Channel 4 accused of exploitation over Benefits Street
Controversy has surrounded Channel 4’s new hit show Benefits Street.
The broadcaster has been accused of turning the community living on James Turner Street in Birmingham into “a freak show”.
Community leaders and residents have complained that the portrayal of those living on the street has led to the children featured in the series facing significant bullying.
Reverend Steve Chalke, who founded the trust that runs the Oasis Academy Foundry on the street, told the Daily Mail: “Every child you meet in the area will have been laughed at and ridiculed…their community has been turned into a freak show.”
The Daily Mail has reported fans driving along James Turner Street looking to take pictures with residents or road signs. The number of visitors posing for selfies has disrupted lessons at the local primary school.
Reverend Chalke, who is also the executive chairman of the primary school, has had to arrange for teachers and volunteers to walk children to school because their parents are “too embarrassed to leave the house”.
The reverend expressed concern at the “digital stigmatisation” that will come from the footage of the children being available online for everyone to watch “over and over”.
He added: “Channel 4 may have asked permission from the children’s parents and guardians but according to Ofcom’s code of practice, the physical and emotional consequences should have been taken into account.”
One resident has told The Telegraph that he is moving himself and his family away from the street due to the bullying his 12-year-old son has suffered since the programme aired.
The resident said: “My children are scared – they are too scared to play on the road like they used to. Everyone is talking about it.”
Channel 4 have defended the show, which received 5.2 million viewers at its peak, the biggest audience for the broadcaster since the closing ceremony of the Paralympic games.
A spokesperson said all filming of under-16s was done with the informed consent of the children’s parents or guardians and that the children’s welfare was always paramount.
“The contributors were briefed extensively before any filming took place and have been given support all the way through the process,” she said.
The programme has received hundreds of complaints. However, Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, has said any decision on conducting investigations into the show will be made when the series comes to an end.