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14 October 2014, 12:47
Community leaders in Southampton have written an open letter to Channel 4, urging them to scrap a controversial documentary series being filmed in the city.
Council leader Simon Letts, MP Alan Whitehead and Hampshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Hayes have joined representatives of local residents in urging the broadcaster to reconsider showing ‘Immigration Street’, the follow up to last year’s ‘Benefits Street’ programme (pictured), which is centred on the Derby Road area in St Mary's.
In the open letter to Nick Mirsky, Channel 4’s Head of Documentaries, city leaders and a local MP have expressed their concerns about the impact the programme could have on local community cohesion, on the health and wellbeing of residents, the city’s reputation, and the possibility that the broadcast could attract extremists to the peaceful and diverse community.
A spokesperson for Channel 4 has told Heart there are 'no plans' to scrap the series.
In the letter, the partners state that:
“Health organisations, local doctors and voluntary organisations have already voiced their concerns about the inadequate measures to protect vulnerable people and the threats to community cohesion and we regret that the offer of a meeting with the local specialists to address these concerns has been rejected.”
Their concerns come in the wake of a range of issues that arose following the broadcast of ‘Benefits Street’ in 2013, where the residents of James Turner Street are reported to be still experiencing the fallout and stigma that the programme created. As the partnership states: “The once close-knit community seems to have been left in disarray.”
The signatories are calling on Channel 4 not to air the programme. The letter concludes:
“Whilst we respect and support the media’s freedom of expression and value its importance in an open society, we are clear that the greater public interest will be served by not screening this programme. We wholeheartedly support the majority of the local community in its opposition to the making of it.
"Therefore we call upon Channel 4 and Love Productions to show their integrity by abandoning the screening of this programme now and to leave local people to resume their lives without this unwanted, unwarranted and damaging intrusion.”
When asked for a response, a Channel 4 statement said:
"Filming has largely concluded on Derby Road now. All the filming has and will continue to follow strict protocols in accordance with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code and only those contributors who have been extensively briefed and given their informed consent to appear will feature in the final series. We take any request to withdraw consent seriously and would want to look at the reasons why people might wish to withdraw consent before making any final decisions.
"We strongly reject any suggestion producers have targeted vulnerable people. Love Productions’ duty of care protocols were recently praised by Ofcom in the regulator’s decision not to uphold any complaints about Benefits Street.
"Producers have spent several months getting to know the community and have spoken to council leaders, MPs and religious leaders. A range of residents have been keen to share their stories and we will represent contributors’ lives and status fairly and accurately.
"Immigration is one of the most fiercely debated and divisive issues in Britain so it is vital that a public service broadcaster such as Channel 4 provides programming exploring these kinds of issues. However, Immigration Street does not purport to provide the definitive account of immigration in the UK – it will document life on a street in Southampton where the mix of residents has been transformed over time and continues to evolve as a result of immigration."