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Catholic Church bashes Channel 4's Traveller documentary, says it risks stoking racism

by Tola Mbakwe

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has criticised a documentary by Channel 4's Dispatch, claiming it reinforces discrimination against Traveller communities.

The Truth About Traveller Crime, first broadcast on Thursday, explored crimes linked to several Traveller communities. 

The 45-minute documentary highlighted alleged crimes such as extortion, theft, vandalism and violence in Lutterworth, Leicestershire.

According to a description on Dispatches, "Anja Popp looks at the truth behind stories of criminality and lawlessness".

The programme claimed crime near traveller sites is around 50 per cent higher than the national average.

Fr Dan Mason, national Catholic chaplain for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers said: "Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities make a valuable contribution to our society, yet face extraordinary levels of racism and discrimination. Almost every man, woman and child has suffered some form of hate speech or hate crime.

"Channel 4's programme used sensationalist language, selective examples and dubious statistics which will only reinforce this prejudice. Such broadcasts would be dangerous and irresponsible at the best of times. Coming amid a national crisis, and a pandemic that's hitting minority communities so hard, is particularly unacceptable."

The Catholic Church was not alone in its criticisms.

Many viewers complained about the episode on social media, saying the documentary didn't mention any positive things about the Traveller communities. 

Channel 4 has released a statement responding to the backlash. 

It said: "Channel 4 has a strong track record and remit to conduct public debate including about difficult and uncomfortable issues. This programme examined an important issue which was addressed fairly, accurately, and with due impartiality in accordance with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

"The programme analysed crime statistics regarding the association between crime levels and some traveller sites. The programme included contributions from Travellers and Traveller advocates as well as contributors who told of their experiences of living near certain Traveller sites and who questioned the authorities' approach to criminality.  

"Other representative groups were approached but did not respond or declined to take part in the programme."

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