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Monday, 12 February, 2001, 16:18 GMT
Asian runaway bride story 'not racist'
the Desais
The first Asian family moved into The Street in 1998
Granada Television has denied that a Coronation Street storyline involving an Asian woman fleeing an arranged marriage reinforces negative racial stereotypes.

The character, Suneeta Parekh, will appear in the northern-based soap opera from March.

She is the manager of a shop belonging to another Asian character, Dev, who gives her shelter.

A Coronation Street spokeswoman, Alison Sinclair, defended the portrayal of the new character and said there was more to her than met the eye.

Ethnic minority characters are always introduced as some kind of problem, they can't just be the Asian kid who goes to school

Annabelle Sreberny
Leicester University

"The arranged marriage storyline is just a device for pulling viewers in.

" We researched various storylines with the Asian community and this gives us dramatically best way forward. But then we move on from that," she said.

Ms Sinclair added that the programme had been criticised in the past for not tackling issues of concern to the characters from the minority ethnic communities portrayed.

The actress playing the new role also defended the storyline.

Shobna Gulati
Shobna Gulati has defended the storyline

Shobna Gulati, previously in BBC sitcom Dinnerladies, said it was an interesting way of tackling a sensitive subject.

"It's very brave to explore an issue a lot of people consider to be untrendy but it's prevalent and part of our culture.

"Even though Suneeta feels independent and strong and her family are westernised, she's still caught between two cultures pulling in different directions and this storyline is an interesting way of dealing with it."


But Professor Annabelle Sreberny of the Centre for Mass Communication Research at Leicester University said her research among ethnic minority focus groups showed they viewed such storylines with scepticism.

She produced a report for the Broadcasting Standards Commission in 1999 showing viewers felt soap operas and other TV shows were lagging behind real life in their portrayal of ethnic minorites.

People interviewed felt minority ethnic groups were represented by two-dimensional characters and were often negatively stereotyped.

Professor Sreberny believed the arranged marriage storyline was further evidence of such negative stereotyping.

"Ethnic minority characters are always introduced as some kind of problem, they can't just be the Asian kid who goes to school," she said.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: "More ethnic minority characters are needed"

But writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who has sat on a parliamentary committee investigating forced marriages in Asian communities, believed such issues should be tackled on screen.

"I think these stories should be on a lot more but Coronation Street should have a whole range of characters.

"Most people who are running soaps are so narrow-minded, the only time they think of black characters is for stereotypical roles," she said.

Coronation Street has run into trouble over its portrayal of ethnic minority characters in the past.

In 1998 there was widespread criticism over scenes showing a newly-introduced black teenager helping to break into a house.

See also:

07 Dec 99 | Entertainment
TV 'failing ethnic minorities'
25 Dec 98 | Entertainment
First Asian family joins the Street
26 May 99 | UK
The arrangement
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