Monday, 31 January 2011

Reality TV – Does it fuel prejudice and inequality?

Television is a major part of all our lives and can both entertain and educate but are we seeing an increase in negativity?

I have written before about the manner in which disabled people are often portrayed and the lack of disabled presenters on our mainstream television. There has been positive changes in this with the introduction of more disabled characters in our soaps and I hope this will continue particularly with the news this week that Channel 4 is well on its way to selecting its presenters for The London Paralympics 2012 – all of which will be disabled. However, I am becoming particularly concerned about the number of reality TV programmes there are on our screens and the way they portray people. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying for one moment that they should all be banned but I like television and I know what genres of programmes I enjoy and tend to steer clear of those that I know will probably not interest me and many of the reality TV programmes fall into that category. My main issue is the manner in which they edit themselves. Yes I know they want to be entertaining but it would appear that the producers of these shows feel that the only way to achieve that is to shock us with the extremes. There is no doubt that reality TV is big business at the moment but are the way they portraying people creating a negativity that could increase prejudice and inequality? I believe so.

On many occasions, these programmes appear to be full of misconceptions and biased editing to only show the extremes. Take for instance “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” – for many this is highly entertaining offering a level of hilarity and horror. The promotion of the programme has led us to believe that we will learn something about the traditions of the “Gypsy” community. Unfortunately, it is my opinion that they are misleading the viewing public and in turn fuelling a unwarranted prejudice.

Historically, there has been a long standing discrimination against “Gypsy” communities and, like many minority groups, everyone is lumped under one umbrella. The producers of this programme could have taken a very different route and allowed the viewers a true insight in the lives and traditions of these communities thereby educating us more and dispelling the myths. However, for “entertainment” value they chose to do otherwise.

Little has truly been learned about these communities. The very title of the programme is misleading. To date, they have failed to distinguish between two very different groups namely Romany Gypsys and Irish Travellers. So far, they have solely concentrated on Irish Travellers. Why is this important I hear you cry? Fundamentally, they are two different groups of people with different traditions and customs. Imagine if you will an ice-cream and sorbet – yes there are similarities but they are unique in their own way.

It is a shame that the programme has yet to show the true differences and so far neither culture has been seen in a positive light. It is my opinion that the programme has achieved nothing except put up even more barriers between these cultures and our own. What you see on television is the extremes of a travelling community and a media hype at its very worse.

History, traditions and values of all communities can be beautiful, respectful and interesting. It is a shame that the producers feel that this would not make “good” television.

It would be terribly naive of us all to judge on this programme format alone and allow an irresponsible representation of any group be our sole educator. Prejudice is born from ignorance and unfortunately reality TV does little to remove this. Producers have to start taking responsibility for their programme making otherwise we will see steps backwards instead of forward in our search for true equality for all.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Equality within my Borough (Part 3)

Have you faced discrimination within the London Borough of Sutton and if so, what were the circumstances?

I believe that in everyone’s life education is paramount and is the most important starting block for life’s journey. Changes have taken place within the Borough and I would hope that a similar scenario would no longer take place. My own experience was based around my secondary school education. At the age of 14 years, my school in Sutton took the decision that it was no longer viable for me to continue my education with them and steps were taken to transfer me to a “special school” in Kingston. I do not want this and with the backing of my parents, I was able to appeal against this decision and continued my education at my mainstream secondary school. This situation arose purely by my London Borough of Sutton school not recognising the minor changes that needed to be implemented i.e. ensuring that all my classes were on the ground level etc. It was almost as if myself and my parents had to educate my educators!

Another way in which I have experienced discrimination is within the workplace and I truly believe that this still exists today and that the London Borough of Sutton should be doing more to educate and advise employers within the borough. As I entered the world of employment, I applied for many positions both locally and throughout London. I was rejected time and time again often with the organisations giving me feeble excuses by way of an explanation but it was very clear to me that these decisions were taken due to my disability and amounted to indirect discrimination. At the time, laws were not in place that allowed me to challenge this and today it is a very different story. However, there still exists within the London Borough of Sutton the opportunity for disabled people to engage in “meaningful” employment mainly due to lack of understanding and knowledge of the true access requirements of disabled people. I do feel that not only the London Borough of Sutton but also London as a whole should be addressing this.

Do you live your life in a way that others may consider as different?

My initial response would be “no” – I live, work and socialise just like everyone else. However, on reflection I suppose the true answer would be “yes”. I do live life just like everyone else but the manner in which I do it is somewhat different. I do not think of this as being different merely as a change in the way of working or accomplishing things. These so called differences are purely my uniqueness just like someone picking up the telephone and calling a friend – I would rather grab my phone and text instead which is actually more in line with the youth of today!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Equality within my Borough (Part 2)

What are you views on discrimination within the London Borough of Sutton?

There are many different strands of equality and as a disabled person living within London Borough of Sutton I feel that the approach to equality in the borough is not always very equal.

With regard to race discrimination, the London Borough of Sutton has historically been a “white” area i.e. approximately 87% of the boroughs population is “White British” as opposed to 50% in some of the other London Boroughs.

In relation to “Sex Discrimination”, I do not believe there is a major issue with discrimination within Sutton and I am aware of any initiatives and schemes aimed at gender issues particularly relating to the number of women’s groups etc in all areas of the community.

Obviously disability is very personal to me and it was not until the beginning of the 21st Century that I began to feel that discriminatory barriers were being removed within the borough. At this time, disability appeared fairly high on people’s agendas and disability issues began to be taken more seriously. Unfortunately, I do now feel that after this initial appreciation of the issues it has somewhat abated and is not being treated as importantly as race and sex discrimination within the Borough.

I do not believe that there are that many experiences of discrimination within the Borough in relation to other equality strands such as Age, Sexual Orientation, Religion and Transgender.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Equality within my local borough

I was recently asked to be interviewed by a colleague's daughter in relation to a project she is taking part in which focuses on Equality within the borough I live namely The London Borough of Sutton. This project will culminate in an exhibition within Sutton and also at a wider exhibition for the London Olympics 2012. The questions that were asked of me made me think about my own views on equality within my immediate community and I thought these may be of interest to you and therefore the next few entries on this blog will detail each question. I hope you find the questions and my responses of interest!

What are you views on discrimination and equality?

I believe it is important for us to have a fair and equal society that allows everyone to fully participate in mainstream activities and to maintain equality throughout life’s journey - from childcare, to education and to employment. It is important that all people be given the same access to opportunity to allow them to live their lives fully and to reach their individual aspirations and ambitions.

To be continued next time............

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Unstaffed stations will stop older and disabled people travelling

Transport for All spoke out angrily today about revelations from London Underground documents that a third of stations would be left unstaffed as a result of job cuts.

Lianna Etkind, Campaigns and Outreach Coordinator, said:
“Many of our members quite simply cannot use the tube without assistance from staff.

“Whether it’s helping a blind person on stairs and escalators, advising a wheelchair user on step-free routes or stations with toilets, or supporting someone with a learning disability to use an automatic ticket machine, safe levels of staffing on the Underground is absolutely essential for the ability of thousands of Londoners to travel in the capital.

“Accessibility on the Tube still lags a long way behind other world cities. Unstaffed stations will mean that more and more often, disabled and older people say no to a job, a night out with friends, a trip to see family, because the risk of being left stranded on the platform is just too great.

“LU’s plans to cut staff are an attack on disabled and older people’s independence.”

Youcef Bey-Zekkoub, caseworker at Transport for All, said:

“As a wheelchair user and I use the tube quite regularly. But most of station have no step-free access and I usually ask for assistance to get on the train, as 9 out of 10 of the step-free stations have a gap between the train and the station.

“Although I was terrified of using the underground, staff members at LU stations have increased my confidence by the help they provided to me.

“Without the support of staff members I will not be able to use the Tube.”

Notes to Editors
Lianna Etkind can be contacted on 07913 777 076

Youcef Bey Zekkoub can be contacted on 020 7 737 2339

Transport for All have been campaigning to keep stations safely staffed.
Transport for All is a disability rights group that campaigns for accessible transport across London.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Spending Cuts

David Cameron says the government has a "credible plan" for restoring economic confidence – let’s hope so!

The government's spending cuts are necessary and not driven by ideological zeal, Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted in his new year message. He said the economy was now out of the danger zone, but warned of much "heavy lifting" ahead in 2011. In his message, Mr Cameron said: "We have a credible plan for restoring confidence in our economy, but we have to see it through. A lot of the heavy lifting will happen in 2011.

The cuts we have all witnessed recently have been tough and I think we will continue to see the harsh reality of them over the coming months. In addition, the affect of the VAT rise yesterday from 17.7% to 20% will hit all of our pockets.

As a small VAT-registered business, I certainly understand the implications this rate rise will have on the financial security of my business. Small businesses have been hit particularly hard during the downturn and many have struggled to keep on an even keel. Like households, it is the hidden costs that will hit the small businesses the most – the increased VAT on our utilities i.e. telephone costs and supplies of electricity and heating. It is also inevitable that some businesses will be forced to increase costs due to the recent rise in fuel costs which have been hit not only by the VAT rise but also the added duty tax – as many of our goods rely on the transportation system, the operating costs of many companies continue to rise whilst the take-up of services and goods continue to plateau or in some cases decrease.

Whilst I do accept that the cuts and VAT rise is necessary as part of the Government’s plans to tackle the deficit, I, like many other small business owners, realise that hard-hitting challenges are ahead for this year and the first quarter of the year may well determine just how tough things are going to be.