CHANNEL 4's follow-up to its Benefits Street
documentary series has been criticised by a parish priest.
The new show, to be called Immigration Street, centres
on Derby Road in Southampton, an area that the TV company for the
series, Love Productions, says has a long history of migration.
The Team Rector of the Southampton City Centre Team Ministry,
the Revd Julian Davies, said that he feared the programme would
undo his parish's excellent race relations.
"Southampton prides itself on excellent ethnic and
inter-religious relations, in which many people across the
communities have much invested time, effort and goodwill," Mr
Davies said last week. "There is fear that this programme could
undo some of this good work, and incite inter-community tensions
through inviting unwelcome interest from groups outside,
unsympathetic to what has been achieved here."
Love Productions' previous programme, Benefits Street,
focused on James Turner Street in Birmingham, where, it was said,
up to 90 per cent of the residents claimed benefits. The programme
was a ratings hit for Channel 4, but sparked anger from some
residents. They said that they had been misled by the TV company
about the nature of the documentary (News, 24
Mr Davies said: "The programme is inherently racist, in that it
identifies immigration by the colour of the skin."
There were also other parts of central Southampton where more
immigrants lived, he said. "If the crew had filmed in other parts
of my parish, they would have encountered more immigrants, most of
whom enrich life here, who promote good social values, and who make
this part of Southampton into the wonderfully vibrant,
international, and cosmopolitan place that it is."
Much of the opposition to Love Productions and Channel 4 in
Birmingham was led by the Revd Steve Chalke, the founder of the
Oasis Trust, which runs a school on James Turner Street. At the
time, he said Benefits Street treated the residents as
exhibits in a "human zoo".
In response to approaches from other communities, Oasis has now
produced a "self-defence" toolkit to help communities resist
Mr Chalke said: "I'm sick to death of seeing the communities in
which we work - and I know well - being so damagingly
misrepresented. The negative legacy that these 'documentaries'
leave lingers in the community long after the cameras have packed
up and gone."
The toolkit, which can be downloaded from the Oasis website,
includes draft press releases, ideas for garnering more positive
media coverage, and a "decoder" of TV-company language.
Not everyone on Derby Road is opposed to Immigration
Street. Mohammed Afzal Khan, secretary of the Abu Bakr Mosque,
on Argyle Road near by, told the BBC's Asian Network that he had
happily been filmed talking about the part played by Muslims and
the mosque in the area.
One Southampton councillor, Satvir Kaur, grew up in the area
around Derby Road. She told a public meeting earlier this year that
she and most residents were second- or third-generation immigrants.
"This begs the question: at what point do me and my neighbours stop
being classed or considered as immigrants, and start being
considered British?" she asked.
A spokeswoman for Channel 4, Marion Bentley, said that the
programme would not stoke up racial tension.
"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
"All the filming has been with local residents, all of whom have
given their express and informed consent to appear in the