Reality TV

Author:Ms Lee Penhaligan
Profession:Charles Russell Solicitors

Reality television worries me. Anyone who's seen Big Brother or Survivor will know what I mean - and just how badly people can behave when in front of a live tv camera broadcasting to millions of viewers. The film EdTV satirised the dark side of reality tv, but it was touching as well as entertaining. Sadly, not the same can be said of the real-life real tv coming with increasing frequency and diversity direct into our homes. Competition is tough - just who will be able to bring the most base and tasteless offering to your tv screen? The latest recipe is Temptation Island: take several happy couples, fly them to a tropical paradise, split them up and subject each to a parade of promiscuous people making overt sexual advances. Too much to endure? Well, of course, that's the idea.

So what are the legal implications? Is this OK legally? The short answer is yes, so long as the participants are over age, and consent to appear on the programme. The participants must surely know what they're letting themselves in for. There has been some speculation that claims could be brought by disgruntled participants for unfair treatment by the programme-makers. The Broadcasting Standards Commission and Independent Television Commission Codes both require programme-makers to deal fairly with contributors and to preserve, so far as possible, the dignity of the individual. Precisely what is meant by "so far as possible" has not yet been tested, and may well let reality programme-makers off the hook. The Codes both also state that the audience should not be made to feel mere voyeurs of others' stress. This is more difficult to reconcile with reality tv programmes - isn't that the whole purpose and intent of the genre? I would be surprised to see any such complaint upheld, except in the most extreme circumstances.

Although seemingly legally sound, whether or not these programmes are OK morally is another issue. In the words of Robbie Williams: "Oprah Winfrey, Ricky Lake, tell me things that I don't need to know..". A recent survey conducted by Mori and Vox Pops International found that reality tv is playing a major...

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