Perhaps unsurprisingly given the ratings success of Benefits Street, Channel 4 is milking the format and has now announced a follow up called Immigration Street.
According to The Guardian, Channel 4 will broadcast a second series of Skint with a follow up to Benefits Street and then Immigration Street will be shown as a separate documentary.
I have never tried to hide my views on these documentaries. I spoke about Skint here – many of the residents felt they were stitched up by the camera crews and their lives edited to make them worse than they really are.
I have questioned if the people filmed in these programmes really understand what they are getting into. In my opinion – due to the fact they cannot afford top lawyers and do not know where to get independent advice – many end up signing unfair contracts.
Then, these programmes, made under the guise of ‘documentary’ do not for me help anyone understand the problems facing some areas of our country. Instead, they seem to be a bizarre entertainment, people’s lives laid out for others to sneer at – all captured on film by clever producers.
It seems I am not alone. Others have called these programmes ‘poverty porn’. Local politicians and residents in Grimsby, Stockton-on-Tees, where the second series of Benefits Street is being filmed and Southampton, the location for Immigration Street, have voiced concerns.
For example Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell has asked Channel 4 to ‘consider the ethics’ of its programmes, pointing out such shows ‘demonise’ the poor and should not be used as entertainment.
And Love Productions – the makers of Immigration Street – have reportedly already been pelted with flour and eggs by furious locals.
Channel 4 executive Ralph Lee – taking the typical high and mighty ‘I am right’ attitude of so many of these documentary makers – tells The Guardian such programmes are apparently ‘essential.’
He says: “We can’t let this kind of criticism have a chilling effect on making programmes. In a way what they are calling for is a form of censorship and 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 denies there is an ‘agenda’. Is he being serious? The agenda is all about making ‘good’ TV surely? And then justifying it as being ‘essential viewing’ as if what you are doing is somehow beneficial to society.
In fact critics claim the programmes are ‘a medieval stocks updated for a modern format’ – something I agree with.
The problem is the way they are edited can in a strange way glamorise poverty – it can make it look strangely desirable.
Ok, some residents have become famous from being on benefits – namely White Dee from Benefits Street. But is this right? Should anyone benefit from being on benefits like this?
For other residents they simply become like animals in a zoo to be watched and berated. The hatred stirred up by irresponsible TV can then result in serious bullying on Twitter and other social media.
I can only hope interest in this voyeurism of vulnerable people – and they are vulnerable and naive to allow themselves to be filmed like this – wanes. And that no real tragedy ever happens to one of these residents as a result of these rather irresponsible programmes.