Benefits Street Debate

Deirdre Kelly (White Dee), who featured in the Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street (2013), explains in this Newsnight interview, how she and other subjects of the documentary felt misled and exploited through the way the production team portrayed their lives.

She expresses her feelings on how Channel4 and Love Production told them the concept for the documentary was about community spirit, and never said it would be about people living on benefits. She explains that it was not a fair representation of people as it only focussed on 4 individuals, some of which did not even live on that street.

The interviewer challenges Dee, who insists she has not made any money from the programme yet, that despite the negative experience she has had this could be an opportunity to improve her life through the offers she has received for work and public appearances.

I would however argue, that the offers Deirdre may be receiving are a result of her negative portrayal on the show, and that any press she may experience will either reinforce these views and damage her reputation further.

Within minutes of the programme being aired #benefitsstreet was trending on Twitter, with an incredible surge of aggressive comments and threats to the people featured on the programme and those who live on James Turner Street, the road which the documentary is based around.

Since this Newsnight interview, White Dee has received a lot of media attention, and has maybe ‘done well’ off the back of the documentary, however this is arguably at the expense of others who are living in similar conditions, who have only been negatively effected by the programme.

The way the show communicated the lives of the subjects has dictated how the world has then seen them, and not only subjected other people on the street to the same criticisms, but also other people who rely on government benefits.

This news report from the Independent explains the debate surrounding the programme in more depth, giving the response from Nick Mirksy, head of Channel 4 documentaries;

“There’s no Tory agenda. It’s a documentary attempting to describe that world honestly,” said Nick Mirsky, Channel 4’s head of documentaries, in an interview with The Independent. “I’m aware it has created an enormous amount of heat both about Channel 4 and about the street. It feels like we have touched something that the nation is so concerned about. That has created an enormous amount of interest and heat. I think we have touched a nerve.”

In relation to the exploitation I discuss in my writing, this in my opinion is an example of a documentary which misrepresents its subjects, potentially with the aim of generating viewers, through creating a debate on social media, news websites, verbally between viewers, and on further programmes such as this Newsnight episode.


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