Entertainment TV ‘Poverty porn’: SBS doco about battlers is ‘trash’

‘Poverty porn’: SBS doco about battlers is ‘trash’

Struggle Street
SBS
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A controversial reality series that has been described as “publicly-funded poverty porn” will be broadcast as planned despite a two-hour meeting to discuss a community request to pull the program.

Struggle Street, which follows the lives of nine residents in Sydney’s Mount Druitt, is a three-part observational documentary set to begin screening on SBS on Wednesday night.

Blacktown Mayor Stephen Bali had called for the screening to be delayed, saying the show had left the people of Mount Druitt feeling hurt, humiliated and betrayed.

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“They’re devastated,” he said.

“The impact on the local community and morale and for the youth, it’s not only Mount Druitt. It’s right across western Sydney, because in the end, people will be labelling this as typical western Sydney.

“This stereotype, we’re over it, and it shouldn’t happen and SBS has just taken the worst aspects of it and put it into a so-called documentary.”

tristan
Tristan: one the Mr Druitt residents featured.

Mr Bali said the series, produced by KEO Films and supported by Screen Australia, took advantage of vulnerable people who were fooled into thinking they were taking part in a program about overcoming adversity.

“And when they see the worst bits of their life, because they’re being raw, open and truthful with the producers and the cameramen, they’re just distraught about how their lives are being represented on the big screen,” Mr Bali said.

“You know there’s thousands of hours on the cutting room floor and they’ve taken almost like the worst aspects of their lives and bundled it in the first episode.”

chris
Chris: another star of Struggle Street.

According to the Blacktown City Council website, the program “mocks, degrades, insults and exaggerates” the hardships faced by the series’ participants.

It launched a change.org petition calling for SBS management to “immediately suspend the planned broadcast, ensure the participants are shown the documentary in full, and make sure their views are included before any further footage goes to air”.

In the petition’s description, Mr Bali said he was “appalled” after being shown the first episode.

“What I saw wasn’t a documentary, it was simply publicly-funded poverty porn,” he wrote.

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derelicty-house
A still photo from the scene-setting imagery in Struggle Street.

Mr Bali met with SBS on Wednesday afternoon to ask that the broadcast be postponed so that residents could see all the episodes and prepare themselves.

“These people have to live in the community, so they need to know what they’re going to be facing the next day when they’re talking to their fellow residents,” he said.

He said if the program was not delayed, there would be protests outside SBS offices on Wednesday.

“Our garbage workers to their credit have put their hand up and volunteered to say ‘let’s do a protest’,” he said.

“Since the documentary is garbage, we should take some garbage trucks up there.”

It is understood a protest is scheduled for 10:00am at the SBS studios in Artarmon, with 10 garbage trucks expected to descend on the site.

Following the meeting, SBS director of content Helen Kelly vowed the broadcast would go ahead, despite “constructive” talks.

She said the organisation was prepared for any protests over what she describes as the raw and confronting documentary series.

“This is a difficult documentary … difficult stories that we’re telling, it’s a fly on the wall documentary, but we spend six months filming with a number of participants and we look at their lives … the ups and downs of their lives,” she said.

“These are real people who are doing it tough.”

Despite Ms Kelly’s insistence that the program would go ahead, Mr Bali said he remained hopeful of a change of heart.

“We’re hopeful that over the next 24 hours, they will find what we’ve presented to them is true and therefore they’ll hopefully consider withdrawing the program,” he said.

Participant ‘shocked’ by portrayal

Among those to share their lives on Struggle Street are Peta Kennedy, her husband Ashley and their ice-addicted son.

On Tuesday morning she told ABC 702 Sydney she was devastated by the portrayal of her family.

“I’ve seen my husband on [the program], you know yelling,” she said.

“But the … thing that shocked me the most was when they put on air his fart.

“I thought hang on a minute, that’s wrong, that’s private, that shouldn’t have even went to air.

“The promo absolutely just shows all the negative [aspects] of the people.”

Ms Kelly said the final program was put together to be “reflective of the time in the six months” of filming.

“This documentary isn’t about doing a shiny floor version of a fake life,” she said.

“What we want to do is to show life in the raw.

“But it wouldn’t be giving a fair editorial representation if we just took the best bits.”

-ABC

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