MSPs brand BBC's The Scheme 'tabloid TV'

image captionThe Scheme followed the lives of people from Onthank

MSPs have accused the BBC of exploiting vulnerable people in its hit TV documentary "The Scheme".

The series focussed on the lives of families living in Onthank, Kilmarnock, an area affected by social issues including drink and drug problems.

Kilmarnock SNP MSP Willie Coffey branded the show "tabloid TV at its worst", during a Holyrood debate.

Despite the criticism, MSPs also recognised the programme had highlighted important issues.

BBC Scotland said The Scheme was the station's best performing documentary in the past 10 years.

Leading a member's debate on The Scheme, Mr Coffey said the programme had dangerously exposed people already at risk, "for nothing more than public entertainment".

"It was tabloid TV at its worst - local people were kidded and conned by this venture. They feel used and abused and may who agreed to be filmed now wish they hadn't done so."

Mr Coffey told how the local children's football team had been "jeered" and called "the scheme team", as a result of the series.

"The programme-makers are clearly in business to make money, and they certainly did that, on the back of some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland, especially as they were able to sell the programme for broadcast outside Scotland," he said.

Another SNP MSP, Margaret Burgess, a former citizens advice worker who previously worked with Onthank residents, said the community "did not deserve to be treated the way they have been by the BBC", adding: "People were exploited."

But she added: "The programme did highlight some important issues around drugs, alcohol and deprivation - issues which society needs to know about and issues they we've got to address, so I don't have an argument with the BBC there."

Tory MSP Ruth Davidson, a former BBC Scotland journalist, said she had never watched The Scheme, telling parliament: "I also agree that it sounded like tabloid television at its worst and also poverty pornography, as it's been called in a number of newspapers."

But Ms Davidson went on: "When we look at this programme and we look at it in the round, what it has done in Scotland is promote a debate.

"It's promoted a debate not just about poverty in the representations of the people that are shown in the programme, but its also promoted a debate about addictions."

Paul Wheelhouse, another Nationalist MSP, who said he had seen one episode of The Scheme, complained about the programme's "frequent" use of low-angle shots depicting gutters, cans rolling around in the streets and shots of graffiti-covered walls.

He said: "There was a degree of, I believe, maybe unintended exploitation of the people of Onthank for entertainment."

The Holyrood debate was attended by about 10 MSPs and featured no contributions from Labour or the Lib Dems.

Responding for the government, Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham, who said she had seen "some of the series", told MSPs: "I hear the individual responses from members in this chamber and I would be bound to say that, as an individual, I've a great deal of sympathy of what is actually being said."

BBC Scotland said The Scheme had attracted an average audience of 840,000 viewers, while a special studio debate subsequently held to air issues raised in the series was watched by 348,000 people.

Ewan Angus, head of TV commissioning for BBC Scotland, previously said it was "patronising" to suggest those shown in the programme were neither media-literate nor self-aware.

He said The Scheme, which attracted about 70 viewer complaints, did not set out to present a definitive portrait, but helped inform and stimulate a wider debate on a range of issues.

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