UK government launches inquiry into reality TV’s duty of care

Reality TV is facing unprecedented scrutiny in the UK this week following the death of a man who appeared on ITV’s The Jeremy Kyle Show.

ITV cancelled its long-running daytime show on Wednesday (15 May) after the suspected suicide of Steve Dymond, who had appeared on an edition of the programme.

Now MPs have announced an inquiry into reality TV that will consider production companies’ duty of care to participants.

A Department of Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) Committee will look into whether enough support is offered both during and after filming, and whether there is a need for more regulatory oversight.

The DCMS move comes after media regulator Ofcom said on Tuesday (14th May) that it is scrutinising ITV over The Jeremy Kyle Show, telling the broadcaster to report back on the initial findings from its investigation into Dymond’s participation in the programme by Monday.

The DCMS Committee said its decision to launch the inquiry into reality TV came after the death of a guest following filming for The Jeremy Kyle Show as well as the deaths of two former contestants in ITV2’s hit format Love Island.

This kind of TV featuring members of the public attracts viewing figures in the millions but in return for ratings, the broadcasters must demonstrate their duty of care to the people whose personal lives are being exposed.

DCMS Committee chair Damian Collins MP said: “Programmes like The Jeremy Kyle Show risk putting people who might be vulnerable on to a public stage at a point in their lives when they are unable to foresee the consequences, either for themselves or their families.

“This kind of TV featuring members of the public attracts viewing figures in the millions but in return for ratings, the broadcasters must demonstrate their duty of care to the people whose personal lives are being exposed.

“With an increasing demand for this type of programming, we’ll be examining broadcasting regulation in this area — is it fit for purpose?”

The Committee said it will seek to address the following questions in its inquiry:

– What psychological support do production companies and broadcasters provide to participants in reality TV shows before, during and after the production process?

– What are examples of best practice, and where is there room for improvement, in the support that is offered to reality TV participants?

– Who should be responsible for monitoring whether duty of care policies are being applied effectively in the production of reality TV shows?

– Do the design formats for reality shows put unfair psychological pressure on participants and encourage more extreme behaviour? If so, how?

– What is for the future for reality TV of this kind? How does it accord with our understanding of, and evolving attitudes to, mental health?

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