Over 1,000 people have signed a petition urging the BBC to scrap a planned documentary about the new Chasidic community on Canvey Island, over fears locals will be misrepresented as racist.
The petition was set up on Wednesday in response to the corporation’s announcement two days earlier that it was making The Jews of Canvey Island for broadcast later this year.
The film is one of five documentaries the BBC has commissioned on “faith and ethical issues”.
But the petitioners believe the film “will not present our island in a positive way”.
They say: “The BBC have found a non-issue, and they have every reason to make a controversial story out of it.
“Rest assured, this documentary will not paint Canvey in a positive light. As we are learning to adapt to the presence of a Chasidic Jewish community, the last thing we need is the BBC hunting around for a story that doesn't exist and bringing negative press coverage to our island”.
The petition suggests the story of Jews settling in the area could be covered “in two minutes flat - some Jewish people have moved to Canvey, they've got their own community, there's been no violence or hate speech or marginalisation because the people of Canvey aren't racist bigots.
“So what does the BBC plan to fill the remaining 38 minutes of their documentary with? Perhaps a bunch of interviews with councillors jostling for screen time on the telly? Or some cherry-picked, out of context quotes from local residents? Or a two hour walk through the high street looking for someone who is unprepared to appear on TV, who will then get a 20 minute interview, mixed in with some clips of the boarded-up Admiral Jellicoe pub?”
A group of Satmar Chasidim from the Stamford Hill community in north-east London moved to Canvey last year, in an effort to find affordable housing.
In the comments underneath marking reasons for signing the petition, the responses were uniformly positive towards the arrival of the Jewish community in the area.
“We have no issues at all with the new residents of Canvey. They are lovely people who have brought a lot to this island”, reads one.
“Happy to have the Jewish community”, reads another.
“They have settled in so well and have a positive and safe impact on the island. They’re pleasant and a lovely community”.
A third Canvey resident said: “We have a peaceful community, our Jewish neighbours are nothing but polite and a joy”.
Their hostility was instead aimed at the BBC, with suspicions that the broadcaster would “not show the true story” and “single out narrow-minded individuals and present them as the majority point of view”.
However, Riete Oord, the director of the documentary, told the Canvey Echo that those against the film were “prejudging it before they have seen it.
“The documentary is very positive… all about how a group of people with extreme religious beliefs can live alongside a community which does not have the same beliefs,” she said.
“We are looking at the cultural differences.”