The sheer amount of complaints will see the show looked in to
The highly popular, contentious and controversial Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street, which highlights the travails of those living on James Turner Street, Birmingham, is due to go under investigation by Ofcom after attracting over 1700 complaints.
Benefits Street has attracted severe criticism
The first episode attracted the most vitriol, with the general public incensed at the level of crime shown in the program, including the main participants removing tags from clothes and lining bags with foil to avoid detection when shoplifting goods.
Aside from crime, gripes included the depiction of the residents involved, treatment of those aged under-18 and demonising of the poor, as well as the public perception of those claiming benefits plummeting due to the levity in which the show was orchestrated. Some were supporting, saying it highlighted a social security system in urgent need of reform.
In January Channel 4 told Sky News: "The production crew were filming 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."
Most importantly for Channel 4 and Love Productions – the company behind the documentary – it was popular: Benefits Street attracted the biggest audiences since the Paralympics in 2012 were broadcasted. One episode of the documentary attracted almost 6.5m viewers.
Mark and Becky from 'Benefits Street'
A spokesman for Ofcom said: "Following the conclusion of Benefits Street, Ofcom can confirm that it has launched an investigation into the series." A Channel 4 spokesperson said: "We are confident there has been no breach of the Ofcom code and will be providing a detailed and robust response to the investigation."
The 5-part series culminated with its final episode last week; it was followed by a live debate in which the residents of James Turner Street were given the chance to speak outside the context of the documentary that thrust them into the public eye.