Advertising Standards Agency makes U-turn over My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding decision

Gypsies and Travellers in Hackney are disappointed Channel 4 has only received a “slap on the wrist”, after the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) backtracked and decided the My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding ads were offensive after all.

Although the ASA received 372 complaints in February, it decided the ads for the smash hit series, which attracted more than seven million viewers last year, did not breach advertising codes.

Four separate billboard posters for the show - which follows Gypsy brides as they plan their wedding day - emblazoned the slogan, “Bigger Fatter Gypsier,” alongside pictures of an aggressive looking young boy and half-naked girls.

Hackney’s 800-strong Traveller community staged a demo at the time against the billboards they claim stigmatised and stereotyped Travellers.

“We wonder if Channel 4 would have been so ready to use adverts with similarly compromising images and phrases like “Jewisher” or “more Asian” or “Blacker?”” asked a collective letter of complaint from the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit (LGTU), based in Westgate Street, Hackney Central.

The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB) and eight co-complainants sought an Independent Review of the ASA decision and when the case was re-opened and investigated, four of their five complaints were upheld.

They had accused the ads of being racist, denigratory and portraying Gypsies and Travellers in a negatively stereotypical way, which could fuel prejudice.

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They also said the ads could cause physical, mental or moral harm to children in their community, including those featured in the ads, because the ITMB believed they portrayed them in a negatively stereotypical way.

The ASA is going to take no further action in relation to two of the ads, while the other two - portraying the young boy in one, and two girls in low-cut bra tops in the other - must not appear again.

“I am glad it has been officially recognised that the adverts were offensive and that they exploited children,” said Christine Cawley, from Lower Clapton.

“Channel 4 say they’re sorry they caused offence to some Gypsies Travellers and others – but they caused much more, terrible damage was done, my children suffered and are still doing so now .

“It’s taken years for us to start breaking down stereotypes and then Channel 4 come and undo all that. They need to properly apologise to show they mean it.”

A Channel 4 spokesperson said they hadn’t intended the adverts to cause offence: “We are sorry this was the case among some members of the Gypsy and Traveller community.

“All responsible action was taken pre-publication - the posters were voluntarily submitted to the industry’s independent Committee of Advertising Practice copy advice team who advised that they believed they complied with the advertising code, consent was obtained from contributors, and the posters were shared with those featured, who had no objections.”