13,000 people sign petition against Hunger Games TV show where jobless compete for cash prizesBUT MAKERS CLAIM PUBLIC HAS ‘MISINTERPRETED’ TRUE NATURE OF PROGRAMME

>> NEWSFLASH! This story has now been picked up by the MailOnlineIndependent (twice), TelegraphExpressGuardian, Sun, Huffington PostSydney Morning Herald, ViceCosmopolitanNewsweek and Jezebel.

Nearly 20,000 people have signed a petition calling for the BBC to cancel a ‘Hunger Games’-style TV show where jobless youngsters will compete for cash prizes. Plans for ‘Britain’s Hardest Grafter’ were revealed first by Graduate Fog on Wednesday, prompting press coverage from every major British newspaper (plus Jezebel and Vice), and a widespread public outcry that the programme sounds like the latest example of exploitative ‘poverty porn’ programming.

However, BuzzFeed has reported that makers of the programme feel news coverage of the scandal has been unfair, and the public is making an uninformed judgement about a show that hasn’t even been made yet. BuzzFeed has just reported:

The production company behind the show, Twenty Twenty, told BuzzFeed News: “Britain’s Hardest Grafter is a current affairs commission and not an entertainment format, and is at the very earliest stages of production. The welfare of those taking part is of paramount importance and it is a misinterpretation of the concept of the series to suggest it is exploitative.”

A source close to the production team claimed Graduate Fog misinterpreted the advert, saying the show is a straight current affairs programme for BBC Two and the competition element is intended merely to highlight the jobs people do. The source added that the show will also address issues and challenge myths surrounding low paid sector and the unemployed, and that when it airs, viewers will be satisfied the subject matter was dealt sensitively. Another source close to the show believes that the production company’s contestant search was just clumsily written.

If we misinterpreted the advert, then 20,000 members of the public did too. Are they calling us all stupid? Graduate Fog agrees that something has definitely gone wrong here, and it is odd that nobody seems to be able to articulate clearly what format this show will actually take. But that advert for participants (and the correspondence between us and the show’s representative) gives legitimate cause for alarm.

Obviously, nobody has seen the show yet – because it hasn’t been filmed. But it is up to the BBC and Twenty Twenty to ensure that their output and all the public documentation around it is fair, respectful and appropriately positioned, throughout the production process.

Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald told the BuzzFeed reporter:

It’s good to hear Britain’s Hardest Grafter may not be quite as awful as it sounds – however, we only have the makers’ word for that, and I have lost confidence in their judgement.

If the production company are upset about the public outcry we’ve seen in the last few days, I’m sorry but they have only themselves to blame. The advert they used to promote the show was crass and careless (there was even a typo in it). They told potential participants that the show will “give you the opportunity to prove your abilities.” Then, when I questioned the nature of the show, a spokesperson told me:

“In each episode, people will be put to the test in a series of challenges and tasks. At the end of each episode, those who have produced the least will be eliminated and by the end of the process, just one worker will remain.”

“Put to the test”? “A series of challenges and tasks”? “Eliminated”?

My original blog post exposing this story didn’t ask for the show to be axed – I merely questioned the tone of the advert and said I hoped the final show was more sensitive than the ad suggested.

I didn’t start the petition for the show to be axed – although I have signed it. At the very least, I think there should be a full investigation into what this show is actually going to be. Why does the advert describe one show, while the BBC are describing a totally different show? Why don’t the two match?

If the show goes ahead, I would also like to see the production company face an independent audit to ensure that participants are treated respectfully and appropriately. Being unemployed or working for low pay isn’t fun. Some of the participants may be more vulnerable than they first appear. What sort of after care is being offered to those who are knocked out of this? As Jack Monroe said in her blog, paying them at least the minimum wage for their time on the show isn’t so great. Nor is the winner’s cash prize, once it’s taxed. The TV execs, crew and presenters involved will be making many, many times more than that.

Clearly, waying the show felt ‘distinctly Hunger Games’ was not meant to suggest that anyone was fighting to the death. It was about poor people – including the young – being set challenges for the entertainment of other, more fortunate viewers. That felt gross to me – and I’m heartened that the British public had the same strong reaction. The one good thing to come from all this is proof that we don’t all hate the poor people or unemployed as much as our politicians tell us we do.

We didn’t jump to conclusions. We raised questions, weren’t satisfied with their answers – and the public made up their own minds. But perhaps it’s not surprising that a production team too arrogant to craft a careful advert (there were even typos in it) would also claim that 20,000 people are wrong to complain about it… Guys, we think the word you’re looking for is “Sorry”? We’re waiting…

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