Outcry over Australian 'poverty porn' documentary

Outcry over Australian 'poverty porn' documentary
"Bin men" in yellow jackets and journalists gather at a protest outside public broadcaster SBS studios in Sydney. An Australian mayor has accused public broadcaster SBS of promoting "poverty porn" in a controversial new documentary about working class Sydney residents.

SYDNEY - An Australian mayor has accused public broadcaster SBS of promoting "poverty porn" in a controversial new documentary about working class Sydney residents, as a picket line of garbage trucks protested the programme Wednesday.

Broadcaster SBS is set to air a three-part series "Struggle Street" from Wednesday night showcasing the lives of people in Mount Druitt, one of Sydney's more disadvantaged suburbs, 50 kilometres (31 miles) west of the city.

But the region's mayor Stephen Bali and some of the residents featured in the show are angry at how they have been portrayed after watching a preview of the first episode and want it stopped, with Bali saying it was a disgrace.

"What I saw wasn't a documentary, it was simply publicly-funded poverty porn," he said on a petition at Change.org, which has attracted almost 3,000 supporters.

"I share the outrage of local residents who feel they were lied to about what this documentary would be.

"This is an unethical, damaging, exploitative, trash 'documentary' that has misrepresented local people, and our whole community."

One of the residents featured, father-of-10 Ashley Kennedy, said his family felt "violated" by the way their daily struggles were represented in the programme.

"It's the wrong way it is put across, they violated us in a way we never imagined," he told another public broadcaster ABC.

Bali led a convoy of 10 garbage trucks to picket outside SBS' offices in northern Sydney, to symbolise what he called "trash TV", accusing the government-funded station of wasting "Aus$1 million (S$1.06 million) on this crap".

SBS' chief content officer Helen Kellie defended the programme -- which she said was filmed over six months by the Australian branch of British producer Keo -- and added that "there's no deliberate humiliation or exploitation of these individuals".

"This is an important topic. We think it's a topic that we rarely see on our screens in Australia and we want to show the real lives of real people and how they live doing it tough," Kellie told ABC.

The programme's producer David Galloway told the Sydney Morning Herald last week the series wanted to go beyond stereotypes of the suburb, and look at "why you haven't been able to get a job for the past 20 years, why children are getting pregnant at 16, why you have been on heroin for 30 years".

Residents have a median weekly household income of Aus$1,049 compared to the national figure of Aus$1,23, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Of the more than 6,000 in the labour force, some 10.3 per cent were unemployed compared to 5.6 per cent nationally in 2011, the data said.

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