Traveller Movement to appeal High Court decision

20 February 2015

THE Traveller Movement will appeal a High Court decision concerning Channel 4's 'Big Fat Gypsy Weddings' programmes after a judge ruled there was "no clear evidence of harm attributable directly to the broadcasts." 

Mr Justice Ousley (Head of the Administrative Court) has today handed down his judgment in the Traveller Movement's judicial review challenge to Ofcom and Channel 4 regarding its complaint that ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’ caused substantial harm to Gypsy and Traveller communities and children.

The Traveller Movement has applied to the court to seek leave to appeal the decision.

The Gypsy and Traveller campaign and representative charity brought the judicial review of the TV watchdog Ofcom and Channel 4, when their complaint to Ofcom against ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’ was dismissed after an 13 month investigation by the TV regulator. The complaint was lodged with Ofcom in August 2012 and dismissed by Ofcom in September 2013. The Traveller Movement then appealed the Ofcom decision by way of Judicial Review. The hearing was held at the High Court on Friday 20th November 2014, and the judgement is handed down today, Friday 20th February. The Traveller Movement has today sought leave to appeal the decision.

The Traveller Movement claimed in court that Ofcom’s complaint procedures were unfair and biased towards broadcasters and that Ofcom had made an irrational decision when dismissing the complaint because it had ignored substantive evidence, provided in expert reports, of the direct harm that the programmes had caused to Gypsy and Traveller children in schools across the UK.

In his Judgement, Mr Justice Ousley said "the conclusion that there was no clear evidence of harm attributable directly to the broadcasts, though there might be evidence of incidents of negative behaviour towards members of the (Gypsy and Traveller) communities and of some pre-existing prejudices at work, that harm was neither widespread, nor shown to be directly caused by the programmes, (...) even if perhaps not the only possible assessment of the evidence, was certainly rational.”

Yvonne MacNamara (Director the Traveller Movement) said that "allthough the High Court has found that Ofcom's complaints handling procedures are lawful, the judgment will make for very uncomfortable reading for Channel 4, who was an interested party in the case. Paragraphs 25 - 30 of the judgment highlight the deeply damaging nature of the complaints made by the Traveller Movement, including complaints that Channel 4's broadcasts harmed children and increased racial bullying in schools.

“Mr Justice Ousley ruled that Ofcom were within the law when they decided to put limited weight on the Traveller Movement's expert evidence, saying that it did not show “widespread harm”. He also ruled that Ofcom acted within the law when it refused to look at any further evidence as part of its investigation, or consider an approach from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission," she said.

“However, we do not accept the judgement and have sought leave to appeal because we maintain that Ofcom’s procedures are biased towards the big broadcasters and disempower the complainant.

“The Traveller Movement, as a small charity, simply does not have the resources to undertake extensive national research on a scale needed to provide the apparent quantifiable level of evidence that the TV regulator needs to establish ‘widespread harm’.

“We instead provided examples of direct harm from experts, policemen, teachers and others. Perhaps naively, we expected Ofcom to investigate allegations of harm to children more fully. It now appears that Ofcom do not see investigating allegations of harm to children as its role; this will come as a great surprise to many parents and, we believe, also contravenes its statutory duty of protecting children from the effects of harmful broadcasts. 

“This perfectly illustrates the unfair and biased David and Goliath battle that both representative charities, and the ordinary person in the street, faces when complaining about the harmful actions of big broadcasters,” she added.

“We will continue to fight for the right of Gypsies and Travellers to be represented in the media in a fair and balanced way. We will continue to oppose Ofcom’s unfair and biased complaints process, and we call on Channel 4 to stop making programmes that harm Traveller and Gypsy children and to become, instead, the champions of the most marginalised communities in the UK.”