UK parliament launches inquiry into reality production “duty of care”

The UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee (DCMS) is launching an inquiry into reality television production practices — specifically, “production companies’ duty of care to participants” in ...
May 16, 2019

The UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee (DCMS) is launching an inquiry into reality television production practices — specifically, “production companies’ duty of care to participants” in the wake of the death of a guest taking part in an episode of tabloid talk show The Jeremy Kyle Show, and the deaths of two former contestants of hit competition series Love Island.

Both programs air via the ITV network and are produced by ITV Studios, with Love Island coproduced by Motion Content Group.

In the case of The Jeremy Kyle Show, an episode was shot featuring a man who took a lie detector test regarding his fidelity to his girlfriend. The man, Steve Dymond, was found dead the week following the taping. Local police at the time said they were not treating his death as suspicious.

The episode has not aired, and on Wednesday (May 15) the program was canceled. “Given the gravity of recent events we have decided to end production of The Jeremy Kyle Show,” said ITV CEO Carolyn McCall in a statement.

The Jeremy Kyle Show has had a loyal audience and has been made by a dedicated production team for 14 years, but now is the right time for the show to end,” she added. “Everyone at ITV’s thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of Steve Dymond.”

The day before the cancellation of the program, ITV issued a statement detailing its procedures and duty of care measures. “Prior to the show a comprehensive assessment is carried out by the guest welfare team on all potential contributors,” it read. “The guest welfare team consists of four members of staff, one consultant psychotherapist and three mental health nurses.

“The guests are interviewed by guest welfare face to face at studios and prior to filming,” it continued. “Throughout filming the participants are supported by the guest welfare team in the studios during the recording phase of their show. After filming has ended all guests are seen by a member of the guest welfare team to ensure they are feeling calm and emotionally settled before any participant leaves to travel home.

“An evaluation of their needs is also carried out at this time and should they require any ongoing service regarding the problem they discussed on the show then appropriate solutions are found for them. This could include residential rehabilitation, counselling, anger management, family mediation, child access mediation or couple counselling for example.”

The network added that production teams stay in contact with guests in the days between taping and transmission and that participants are given a production mobile contact number that they can use following transmission.

In a statement announcing the inquiry, British parliamentary MP Damian Collins, committee chair for the DCMS Committee, said: “ITV has made the right decision to permanently cancel the Jeremy Kyle Show. However, that should not be the end of the matter. There needs to be an independent review of the duty of care TV companies have to participants in reality TV shows and the DCMS select committee has decided to hold an inquiry this summer into these issues.

“Programs 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 events surrounding The Jeremy Kyle Show have also reignited concerns regarding the UK version of Love Island, which has seen two former cast members die over the course of the past year.

Sophie Gradon, who appeared on the series in 2016, was found dead at her parents’ home in the spring of 2018, with a coroner ruling that she had hanged herself. Mike Thalassitis, who appeared as part of the cast in 2017, died in March of this year, with police confirming the cause of death as suicide by hanging.

The Committee is soliciting input from the public as well as “organizations and others with relevant expertise” on such matters as the psychological support provided by prodcos and broadcasters to reality TV participants before, during and after the production process; examples of best practice regarding support; whether “the design formats for reality shows put unfair psychological pressure on participants and encourage more extreme behavior” and what the future is “for reality TV of this kind.”

Submissions will be taken up to June 13.

John McVay, chief executive at UK production company trade organization Pact, told Realscreen: “We will work constructively with both the parliamentary committee and Ofcom.”

The British Psychological Society (BPS) released a statement as well on Wednesday, supporting the parliamentary inquiry.

“Broadcasters and producers have a responsibility to the people appearing on their shows, and the BPS will shortly be launching guidance aimed at informing television commissioners and producers of the best psychological practices when working with members of the public, especially vulnerable persons. We would be happy to contribute our expertise to this inquiry to help ensure that all programs are produced in an ethically sound manner,” said Sarb Bajwa, chief executive of the BPS.

“There are many BPS members who work as psychologists on television shows of all kinds, offering important advice to production teams, psychologically informed aftercare to participants and, crucially, ensuring that potential contributors are screened for mental health issues. We would always recommend that producers enlist the help of an experienced and qualified psychologist to guide them through these vitally important areas.”

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