The Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) community has accused Ofcom of institutional racism over a decision to clear a controversial Channel 4 documentary about Traveller crime.
The programme-makers of the Dispatches documentary The Truth About Traveller Crime were accused of “dehumanising” the GRT community after it was broadcast in April 2020.
Ofcom received about 900 complaints from the public and a further 7,391 complaints submitted by the charity Friends, Families and Travellers. Complainants said the programme presented only negative views of the GRT community and gave a misleading impression that there was a causal link between Gypsy and Traveller sites and high crime rates.
They also pointed to a rise in hate crime against the GRT community after the broadcast.
But in a ruling published on Wednesday, Ofcom found the documentary did not misrepresent factual matters and presented potentially harmful material fairly and with appropriate context.
Yvonne MacNamara, the chief executive of the Traveller Movement, said the charity disagreed with the ruling in the “strongest possible terms” and suggested it was racist.
The programme reported on crimes allegedly committed by Travellers living on a site in Lutterworth, Leicestershire, and analysed statistics on recorded crimes near Traveller sites around the country.
In a 51-page ruling, Ofcom said the programme did not breach the code of broadcasting. It said: “We considered that the programme did not misrepresent factual matters by suggesting that there was a causal link between Gypsy and Traveller sites and high crime rates, as the programme included sufficient material which served to contextualise the conclusions that were drawn from the statistical analysis.”
It added: “Consistent with the right to freedom of expression of both the broadcaster and the audience, it is important that investigative documentary programmes such as Dispatches are able to explore all aspects of human life and behaviour, including controversial issues relating to minority communities, provided that they do so within the parameters of the code.”
MacNamara said: “It is extremely important for Ofcom to reflect on their practices and culture, and assess the extent to which their decision-making procedures are rooted in institutional racism – that is to say the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin.”
A spokesperson for Friends, Families and Travellers said: “Through My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and now this, it’s not the first time Channel 4 have chosen to humiliate and further marginalise Gypsy and Traveller people. It is clear that Ofcom are no longer fit for purpose and lack the ability to challenge even the most obvious forms of racism and prejudice.”
A spokesperson for Ofcom said: “We’ve nothing further to add beyond our fully reasoned, evidence-based decision and our public statement already provided.”