Channel 4’s “Bigger Fatter Gypsier”

Publication type: News

Author: Friends, Families and Travellers

Themes: Discrimination

October 2012 Update

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) (Wednesday 03/10/2012) announced that Channel 4’s “Bigger Fatter Gypsier’ billboard advertising campaign was irresponsible, endorsed prejudice against Gypsies and Travellers, was guilty of depicting a child in a sexualised way, and was likely to have caused mental and moral harm to children.

For more details visit the Travellers Times website.

Is this Big Fat institutional racism at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)?

The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB) is delighted to report that the Independent Reviewer of the ASA has today (May 2012) directed the Council of the ASA to reconsider their decision not to conduct a formal investigation into the 372 complaints made about Channel 4s highly controversial billboard campaign Bigger Fatter Gypsier. David Enright (a partner with Howe & Co Solicitors who have been representing the ITMB and a number of individual Travellers and Gypsies) said:

“This is a huge victory for the Traveller and Gypsy communities. Earlier this year, Channel 4 plastered the UK with their highly offensive billboard advertising campaign. The advertising campaign caused outrage. Hundreds of Travellers and Gypsies complained to the ASA about these adverts, which they saw as being racially demeaning and damaging to them, their communities and their children. Despite receiving hundreds of detailed complaints the ASA Council decided not to even bother investigating. Today the Independent Reviewer of the ASA, Sir Hayden Phillips, has taken the unusual step of directing the ASA to reconsider their decision not to conduct a formal investigation into this advertising campaign. Travellers and Gypsies now wait to see if the ASA Council considers that they are entitled to equal protection by the regulator.”

Yvonne MacNamara, Director of the ITMB said:

“We and the people we represent were horrified by this giant billboard advertising campaign. Posters of dirty faced, violent looking Traveller children went up everywhere including outside schools. We know of a number of Traveller children who were bullied and ostracised by their school friends as a direct result of this truly offensive Ad campaign. We made a detailed complaint to the ASA pointing out the obvious breaches of the Broadcasting Code. We challenged the ASA to agree that it would never have permitted such an advertising campaign that bore the slogan Bigger Fatter Muslimer or Bigger Fatter Blacker or Bigger Fatter Jewier. We were astonished when our complaint, alongside the complaints of hundreds of other Travellers and Gypsies, NGOs, friends and supporters were dismissed out of hand. We were shocked and dismayed when we later discovered that the ASA took the decision to not even bother investigating these serious complaints of racist denigration and characterisation.”


At the beginning of 2012, Channel 4 launched a massive nationwide bill board advertising campaign in support of their forthcoming series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. The advertising campaign consisted of huge bill board posters with pictures of very young Gypsy and Traveller children appearing dirty, out of control and violent, Traveller men looking menacing, young Traveller girls in Holy Communion dresses and Young Traveller women in revealing party clothes. All of the giant posters bore the slogan Bigger Fatter Gypsier.

The advertising campaign sparked outrage in the Traveller and Gypsy Communities, as well as amongst the settled community. The campaign was widely criticised and commented on right across the national media. The ASA received 372 complaints from individuals and representative groups, speaking on behalf of large groups, alleging that the advertisements were racist, racially denigrating and had the potential to incite racial hatred. The ITMB made a detailed complaint to the ASA on the 15 February 2012, as did hundreds of other individuals and groups.

On the 23 February the ASA issued a standard letter to all complainants dismissing their complaints. It later transpired that the ASA council decided to not even bother undertaking a formal investigation as a result of this avalanche of complaints. The ITMB lodged an appeal with the Independent Reviewer of the ASA, Sir Hayden Phillips, on 1 May 2012. Today the Independent Reviewer Ruled:

“I am now writing to let you know that, having considered the Grounds for Appeal sent to me by your solicitors, together with the other documents which they provided, and having considered all the papers on the ASA file in this case, I have decided to recommend to the ASA Council that they reconsider their decision not to conduct a formal investigation into the complaints you had made about the poster advertising by Channel Four. I am minded to recommend that the Council should now conduct a formal investigation but I must emphasise that the Council is in no way bound by my recommendation.”

Yvonne MacNamara said:

“Travellers and Gypsies are the last ethnic minority group against whom it is still acceptable to make derogatory jokes and to malign and denigrate in the media, the last bastion of acceptable prejudice. That ends today. Travellers are one of Britains oldest ethnic minority groups, proud of their culture and heritage and will not allow their community to be abused anymore. Channel 4 needs to wake up and smell the coffee. This is 2012 not 1912. We will be fighting hard to force the ASA to stand up for Travellers and to perform their proper regulatory duty, by not allowing this public vilification of Travellers and Gypsies to go unpunished anymore.”


Yvonne MacNamara,  Director, ITMB. Telephone: 0207 6072002 or 07961432074

David Enright, Howe & Co Solicitors. Telephone: 0208 840 4688 0798 4465923

Mike Doherty, Communications Officer, ITMB or Matthew Bindley, Policy and Research Officer, ITMB 0207 6072002

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