Britain's Channel 4 told the residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham that its new documentary would show the best of a working class community being hit hard by austerity. Instead Benefits Street helped label the residents as “scum”. Now the series is being screened by TVNZ.
IN A TRULY DISMAL ACT OF PROGRAMMING, TVNZ has begun screening the British Channel 4 series, Benefits Street.
It pretends to portray the lives of the people of James Turner Street in Birmingham but the five part series was condemned by the residents themselves.
The first episode of Benefits Street, which screened tonight, showed resident Dee Roberts pointing at houses where people were unemployed or on benefits. But programme makers edited out the houses where she said people were working.
“They lied to us from the very beginning. We opened our doors and hearts to them and they violated us and abused our trust,” she told the local Birmingham media.
Another 'bludger' portrayed in the show is Nikita Bell. She has since found work but was looking for employment when the series was filmed. She also felt betrayed by the makers of the series, Love Productions.
“They only showed the part with us laughing to make it look like it was all a big joke. They have betrayed me and everyone else. They told us it would be a show about community but it’s not.” she told The Guardian.
Owen Jones, the bestselling author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, writing in The Independent commented:
'Benefits Street followed a now-predictable formula. Television producers hunt for unsympathetic examples of unemployed people – in this case, on a street in Birmingham; they portray them in the worst possible light; and they fuel the pervasive sense that people on benefits are feckless scroungers.... A healthy media would stand up to the powerful and wealthy. Not ours, though: instead it stands up to the poor and voiceless.'
Asked Jones: 'Where are the shows about the wealthy tax-dodgers who deprive the Exchequer of £25bn each year, even as millions have to both pay their taxes and be pounded by austerity? What about the bankers who plunged the world into economic catastrophe and continue to thrive as others suffer the consequences?'
All Benefits Street does is reinforce prejudices about the poor and unemployed. But demonising the victims conveniently lets capitalism off the hook.
TVNZ, whose own limited news and currents affairs has degenerated to the ratings-driven tabloid level, has largely ignored the issue of unemployment and poverty in this country. But it is more than happy to screen a sensationalist and fundamentally dishonest British series that portrays the poor as feckless bludgers and not as they really are - the victims of the British government's brutal austerity policies.
TVNZ should explain why it is screening this series because it can do nothing but provoke a backslash against beneficiaries in this country - as it did in Britain, where the residents of James Turner Street were the victims of abuse and threats of physical violence.