Monday, October 8, 2007

Commentary: Reality TV: Behind the camera

There's an interesting article in the NY Times about the role of producers and those involved in the production of reality TV shows - and what happens when the participants being filmed are about to engage in unsafe or illegal behavior. It gives the example of an alcoholic who gets intoxicated and wants to drive off.

This raises questions on legal grounds but also moral ones. When the show Kid Nation was first announced, there was an outcry from groups about child labor laws and agencies protecting children. Is it morally right to put forty kids in a deserted town and do a reality show a la social experiment a la entertainment vehicle? I'm not on the set and don't know what protective measures were taken, so I can't comment on this particular show, but it does raise questions about leaving such decisions up to producers . Local child agencies can provide oversight, but is this sufficient and will it be done in a timely way? Is the protection in place sufficient?

These concerns are the subject of investigations by AFTRA and the New Mexico Attorney General's office according to this LA Times article....

"In a press release, AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth said that AFTRA would take "all legal and moral steps available to protect the rights of the performers and children on this program."

"We are concerned about reports of abuse arising from 'Kid Nation,' which was produced under the AFTRA National Code of Fair Practices for Network Television Broadcasting," she said. "Under this agreement, the host, announcer, reporters and other professional performers on reality and contest programming are specifically covered by the terms of the Network Code, while the amateur contestants are generally not."

Among the issues the attorney general will review will be the production's permit process, the 22-page contract between parents and the producers, and whether the production company illegally refused to allow inspectors onto the property for routine inspections."


There are potentially all kinds of situations that could occur that require intervention by producers, camera people and the like. Yet the NY Times article (linked via the heading) quotes one producer of an adult reality show as saying they have no legal responsibility to intervene - even on a show called Intervention dealing with an alcoholic driving. To say that ends the issue, however, falls short in my opinion. I'm not against such shows, nor am I taking the position of attacking any particular one because, for all I know, its producers have put in place protective measures and those agencies investigating know far better than me what went on - but this is a new and growing trend and does call for attention.

I think it's safe to say that if Kid Nation gets good reviews, there will be more reality shows for children as well as adults. This issue isn't going to go away. As more of these shows emerge, shouldn't our society respond with laws and regulations that better protect participants - particularly minors? What about mandating the presence of child advocates on the set? After all, parents are not on the set, nor do the children come home at night.

Reality TV, in my opinion, is not and never will be total reality. And we need to get real about the fact that, particularly when vulnerable populations are being filmed, they need protection from those who can profit from exploiting them for entertainment value.

UPDATE: Several days after I posted this, an article appeared on the same topic here.

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