Plan for safeguards to protect 'dignity' of reality TV participants


British TV and radio stations will be explicitly required to protect the “welfare, wellbeing and dignity” of individuals who take part in their programmes, under proposals that could radically change how reality TV is made in the UK – and have a collateral impact on news and documentaries.

The media regulator, Ofcom, said it was proposing to add two rules to the existing broadcasting code to protect members of the public who take part in programmes, in an announcement timed to coincide with the final of this summer’s series of Love Island.

In addition to requiring producers to take due care to protect the dignity of participants, broadcasters will also have to ensure members of the public are not “caused unjustified distress or anxiety by taking part in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes”.

The changes could upend how reality TV, which often thrives on showing embarrassing moments that participants may later regret, is made and the extent to which broadcasters can push boundaries in the search for ratings.

Although the proposals have been developed partly in response to the death of a participant on The Jeremy Kyle Show, the code will apply to almost all radio and television programmes other than dramas, sitcoms and soap operas.

As a result, news reporters and documentary creators will be explicitly required to consider the impact of including members of the public in their broadcasts, with potential implications for investigative journalism.

“Obviously duty of care is hugely important and critical to get right but this feels worrying and possibly unworkable,” said one senior news executive at a British broadcaster. “How realistic is it for a news programme with a small team and a high turnover of stories to do psychiatric tests on every potential vulnerable contributor for example?”

READ  Amal Clooney appointed as UK envoy on media freedom

Ofcom said it does not want to stop broadcasters engaging with and covering difficult topics, and said its guidance would make it clear that different approaches are suitable for different genres of programming.

But cash-strapped channels fearful of being caught up in regulatory investigations may err on the side of caution. Broadcasters may also be angered by the increased regulatory burden at a time when they are struggling with falling audiences, especially among younger Britons. The rules will not apply to online-only content on YouTube and Netflix, which remains unregulated despite rapid growth.

Ofcom said “attitudes in society to welfare and wellbeing” had changed and the broadcasting code needed updating to reflect new social standards. It specifically highlighted the thousands of complaints received from members of the public last summer – often as a result of social media backlashes – regarding Roxanne Pallett on Celebrity Big Brother, a row between Kim Woodburn and panellist Coleen Nolan on Loose Women, and the treatment of Dani Dyer on Love Island.

Tony Close, Ofcom’s director of content standards, said: “People who take part in TV and radio shows must be properly looked after by broadcasters, and these rules would ensure that happens.

“These new safeguards must be effective. So we’re listening carefully to programme participants, broadcasters, producers and psychologists before we finalise them.”

Issues to be considered under the proposed guidance include ensuring that individuals appearing on television appreciate the potential backlash they may receive after appearing on the programme, including warning of adverse social media reaction.

READ  Boris Johnson hints at scrapping BBC licence fee

Shows will also need to consider issues around the use of devices such lie detectors and whether they have the potential to cause anxiety, harm and distress. Producers will also need offer sufficient post-broadcast support, potentially increasing the cost of making reality shows.

Regulations around reality television came under renewed scrutiny after the death in March of the former Love Island contestant Mike Thalassitis. Thalassitis was the second cast member of the programme to take their own life, following the death in June 2018 of Sophie Gradon, who appeared on the show the year before.

In May, the House of Commons DCMS select committee launched an inquiry into the wider reality TV industry as a result of the death of Steve Dymond, who died shortly after failing a lie detector on The Jeremy Kyle show, with many former reality stars contacting the committee to raise their concerns.

After Thalassitis’s death, ITV pledged to increase the level of support and advice it provides to Love Island contestants as the broadcaster sought to protect one of its most valuable programmes from a public backlash.

The channel has recently announced plans to launch a second winter series of the show, which could become one of the first programmes to be covered by the new broadcasting rules.



READ SOURCE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here