Reality TV needs a tough code of conduct and proper psychological support to protect people who take part in shows like Love Island and the Jeremy Kyle Show, say experts.
This is the advice academics gave an inquiry sparked by deaths such as that of Steve Dymond who died after he reportedly failed a Kyle Show love-cheat lie detector test.
The Commons probe into the reality TV industry’s duty of care to contestants also comes after the suicides of Love Island stars Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon.
“Reality television has become ubiquitous and lucrative,” said Brunel University London media and communications lecturer Dr Sara De Benedictis.
“It is also highly unregulated and academics have long raised concerns about the representational politics of reality television, as well as the potentially exploitative and coercive practices within the reality television industry.”
Dr De Benedictis and Brunel colleague, Professor Sarita Malik joined academics from the Universities of Leeds, Leicester and Lancaster to give evidence.
Their report brands some reality TV production as a ‘theatre of cruelty’. Many shows stage highly stressful situations, to trigger conflict and emotional performances from participants, it says. It recommends an ethical code of conduct to improve contestants’safety, a review of the role of communications regulator, Ofcom. It also calls on programme makers to employ people appearing in shows so their work is paid and their employment rights protected.
“There are deep concerns about how production decisions are made, how participants are treated, how complaints are handled and the support offered to participants before, during and after the reality TV programme is aired,” said Professor Malik. “We are proposing a more robust and ethical code of conduct is needed to ensure that reality TV participants are both protected and valued.”
The public inquiry is looking into what support guests need, whether they are put under unfair psychological pressure and who should monitor this. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will put out its guidelines at the end of the year.
“I am encouraged to see that the public inquiry is taking these issues seriously,” said Dr De Benedictis. “I look forward to seeing informed recommendations to implement much-needed changes.”