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Issues of Health and Wellbeing in Reality Television Participation (Roundtable)

posted on 2024-06-28, 08:35 authored by Elke WeissmannElke Weissmann, Lauren Rose Back

Lauren Beck (Monash University)

The global proliferation of reality TV production in recent years has brought to light numerous ethical concerns with the way in which the participants of these shows are treated. These concerns include the use of deceptive editing techniques, misrepresentation, and the exploitation of vulnerable participants. Some of the risks resulting from such treatment were highlighted following a British parliamentary inquiry into the ethics of producing reality TV in 2019, after the suicide of 38 reality TV participants globally, many of whom were involved in UK-based productions. The inquiry examined the ‘duty of care’ provided by production companies with regards to the psychological safety of participants during and after production, the meaning of informed consent, fair representation and participants' rights as ‘workers’.

Despite efforts to improve standards since this inquiry, instances of misrepresentation and exploitation continue to emerge, highlighting the need for further exploration and intervention. These instances of misrepresentation and exploitation don't only damage the participants of factual content, they also have the potential to impact audiences who are influenced by the content they consume. The idea of ‘invisible learning’ from film and TV is particularly problematic where marginalised communities are involved. If the few instances of media representation for marginalised groups are plagued with misrepresentation, it threatens not only the health and wellbeing of the misrepresented participants, but the wider community who are building a false world view. As a working television producer, I have seen first-hand the conflict between ethics and economics when it comes to Participant treatment and production methods. For this reason I am highly motivated to find practical steps to improve industry practise. One proposed solution to the problem of participant misrepresentation, is to facilitate greater participant agency during the production process. In addressing these issues, this roundtable will discuss the following ideas: Are there instances of participant agency in reality tv production currently? What might these instances look like? What economic, social and political limitations influence participant agency in current production models? What steps could be taken to improve participant agency either legislatively, through social pressure, or otherwise?


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