THE BBC television programme that turned the former heroin addict Marvin Baird and his dog Bullet into household names has been denounced as "tabloid TV at its worst" by an MSP from the area where it was filmed.
Willie Coffey, the SNP MSP for Kilmarnock, said The Scheme had exploited vulnerable people, and he called on the BBC to repair the damage its programme had done to the community.
The documentary series, which showed scenes of drug-injection and violence, was criticised by Mr Coffey for portraying Kilmarnock's Onthank community in a "poor light".
The MSP, who grew up in the area, attacked the BBC for giving an "unfair impression" of Onthank as a whole by concentrating its cameras on those with chaotic lifestyles.
Mr Coffey was so angered by the fly-on-the-wall documentary that he called a member's debate at Holyrood yesterday to condemn the BBC. During the debate, he said the documentary had led to children from the area being jeered as the "Scheme Team" when they represented their local school at football.
He claimed the BBC's promise the film would be "balanced" did not hold good. "It turned out to be nothing of the kind," he said. "We didn't expect a gloss over many of the problems and issues that you can see anywhere in Scotland. But I think we were entitled to some balance from a publicly funded broadcaster that takes money from people in the form of its licence fees only to then turn against them by depicting their community in this way. It was tabloid TV at its worst."
Mr Coffey said many of those who had taken part in the documentary now wished that they had not done so. Participants had been "kidded and conned" by programme makers and felt "used and abused".
The BBC Scotland reality show has been labelled "poverty porn" by critics and is now being shown south of the Border - complete with subtitles.
It first aired in Scotland last year, but its screening was interrupted when one of the participants, Chris McMurray, was involved in a court case. It returned to Scottish screens in May after McMurray, 17, was locked up for four months for assaulting a man on a bus. In one scene McMurray's brother James, 20, was shown injecting heroin into his arm having swallowed 30 painkillers.
Mr Coffey had this message for the BBC: "To expose people who are already at risk and who lead chaotic lifestyles on TV for nothing more than public entertainment was wrong and dangerous … how dare you breeze into our community and do this to us? How dare you swan off into the sunset, leaving behind nothing but an angry community and broken hearts."
Cunninghame South MSP Margaret Burgess said the notoriety fuelled by the programme had led to Scheme tourists "driving round Onthank expecting to see a rammy in the street or taking drugs in public".
Mr Coffey insisted that the programme-makers had failed to capture the positive side of Onthank.
"Onthank, for anybody who bothers to look, is a wonderful place to live," he said. "The schools at Onthank, Mount Carmel and Hillhead, are booming and local families are queuing up to get their kids into the local primary and nursery schools."
A spokesman for the BBC pointed out that the corporation had screened a debate on the issues raised by The Scheme.
He went on: "The series did not set out to represent and define a community. The Scheme may have been filmed in Kilmarnock, but in fact it could have been recorded in almost any town or city in Scotland. The people and the stories would have been different, but the themes and the issues would have been very similar."
News Scotsman 1 July 2011
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