A complaint against Channel 4's Big Fat Gypsy Wedding advertising campaign has been upheld by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), which branded it as "offensive and irresponsible."
The ASA has ruled that the adverts, which are predicated on the slogan 'Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier', endorse pejorative views of the gypsy and traveller communities, and could cause mental and moral harm.
Referring to the portrayal of a group of young girls dressed up for Holy Communion, and a girl under 16 dressed in a low-cut bra top, the Agency said the content depicts children in a sexualised way, and condemned Channel 4 for its irresponsibility.
The ASA had originally ruled that the campaign of four adverts was unlikely to cause widespread offence. However it agreed to a further review following pressure from the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB), which said the adverts were racist and denigratory, and depicted gypsies and travellers in a negative, stereotypical way.
Channel 4 defended itself against the ITMB's allegations by saying that "the campaign centred on using real and intimate photographic portraits of gypsy and traveller life in a journalistic, reportage style that reflected the journalistic intent of the series."
Responding to the images of young women dressed in low-cut tops, Channal 4 said that this was how the girls had chosen to dress and the way they were depicted was in keeping with their peers.
Welcoming the decision, Yvonne MacNamara, CEO of the ITMB, said: "As a result of this decision, Channel 4's Big Fat Gypsy brand has been held up to be morally bankrupt.
"This is a stunning victory for Travellers and Gypsies. The ASA has condemned Channel 4's advertising campaign for the appalling harm it has done to the mental and moral well-being of Gypsy and Traveller children ... Channel 4 should hang its corporate head in shame."
An Irish Traveller girl who goes to school in London also spoke out following the decision. She revealed that, before Big Fat Gypsy Wedding aired, she was popular and was doing well at her studies, but following the series, her friends aggressively questioned her lifestyle and some now refuse to speak to her.
She said: "Most settled people have not met any Travellers and judge them by what they see in the media. So if Travellers are shown badly on the billboards, people are automatically going to judge the community badly.
"The Big Fat Gypsy Wedding billboards have had a very bad impact on Traveller children who have had to put up with even more racist comments than usual. I know this from my own experience at school and Channel 4 is responsible for this."
Honda, the main sponsor for the Channel 4 programme, has not yet commented on the ruling.