Four posters for the Channel Four documentary, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings:
- a. The first poster featured a close-up of a young boy looking directly at the camera. Large text across the ad stated BIGGER. FATTER. GYPSIER .
- b. The second poster showed a man leading a horse across a field. Caravans were visible behind a fence in the background. Large text across the ad stated BIGGER. FATTER. GYPSIER .
- c. The third poster showed two young women wearing low-cut bra tops. Large text across the ad stated BIGGER. FATTER. GYPSIER .
- d. The fourth poster showed three young girls dressed for their first Holy Communion standing in front of a caravan. Large text across the ad stated BIGGER. FATTER. GYPSIER .
These ads were previously considered by the ASA Council in February 2012, at which time the ASA had received 372 complaints about the campaign. The ASA Executive assessed the ads and recommended to the Council that the complaints did not warrant investigation. The Council agreed that recommendation. The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain and eight co-complainants sought Independent Review of Council’s decision and, as a result, the case was re-opened and investigated.
The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB) and eight other complainants challenged whether:
- the ads were offensive because they believed they were racist, denigratory and portrayed Gypsies and Travellers in a negatively stereotypical way;
- the ads were irresponsible because they believed they depicted negative stereotypes of Gypsies and Travellers and endorsed prejudice against them; and
- ads (a), (c) and (d) were likely to cause physical, mental or moral harm to children from Gypsy and Traveller communities, including those featured in the ads, because the ITMB believed they portrayed them in a negatively stereotypical way.
- The ITMB, who understood that one of the young women featured in ad (c) was under 16 years of age, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and harmful because they believed it depicted a child in a sexualised way.
- The ITMB, who believed that the children featured in ad (d) had been unfairly portrayed in an adverse and offensive way, challenged whether the ad breached the Code because they believed that the advertiser did not have written permission to portray them in that manner.
The ASA took advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) who had undertaken specific work into the issues affecting Gypsy and Traveller communities.
The EHRC said research had shown that Gypsies and Travellers (which was the appropriate term when referring to those groups) were often subject to suspicion and disapproval because of negative public perceptions which in turn led to members of the community experiencing prejudice and harassment. They said, although racism from members of the public towards most ethnic minority groups was now widely viewed as unacceptable, it remained persistent and common towards Gypsies and Travellers and was generally seen as justified and the last respectable form of racism. The EHRC said they continued to receive complaints about No Travellers signs.
1. & 2. Upheld in relation to ads (a) and (c)
In relation to ad (a) we noted that the boy in the image was shown in close-up and had his lips pursed in a manner that we considered was likely to be seen as aggressive. We considered that negative image, when combined with the strap-line which suggested that such behaviour was GYPSIER , would be interpreted by many members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities and some of the wider public to mean that aggressive behaviour was typical of the younger members of the Gypsy and Traveller community. We considered that implication was likely to cause serious offence to some members of those communities while endorsing the prejudicial view that young Gypsies and Travellers were aggressive. We therefore concluded that ad (a) was offensive and irresponsible.
We understood that the photo in ad (c) was an accurate depiction of how the young women had chosen to dress for the occasion at which they had been photographed and we considered that it was clear that they were dressed for a night out. However, we noted that they were heavily made-up and wearing low cut tops and we considered that, when combined with the strap-line and in particular the word GYPSIER , the ad implied that appearance was highly representative of the Gypsy and Traveller community in a way that irresponsibly endorsed that prejudicial view and was likely to cause serious offence to the Gypsy and Traveller community.
3. Upheld in relation to ad (a) only
We considered, for the reasons given in points 1 and 2 above, that the boy in ad (a) was depicted in a way that was offensive and endorsed negative stereotypes about him and his community. We considered that the ad reaffirmed commonly held prejudices about Gypsy and Traveller children in a way that was likely to cause distress and mental harm to children from those communities, including to the boy featured in the ad, by suggesting that was an acceptable way to portray him.
We noted that the ad accurately depicted the girl as she had dressed for the party at which the photograph had been taken. However, we noted that she was heavily made up, her bra was visible and that she was wearing a low cut top that revealed much of her cleavage and raised her breasts. Although we understood that the girl was depicted in her own choice of dress we considered that, in choosing that image for use in a poster, Channel 4 had acted irresponsibly by depicting a child in a sexualised way. For that reason we also considered that, irrespective of any consent Channel 4 may have held, the ad was also likely to be harmful to the girl featured.
5. Not upheld