The Polygraph test

The Government set up a committee to investigate the phenomenon of Reality TV and to look into abuse particularly connected to suicides arising from participation in “the Jeremy Kyle Show” and “Love Island”.

It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that ITV bosses traded the one show for the other. Both clearly have problems. I do not think the Ofcom report fixes these and the committee meeting questioning as broadcast and recorded here falls short of thorough.

The committee hearing was hijacked by a lengthy debate about the efficacy of the polygraph test, a key prop in “the Jeremy Kyle” show. The show gave its viewers the impression that the test was definitive but it also protected itself in contracts by saying there was a margin of error. The committee wanted to know what was the range of that margin of error. Frankly, that diversion was a blessing for the production because it took attention away from far more serious issues about aftercare and the preparation of contestants.

The “jeremy Kyle show” was drawing on the success of “the Jerry Springer show”.

The Lie detector or polygraph

This is a basic test that measures physiological response to questions. Much of the work on polygraphy has been done in the US. Where the assumption is that if someone does not want to do a polygraph test, then they have something go hide. The first recorded example is in 1921 by William Marston though there are also versions conduscted by John Larson. The range of accuracy is between 70-90%, with the higher percentages advanged byThe broadcast committee meeting debate about lie detectors must have been a Godsend to producers: there is already conflicting documentation and it draws the debate away from the issue of responsibility. The producers, accordingly, resolutely refused to answer a question which has actually been asked routinley for about 40 years. The answer like the question has not changed in that time. Leonard Saxe, PhD, (1991) observes that much of the popular understanding of the text is a misnomer. The term “Lie detector” is false as one can only infer deception by analysing a series of physiological responses to unstandadised questions, typically in the form of  CQT or GKT (concealed test) which is why courts routinely reject information gained from such tests (eg: U.S. v. Scheffer, 1998)

The debate about the polygraph goes beyond “Jermy Kyle” however, because Government has been pushing to get the polygraph established as a working tool here in the UK. It was targeted particularly on sex offenders and issues of domestic abuse. (laws in 2007 and 20014 but trials actually going back as far as 2003). In other words, the questioning here in this video may have had a political purpose beyond that of the Jeremy Kyle debacle.

Newcastle university research led by Don Grubin and published in 1918 concludes clearly that “A specific ‘lie response’ has never been demonstrated, and is unlikely to exist”

Further research in Manchester university also in 2018 by Andrew Balmer is equally cautious about the value of the Lie detector.

The committee investigating Reality TV stopped meeting in the run-up to the last Election and has not been reconvened. An anodyne report by Ofcom has been published. It puts into effect nothing that has not already been anticipated and enacted by the bigger studios, though it certainly notes that “vulnerable individuals” should not be used, a welcome addition that would certainly rule out a return of any show in the “Jeremy Kyle” format.

I have drawn attention elsewhere to the Gladiatorial nature of Reality tv. “jeremy Kyle” offered something slightly different though equally popular in its day- It was a return to bear baiting and cock fighting or cock throwing. Simply to look around at street names is to recognise how popular these sports had been in the past. Indeed, the oldest pub in England, “Ye Olde Fighting Cocks” takes its name from the sport.

It is shameful that a civilised society still tolerates this sort of entertainment. We might as well bring back hanging as a public spectacle.