The most disturbing thing about this programme were the images of two British Asian reporters (posing “undercover” as a couple living on a largely white working-class housing estate in Bristol), being subjected to daily racist bullying by children and young people. But that was not the only disturbing aspect of this programme.
The two reporters (filming with cameras concealed in their clothes) were racially abused more than fifty times in eight weeks. It was a shocking experience for them — they both said they had never felt so threatened. And they surely did a good job in sticking it out for so long. However they were let down by the sound-bite journalistic techniques of the whole “undercover” production.
We were told by a worker from a local project, Support Against Racist Incidents (SARI), that there had been a rise in racist attacks on the South Mead Estate where the reporters were living. But we were not told why.
That kind of information-gathering always seems to be out of the remit of current TV documentaries. I’ve got so used to shouting sarcastically “in depth!” at these kind of programmes, I forget to be truly concerned. But here I was forced to remember how important it is for a TV documentary to have “context” and “balance”.
This programme has caused a bit of a crisis at Bristol City Council. So much so, the council leader (quoted on the BBC website) has called for meetings “at the highest level”. At the highest level indeed! The council bureaucracy’s concern is prompted by the fact that a lot of money has recently gone into “improving” the Southmead Estate. So the questions the programme should have asked are, where has this money gone, what has been done to improve the lives of the people living on the estate and can “extra money” do to undermine racist and xenophobic ideas anyway.
Because the programme was based on exposing the handful of teenagers and local “hard” cases, young men with a history of violence, the viewer was left with the impression that the Southmead Estate was a racist estate — some decent people, but basically racist.
Which is not the view of Batook Pandya from SARI. Again, on the BBC website, she says, “I think we've got to look at it in this way: is Southmead a racist area, I would say no. Is there more racist attacks in Southmead? At that time (i.e. in June when the programme was made), and [from] the number of cases I get, yes.”
So the real story is... there has been a rise in the number of racist attacks. And the question that should have been asked and answered is, “why is this?”
The reporters themselves raise an issue about the BNP and whether it was was operating in the area. They said they had no evidence of that. Yet in the film we see one of the children using the word “jihad” as part of a racist taunt. Does an eleven year old know that word?
I did a mini-investigation of my own and asked my partner, who is a teacher in a south London school, whether any eleven year old he knew would know that word. No way! was his answer. So how does a child pick up that kind of “technical” language if it is not from older mates, parents, relatives or friends of the family who are organised or semi-organised racists?
If there is to be a serious media investigation into the rise in racist attacks it will have to do better than this.
It should also steer clear of endorsing the government’s populist agenda which says it is okay to “name and shame” children — immature people who have who knows what going on in their lives, shaping their personalities and making them behave badly.
A child of of eleven who tries to “stick up” a young Asian woman who cannot speak English because he has learned that such a person is an easy target for bullying, certainly needs some kind of positive adult intervention in their life. But shame on the programme makers for not remembering that he is after all, a child — a fact made so obvious from his method of “sticking up” (using his two fingers).
No child, no matter how badly they behave, should be, named, filmed and have it broadcast on national telly that they are under the supervision of social services.