, never married lone mothers.

We did take forward a complaint from an aggrieved individual who was misrepresented in the programme. But proving that an individual has been misrepresented is different from proving that the misrepresentation of that individual has lead to the maligning of a wider group. That second grievance remains.

Our society is becoming far more divided and vicious. Lone parents as a group are poor, marginalised, often despised, and subject to misrepresentation and attack. There are laws that protect women and ethnic minorities from such treatment. But it seems that in law this vulnerable social group has no right to such protection or to redress against broadcasters who are powerful and should be responsible. If, as a result of this judgment ("TV watchdog acted beyond its powers"; Home News, 23 February), the effective cannot represent the vulnerable we store up big problems for our future.

Yours faithfully,

SUE SLIPMAN

Director

National Council for One Parent Families

London, NW5

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