Unemployed workers call on makers of SBS poverty porn to respond to concerns
'Could You Survive On The Breadline' was received with shock and distress by people living in poverty.
The Antipoverty Centre is calling on SBS and production company Lune Media to engage meaningfully with poor people by attending a forum to hear our concerns about their latest poverty porn series. The forum would be held at a time and date of their choosing.
Following the premier of SBS’s ‘Could You Survive On The Breadline’ last Wednesday a group of shell-shocked unemployed and disabled people living in poverty gathered to provide mutual support to each other. More than 50 people attended an Antipoverty Centre event ahead of the screening, and dozens returned in distress afterwards to debrief (see a list of comments from the event below). Many more said on social media that they would not be watching the show for fear of the anxiety, distress and panic attacks they expected it would trigger having seen the trailer.
It felt like a piece of walking propaganda. – Naomi Thompson
Following the issues raised in response to Struggle Street and Filthy Rich and Homeless, those responsible for these programs chose to charge ahead, ignoring concerns raised with them again at the outset of this new project.
We urge the following people to come to listen to us and others living in poverty: SBS’s Head of Unscripted John Godfrey, Head of Documentaries Joseph Maxwell and Commissioning Editor Documentaries Bernadine Lim, and Lune Media’s Head of Production Anastacia Gushina-Perri, Executive Producer & Development Executive Jodi Boylan and Series Producer Ashley Davies.
During the early stages of the new show’s development Kristin O’Connell of the Antipoverty Centre provided substantial verbal and written feedback (see below) to production company Lune Media, raising her fears over potential repetition of harms caused by earlier projects.
SBS and Lune Media should apologise for their dehumanising portrayal of poor people, and the harm they have caused those who were distressed by how issues facing those of us living in poverty have been presented.
The Antipoverty Centre will host brief live discussions about the media’s role in manufacturing consent for brutal government policies that inflict and entrench poverty at 7:45pm tonight (Wednesday 24 November). Those who wish to observe or participate can do so on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
Media contact: 0413 261 362 / media at antipovertycentre.org
Excerpts from Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union communication to Lune Media in January 2021:
Poverty porn hurts us. It objectifies and others those of us living in poverty, creating a spectacle of us from the perspective of people who don’t have lived experience of our circumstances.
When you fixate on our finances or the contents of our fridge, or what we can't afford, suddenly everyone is invited to have an opinion about how we should be living and the choices that we make about what is best for us. It encourages attitudes that take away our agency, in turn creating the conditions that allow the government to violate our human rights with no consequences.
People who are living in the system have no security, no certainty, they cannot plan their future. A politician coming along for a week or a month can never, ever grasp, let alone internalise, this trauma.
Many well-intentioned people in the media in the past have sought out to do the same and unfortunately ended up perpetuating the sense of worthlessness and exclusion that many poor people feel as well as the patronising attitudes of viewers who feel bad about our situation but don’t understand it.
A program like this presents a significant risk of being traumatised, particularly for people who have undiagnosed or untreated complex trauma, which is extremely common among people who have been on income support longer term.
To tell our stories through the lens of how we would change the system for the better, how we would use the power and privilege that politicians seem to believe is their divine right, would illustrate the devastation wrought upon poor people in this country whilst also empowering people involved in the project and those who see themselves reflected in it. It would present solutions and ideas for viewers to support, rather than problems that make them pity us.
We implore you to give people jobs. Get them control; the chance to design the show, write it, to tell their own story and those of people who share their experiences. People who’ve been subjected to poverty and mutual obligations are uniquely equipped to do this in a way that is inherently sensitive to the humiliation we experience on a daily basis.
It's important that SBS meaningfully engage with us and other key stakeholders to hear the concerns of people who have been hurt by these programs in the past. We'd like to help SBS change that and work with them to help get an improved outcome.
You can download the full letter here.
The group discussed actions they can take from here; making a complaint to the media authority, writing to SBS and attempting to connect with some of the people featured in the show to offer support if they need it.
People felt that participants in the show were portrayed as “not living in the right way” and that the way it was done implied there is some kind of “ideal” we’re supposed to live up to, that doesn’t actually exist.
People (particularly DSP recipients and public housing tenants) were very upset by Vic’s (a DSP recipient) comments towards the end of the show. They found her comments offensive and difficult to listen to.
People were frustrated that the show continued a pattern of similar shows in the past of creating a very “soft simulation”, where Jenny, Caleb and Julie were only spending a few days involved in the production, and didn’t face most of the things that make living in the system hard, like dealing with Centrelink, job agencies, the housing authorities, or the long-term effects of poverty.
People were disappointed that we didn’t get to know more about people like Pierre and Shanene and other people in the show because they seemed like the most interesting characters, and now their stories have been used up they’re just going to be discarded and we won’t get to learn more about them or their views.
People were quite distressed that Pierre and Shanele may have had costs associated with their participation and hosting someone in their home. The group discussed putting a question to SBS asking them to confirm that this wasn’t the case.
People noticed that they only asked one person how much that they thought the payment should be and that the payment amount was the same as the Australian Council of Social Services is campaigning for, which is not even above the poverty line.