SBS to air documentary Struggle Street despite calls from participants not to show it

Struggle Street follows the lives of people living in disadvantaged areas.

Struggle Street follows the lives of people living in disadvantaged areas.

The SBS will broadcast controversial new series Struggle Street about life in disadvantaged areas of Australia, despite calls from the Mayor of Blacktown not to until all the participants have seen it.

Over the weekend SBS pulled the promo for the show, which showed a man farting, and a woman calling her cat a slut, after Mayor Stephen Bali called for the show to be pulled as it “doesn’t show the context of the area”.

The three-part series, commissioned by SBS and produced by Keo Films Australia, aims to highlight the “enormous challenges” faced by residents of parts of western Sydney as they deal with “being born into generational disadvantage.”

However, Bali, who has now seen the first episode of the series told Mumbrella: “I don’t believe it’s a documentary, to be honest. It’s more of a reality TV show in three, one-hour blocks.” 

He has created a petition demanding SBS “immediately suspend the planned broadcast of ‘Struggle Street” which has garnered more than 1,200 signatures.

Calling for the participants to be shown the program before it goes to air Bali added: “The modus operandi of SBS, by the sounds of it, is to destroy the integrity of these people in episode one, and show them overcoming their struggles in episodes two and three. The problem is, if someone just tunes in for episode one, they’ll leave with a strong impression about the people of the area that’s just not true.”

Bali said he had a meeting with SBS on Tuesday at 4pm to discuss the issue, with the show set to air at 8.30pm on Wednesday.

“We take our responsibilities in supporting the participants very seriously,” said an SBS spokesperson in a statement. “This is a challenging series and in the lead up to the broadcast of Struggle Street, we continue to be focused on working closely with, and supporting participants of this documentary, as well as liaising with community leaders.”

The petition states: “The release of promotional material has left many of the participants shocked.

“Some of those participants have reported that they were never provided copies of the release forms they signed, they were lied to about when camera crews were filming, and footage that they specifically asked not be included was used.”

Last year the SBS was forced to delay the broadcast of documentary Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl by six months after it was revealed one of the main participants was not who he claimed to be.

In a letter to the council, SBS managing director Michael Ebeid said the show depicts a wide variety of people and location is important.

He wrote: “People and families living in circumstances similar to those depicted in the documentary are located in a wide range of locations across Australia not just Mount Druitt. However for the documentary to be believable, it cannot be devoid of a place setting.

“SBS appreciates working with the council in this endeavour to ensure the documentary is portrayed as a story of the small section of the community struggling to get by, rather than a story of the whole community of Mount Druitt.”

The petition also calls on Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to personally intervene and delay the show’s broadcast. This comes following  Turnbull’s direct involvement in alerting SBS management to the Anzac Day tweets of sports reporter Scott McIntyre, which resulted in his sacking last week.

However, in an email to the Sydney Morning Herald, Turnbull said he had no jurisdiction to force the SBS to delay its programming.

“As you know the Australian government provides an overall level of funding to the SBS but has no power to direct the SBS in relation to programming decisions. Parliament has guaranteed this independence to ensure that what is broadcast is free from political interference,” he said.

“The SBS Act makes it very clear that it is the SBS board, not the Parliament or the minister, which is responsible for programming and editorial decisions.”

In an explanation about the series, Keo Films Australia said: “Far from being stories of pity, we’ll witness the resilience and dignity, the raw honesty and stories of family love that emerge despite overwhelming challenges.”

The series is supported by Screen Australia and Screen NSW.

Sam Buckingham-Jones


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