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By Alison Potter On February 22, 2012

Big Fat Gypsy Wedding Travellers Say They Are Being Exploited For Entertainment

‘We are not a joke, we are human beings’

Big Fat Gypsy Wedding Travellers Say They Are Being Exploited For Entertainment
Photo: Channel 4

The newest series of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings has just started and once more the popular show has come under fire for fuelling discrimination and cultural hatred against travellers.

The show has proved to be a massive ratings hit, regularly attracting millions of viewers who are fascinated at the programme which gives the viewer never before seen access into the lives of Britain’s secretive traveller community.

Last night's episode ‘I Fought The Law’ focused on the law-breaking activities of travellers, showing one group illegally racing horse carts on the road and a gypsy convicted of handling stolen goods missing his daughter's first Holy Communion due to being in prison.

But following the screening of last night’s episode, several travellers have been vocal in the criticism of how the show portrays their world, saying that it gives an inaccurate portrayal of their lives.

17-year-old Pip McKenzie is one of the travellers speaking out against the Channel 4 show, and he posted online an open letter to the broadcaster which claims that many have been bullied and attacked as a result of being on the show.

Mr McKenzie revealed that has been attacked and his 12-year-old cousin was also beaten up by girls calling her a prostitute.

A scene from last night's episode of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

The Mail Online reports him saying in his letter: “Your documentary, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, is unfortunately a work of fiction. I am sick of casual racism towards Gypsies and Travellers being tolerated.”

He added: “It surprised me to discover that 99 per cent of Britain's gypsy and traveller population are Irish. Correct me if I'm wrong, as I am sure you have done lots and lots of research on this topic, but just 10 per cent of the gypsy and traveller population are actually Irish travellers.

“The majority, like myself, are in fact Romany, yet your ‘documentary’ seems to ignore our existence. While I have nothing but respect for the Irish traveller community, you seem to be unaware that we are two distinct ethnic groups and thus there are many differences between our cultures.

“While Irish travellers originate from Ireland, we can trace our routes back to India, so it was hardly surprising that I was somewhat confused when you use the word gypsy in the title of your ‘documentary’ about Irish travellers. I was even more confused when your ‘documentary’ about Irish travellers seemed to feature an alien culture that even most Irish travellers didn't recognise.”

Mr McKenzie added: “We suffer from discrimination on a daily basis and our human rights have historically been violated, yet you deem it acceptable to broadcast a misleading ‘documentary’ that has been made not to raise awareness of our plight but for entertainment.

“We are not a joke, we are human beings and your work of fiction is only strengthening stereotypes and ignorance.”

Channel 4's commissioning editor for factual entertainment, Nick Hornby, publicly replied to the open letter, saying: “First of all, I'm sorry to hear that you and your cousin have experienced abuse - it is clearly unacceptable but I hope you agree that we cannot be held responsible for the actions of the public.

“It is not and was never the intention of any of the films to encourage negative feelings towards gypsies or travellers and many people, including several of the previous series' contributors - and other gypsies and travellers we have met - have contacted us to say that they feel the documentaries have portrayed the community in a positive light and had a positive impact on their lives.

“Despite your fear that people are watching the documentaries simply to laugh at gypsies and travellers, I think the films are celebratory and I hope never derogatory.”

He continued: “All the issues touched on in the series were thoroughly researched and while we understand that some of the issues are challenging, we are confident that the programme is fair and accurate."

Do you think Channel 4's Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is fuelling discrimination?

Big Fat Gypsy Wedding: 'I Fought The Law'

Travellers illegally race horses on public roads

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