Benefits Street series sparks hundreds of complaints

Fungi from Benefits Street Fungi is a resident featured prominently in Benefits Street

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The first episode of a documentary series about residents of a deprived street in Birmingham have prompted almost 300 complaints to Ofcom.

Viewers of Benefit Street were concerned about the negative portrayal of benefits claimants and the depiction of criminal activity.

One sequence showed two men removing alarm tags from clothing apparently stolen from a shop.

Channel 4 said makers acted in a "purely observational capacity".

"At no stage was criminal behaviour encouraged or condoned. All contributors were briefed that if they carried out criminal activity on camera, this could result in criminal investigations after broadcast," a spokesman for the broadcaster added.

They called the programme - filmed in James Turner Street in the Winson Green area of Birmingham - a "fair and balanced observational documentary".

The area has a very high rate of unemployment and the street has many residents who rely on benefits for their income.

The programme was seen by 4.3 million viewers, according to overnight figures.

Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom said it would assess the complaints after the series comes to an end next month, and then decide whether to launch an investigation.

Channel 4 has also received around 100 complaints about the programme.

Ofcom's regulations state that "material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder must not be included in television or radio services".

The organisation also rules against "demonstrations of criminal techniques", but adds that they can be broadcast where "editorially justified".

A sequence in Tuesday night's episode saw Danny - recently released from prison - show how to evade store alarms. He was later seen being arrested for contravening an Asbo banning him from Birmingham city centre.

Birmingham police also said they have received a number of inquiries from members of the public who are concerned with the criminal activity that was featured in the opening episode.

Supt Danny Long said: "We are currently assessing whether the content of the programme can assist us as part of any ongoing investigations or indeed whether any new inquiries should be launched in light of the material that has been broadcast."

Some commentators criticised the show for demonising the poorest people in society.

Independent columnist Owen Jones said on Twitter: "As for well-off TV producers trying to further their career by turning the poor against the poor: You. Are. The. Pits."

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