The advertising watchdog has ruled that two ads for Channel 4's Big Fat Gypsy Wedding were offensive and irresponsible in a partial reversal of a decision earlier this year.
Four posters for the documentary, which originally drew 372 complaints, featured the words "Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier" over an image of a young boy looking directly at the camera and others of two teenagers wearing low-cut bra tops and three young girls dressed for their first Holy Communion standing in front of a caravan.
In February the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) judged that although the adverts "might not be to everyone's taste", they were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence as they reflected the content of the programme.
But an independent review recommended that the ASA reinvestigate the campaign following the request by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB), which had complained that the ads racially demeaned them and exposed their children to bullying and abuse.
Defending the campaign, Channel 4 said it centred on using real and intimate photographic portraits of gypsy and traveller life "in a style to reflect the journalistic intent of the series". Informed consent had been obtained from all subjects or their relevant parent or guardian, and final copies of the ads sent to all the families involved, with no objections.
But the ASA, which took advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, found that the ads featuring the young boy and the teenagers wearing low-cut tops could enforce prejudicial views against the gypsy and traveller community and were likely to cause serious offence to some members. It also ruled that Channel 4 acted irresponsibly by depicting a child - one of the two young teenagers pictured in low-cut tops - in a sexualised way.
A Channel 4 spokesman said: "It was not Channel 4's intention for these adverts to cause offence but we are sorry this was the case among some members of the Gypsy and Traveller community. All responsible action was taken pre-publication.
"The posters were voluntarily submitted to the industry's independent CAP copy advice team, who advised that they believed they complied with the advertising code, consent was obtained from contributors and the posters were shared with those featured, who had no objections."
But ITMB chief executive Yvonne MacNamara called on those responsible for the ads to issue a full apology.
She said: "The ITMB applaud the decision of the ASA. As a result of this decision, Channel 4's Big Fat Gypsy brand has been held up to be morally bankrupt. In its evidence to the ASA investigation, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission described anti-Gypsy and Traveller racism as the last respectable racism. The ASA has made clear that it is no longer acceptable."