Outcry over Australian 'poverty porn' documentary Struggle Street

SYDNEY (AFP) - An Australian mayor has accused public broadcaster SBS of promoting "poverty porn" in a controversial new documentary about working class Sydney residents, as a picket line of garbage trucks protested the programme Wednesday.

SBS is set to air "Struggle Street", a three-part series, from Wednesday night showcasing the lives of people in multicultural Mount Druitt, one of Sydney's more disadvantaged suburbs, 50km west of the city.

But the region's Mayor Stephen Bali and some of the residents featured in the show are angry at how they have been portrayed after watching a preview of the first episode and want it stopped, with Bali calling it a disgrace.

"What I saw wasn't a documentary, it was simply publicly-funded poverty porn," he said on a petition at Change.org, which has attracted almost 3,000 supporters.

"I share the outrage of local residents who feel they were lied to about what this documentary would be.

"This is an unethical, damaging, exploitative, trash 'documentary' that has misrepresented local people, and our whole community."

One of the residents featured, father-of-10 Ashley Kennedy, said his family felt "violated" by the way their daily struggles were represented.

"It's the wrong way it is put across, they violated us in a way we never imagined," he told another public broadcaster ABC.

Bali led a convoy of 10 garbage trucks to picket outside SBS's offices in northern Sydney, to symbolise what he called "trash TV", accusing the government-funded station of wasting "A$1 million (S$1.06 million) on this crap".

The broadcaster's chief content officer Helen Kellie told reporters the channel "stands by this show" but had tweaked the first episode after receiving feedback from the Kennedy family.

"They made some small commentary about things that they were uncomfortable with. We immediately after that meeting made those changes because we felt that it didn't distort the story," Kellie said.

"We still intend to run the show tonight."

Kellie said "Struggle Street" was filmed over six months by the Australian branch of British producer Keo and that "there's no deliberate humiliation or exploitation of these individuals".

"This is an important topic. We think it's a topic that we rarely see on our screens in Australia and we want to show the real lives of real people and how they live doing it tough," Kellie told ABC.

Keo produced three seasons of "Skint", a documentary that first aired in 2013 on Britain's Channel 4. It has featured three towns - Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Merthyr Tydfil - and their populations' struggles to make ends meet.

Grimsby's local MP Austin Mitchell last year slammed "Skint" as "demonising the poor and turning deprivation into entertainment".

A similar documentary on Channel 4, "Benefits Street", which focused on people living in a deprived street in Birmingham, was also accused of being "poverty porn", attracting numerous complaints when it was aired last year.

"Struggle Street" producer David Galloway told the Sydney Morning Herald last week the series wanted to go beyond stereotypes of Mount Druitt, and look at "why you haven't been able to get a job for the past 20 years, why children are getting pregnant at 16, why you have been on heroin for 30 years".

Residents in the area have a median weekly household income of A$1,049 compared to the national figure of A$1,234, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Of the more than 6,000 people in the labour pool, some 10.3 percent were unemployed compared to 5.6 percent nationally in 2011, the data showed.