Gypsy wedding series 'whips up hatred and discrimination'

IT HAS delivered jaw-dropping frocks, record-breaking ratings and has become a national talking point. But the makers of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding have been accused of "whipping up hatred" and deliberately misrepresenting the communities which have featured in the hit Channel 4 documentary series.

The director of a prominent Scottish Travellers organisation believes the show fuels anti-gypsy prejudice while Scotland's fairground workers leader says it has led to youngsters being bullied.

The series claims to provide insight into a secretive and often misunderstood community. However, it has generated praise and controversy in almost equal measure after featuring a young girl in a gargantuan wedding dress, a six-year-old receiving a spray tan, an illegal bare-knuckle fight and young men indulging in the apparently traditional act of "grabbing", where physical force is used to claim unwilling female partners.

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Dr Pauline Padfield, director of the Scottish Traveller Education Programme, fears the series could inspire hate crimes. She said: "The balance of the programme is very worrying in terms of the hatred it is whipping up. We've been contacted by parents who have talked about the distress it has caused them. There is an expression that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but I think this is a clear exception to that rule."

The director of the Scottish Government-funded project, which provides advice and support to travellers, feels the show's focus has mostly been narrow, negative and sensationalist.

She said: "What hasn't come over is that it is only about one travelling community and that's Irish Travellers. It has highlighted the more negative aspects of the community. In the main, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding has presented a range of stereotypes which are being applied to other communities. This is causing a lot of distress."

Phillip Paris, the chairman of the Scottish Showmens' Guild, which represents non-gypsy fairground workers and their families, also believes the series has fuelled prejudice.

He said: "This programme is only going to make things worse because there is a mistaken assumption that's the way we all live.

"I don't believe the majority of gypsy travellers live in the manner that has been portrayed in the programme.I think they are showing the worst-case scenarios."Television watchdog Ofcom has received 75 complaints about the series, and Channel 4 hundreds more.

However, Jes Wilkins, the show's executive producer, insisted the programme was about challenging, rather than reinforcing, prejudice and discrimination.

He said: "The overwhelming feedback that we are getting from non-travellers is that people are having their prejudice challenged and changed.

"There is a lot of casual racism against gypsies, they are one of the most discriminated-against groups in the country, and as a result of this programme people are seeing them differently."