Challenging Benefits Street: A response to negative media representation

Benefit StreetStockton-on-Tees Header

It seems the makers of ‘Benefits Street’ have shifted attention from Birmingham to the residents of Stockton on Tees. The controversial series is to return to Channel 4, claiming to “reveal the reality of life on benefits” amongst those living on the Portrack and Tilery estates in Stockton. But will the series adequately attend to the lived experiences and social issues which impact the lives of those who live in Stockton, or will it simply blame and demonise those it features?

The programme makers undoubtedly have a role here, but so too do those who watch Benefits Street. Reference to the work of Stuart Hall (1980) reminds us that the consumer of media discourse plays an active role in the interpretation and reproduction of the messages that are transmitted.

In protest at being the setting for the forthcoming series of Benefits Street, community activist Mike McGrother, has sought to counter negative representations of Stockton and its citizens.

Mike explains,

“[our response] has been to counter the ethos, techniques and claims of Love Productions / Channel 4 with positivity, community galvanisation and parody-based media production. Adopting the name “Lovelier Productions” we are producing a series of happenings designed to provoke and engage people in debate; highlight the dangers – or at least the REAL reality of the genre of ‘factual entertainment’ programme making and, by empowering people using technology and social media, demystify the processes leading to negative community portrayal and manipulation.

As such, we began, appropriately enough for Valentines Day by reminding Love Productions that arriving uninvited can be done ‘lovelier’: SEALED WITH A LOVELIER KISS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQJJ-ATp3Q0

Secondly, we questioned the claims of Love Productions, (who also make Great British Bake Off) that they don’t manipulate and that objections to their programme making amount to censorship. We also ask whether they will portray our community for what it is – or how they choose to: The Great British Take Off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXEjHK5P8e8

ON March 13th and 14th we will move onto stage the world’s largest game of Chinese Whispers as we counter the claim of ‘providing a voice to a community’ by involving over 10000 voices in two days for Comic Relief. The game again looks at CHOICE – and OUR choice to portray OUR community positively. At the same time we will be using an Android phone APP to allow members of the public to be a part of a community camera crew and contribute to an end of process film which will go live at 9pm on Saturday night via www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk

Following on from these three events we are keeping our powder dry… but we have very big co-ordinated plans to provide Stockton’s response to content of Benefits Street when it is eventually aired AND if Love Productions think they are finished with Stockton… they may find that Lovelier Productions may NOT have finished with them…! We are delighted to be working with researchers from a number of universities as we look to see how Communities can counter their damaging and demonising portrayal in the media

Follow the work of Lovelier Productions at www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk

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