Inadequate OFCOM

I am astonished that for the third time, I think, OFCOM are peddling a completely vacuous document as something significant and indeed once again claiming it is a new “publication”.

Very little has been added since it first appeared as a draft document in 2019, and even then, it simply puts into writing current practice alreday used on reality TV shows. It was the result of a hastily convened and then equally hastily disbanded committee meeting of the Digital, Culture, media and sports committee- this is hardly the “wide-ranging” investigation that Adam Baxter claims. To be more precise, the committee heard testimony from 4 “contestants” or participants who came from 2 reality tv shows. That is hardly what I would term “wide-ranging”.

It fails absolutely to define what Reality TV might be and indeed also what might constitute “vulnerable”, the two major planks of the text and of the recent publicity. I will add more details tomorrow.

Meanwhile, here is the text of an interview I did for “the Independent” today which will be printed in tomorrow’s edition (6th April):

https://inews.co.uk/news/media/ofcom-rules-broadcasters-due-care-mental-health-insufficient-former-contestants-943036

Ofcom rules for broadcasters to take ‘due care’ over mental health are insufficient, say contestants

Exclusive

There is a lot of concern after the deaths of Love Island stars Mike Thalassitis, Sophie Gradon and Caroline Flack

EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY MARCH 12 File photo dated 22/1/2019 of Caroline Flack whose mother has said social media companies "fail to protect" people from abuse and comments on the platforms had a big impact on her daughter. Issue date: Friday March 12, 2021. PA Photo. The Love Island presenter took her own life at the age of 40, on February 15 2020. A new Channel 4 documentary is to tell the story of her life and death, as well as her experience of having issues with her mental health. See PA story SHOWBIZ Flack. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/PA Wire
Caroline Flack, whose mother has said social media companies ‘fail to protect’ people from abuse (Photo: PA)
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By Benjamin ButterworthLate Editor and Senior ReporterApril 5, 2021 9:17 pm(Updated 9:18 pm)

Former reality TV contestants have warned Ofcom that new rules designed to protect their wellbeing do not go far enough.

The guidance introduced on Monday requires the makers of some of TV’s biggest show to take “due care” over the welfare of people who “might be at risk of significant harm as a result of taking part in a programme”.

The change comes amid heightened concern after the deaths of Love Island stars Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon, and the show’s presenter Caroline Flack.

But contestants of some of TV’s most successful reality shows say the change in rules will do little to help.

Tim Wilson, who appeared on Channel 4’s The Circle in 2019, told i: “Production has got used to controlling its participants and continued to do so long after the show is over.

Tim on The Circle
Tim Wilson was voted the People’s Champion (Photo: Channel 4)

“Indeed, the Ofcom legislation gives them further licence to do this. It is absurd to think that the same team of psychologists who are used in casting should be offering support afterwards.”

The Oxford-educated professor is now calling on Studio Lambert, the production company behind his series, to ask the Culture Secretary to “rethink of the Ofcom rules and recognise that what is now trumpeted is not fit for purpose”.

He added: “We have to buy into the illusion, which means we must rely on another body to protect us from genuine exploitation.”

Luke Marsden, who shot to fame on Big Brother, aged 20, now speaks regularly with reality TV stars who have struggled with their post-reality TV lives.

Davina McCall leads Big Brother evictee Luke Marsden from outside the house (Photo: Getty)

“I’ve spoken to ex housemates who signed on to the dole a few years after Big Brother because they didn’t know what to do. In their heads, they were thinking I can’t sit in an office, I was on a big show,” he said.

“Some of these contestants come out and they tell me they are very depressed a few months later, when nobody cares about them.”

He added: “They [Ofcom] need to set a very clear plan, where you talk to phycologists at key points, and they force you to have it, because some people don’t realise what they’re going through. It’s all very fluffy what Ofcom has released.”

Adam Baxter, Ofcom’s director of standards and audience protection, said the changes were made following a wide-ranging review with affected parties.

“People taking part in TV and radio programmes deserve to be properly looked after,” he said. “Our new protections set a clear standard of care for broadcasters to meet – striking a careful balance between broadcasters’ creative freedom and the welfare of the people they feature.”

A link to the OFCOM text:

Statement: Protecting participants in TV and radio programmes (ofcom.org.uk)

and a recent news story from SKY:

https://news.sky.com/story/new-ofcom-protections-for-tv-contestants-require-broadcasters-to-take-due-care-over-their-mental-health-12266294


Further clarification from me-

To be more precise, it seems wrong to throw psychiatry at a problem in the hope of fixing it. Psychiatry has a valable role to play but here it is compromised. For teh very same Psychiatrists who are used to cast the show are also used to provide counselling afterwards. Either that or we are fobbed off to organisations whose psychiatric support staff prove entirely inaccessible.

2)There is no effort in the OFCOM report to define reality tv. This was actually the first question my MP asked me- he is on the ball while others are not. Is it a game show, a constructed drama, unscripted entertainment, a variety show?

3) there is no definition of vulnerability and this, anyway, was already part of the OFCOM remit to protect both participants in tv production and to protect the audience, especially the vulnerable.

4) Much of the OFCOM document is simply well-meaning and vacuous words- verbiage to disguise a hastily published document. These words effectively try to demonstrate that any decision belongs, and any ills that happen as a consequence of participating in a show belong, entirely to the participant whether recruited or applying for the show. No amount of box-ticking psychology, however, can deal with the fallout when things go wrong, especially if the psychology team is run by the production company itself (as OFCOM seems to recommend). This is either onanistic or delusional. It also avoids responsibility. It is not about care- it is “careless” in every sense of the word.


-the only new content in the document is that shows are obliged to inform participants but that information in practice is likely to be misleading

– things change in production and it is perhaps as inappropriate as getting a magician to explain how a magic trick works before submitting it to a paying audience.

-we have to buy into the illusion which means we must rely on another body to protect us from genuine exploitation.

-That body exists! It is called Equity. Equity, therefore, needs to decide whether its role is primarily to validate a performer’s training or to protect all performers from the possibly irresponsible and unfair activity of management. The old Variety Artistes Federation understood this fully and accepted that many performers came into the business in different ways- and were, therefore, all open to exploitation by theatre bosses and, therefore, deserving of protection. The VAE merged with Equity in the early 1960s and accordingly lost its distinctive and very worthwhile remit.

-We have a situation now where upwards of 30% TV scheduling is filled with reality tv and therefore with performers often working for expenses or a derisory “displacement free”- less than minimal wage and, yet, at the same time, commanding prime time slots on TV channels for an extended period- they are utterly at the mercy of a production company that controls  the edit, the hours they work as well as their access to media and proper representation after the show has ended.


It is for this reason that I have now formally asked top executives of Studio Lambert to join me in approaching the secretary of state, the Rt Hon Oliver Dowden, to urge a rethink of the OFCOM “rules” and recognise that what is now trumpeted as new is not fit for purpose – it is the result of a half-completed job and the DCMS committee must, therefore, be reconvened and admit proper evidence that must be given by those who have experienced what it is truly like to take part in these shows.

Author: timewilson

animator director and teacher

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