Over the last couple of weeks tabloid talk shows and reality shows have been in the news amidst concerns about the health and well-being of participants. The Jeremy Kyle show has been pulled from ITV after the death of a guest just one week after appearing on the show. There have also been concerns about reality shows such as Love Island and the mental stress that some guests have endued after the show. This has placed the legal obligations which TV companies have towards their guests in the spotlight.
Duty Of Care
Before we look at the concept of tabloid talk shows and reality TV it is worth reminding ourselves that television companies do have a legal duty of care towards their guests. Even though guests may sign contracts effectively removing the duty of care/responsibilities of various parties these contracts do not supersede legal obligations already in place.
This legal duty of care relates to:-
- Health and well-being of guests
- Providing a safe and secure environment
- Protection from mental anguish
We are not talking about any specific television shows but will now take a look at the various legal duty of care in more detail.
Health And Well-Being Of Guests
Whether you are appearing on a reality TV show or tabloid TV show, with competition based on physical strength, challenges based on mental capacity and passionate discussions, it is the legal duty of TV companies to ensure your health and well-being. There have been many rumours circulating over the years with regards to the strategies used by some TV shows to maximise shock appeal and scandal. In many cases these are simply that, rumours, because as we know headlines sell TV shows and the more shocking the more people will watch. So, when it comes to rumours and counter rumours much of this needs to be taken with a pinch of salt as we are operating in the broad “entertainment” sector.
That said the health and well-being of all guests and audience members should be paramount for any TV company. This will take in a number of issues such as:
- Transport to and from the studio
- Food & Drink
- Backstage facilities
It is also paramount that guests appearing on a variety of TV shows are fit and well to participate. We have seen a number of reality TV shows where certain guests have been withdrawn for “medical purposes” which perfectly illustrates this issue. If any undue pressure is placed on a guest to participate in an activity for which they are not medically/mentally fit, this could lead to a significant personal injury claim.
Safe And Secure Environment
Scandal, confrontation and sometimes violence can attract significant numbers of viewers to various types of TV show. In many cases, what you see on the TV may not give the overall picture with regards to the environment in which it is filmed. For example, those undertaking what may be perceived as dangerous activities will certainly have an array of safety equipment available, safety personnel just off-camera and will have been prepped for the challenge. Nobody could really be expected to hang hundreds of feet above the ground apparently “in danger”. This brings us on to the issue of preparing guests.
Just as it is illegal for an employer to place an employee in a situation for which they are unqualified or inexperienced when the law says they should be, there is the same broad obligation to TV companies. The fact that the vast majority of participants may already have watched the TV show – possibly for many years – is irrelevant. Again, what you see on the TV is very often different to what happens on the television set. If you sit back and take a second, can you imagine the potential compensation claims if participants/guests were placed into dangerous situations with/without their knowledge?
In what many would deem the “Jerry Springer effect” we have seen situations in the UK where there has been violence on tabloid TV shows. In these situations there is an array of security available and in the vast majority of cases they are able to step in and avert any serious injuries. Unfortunately, there are some situations when staff cannot intervene in time, sometimes resulting in physical harm. We have also seen situations where guests have appeared on tabloid TV shows and been mocked by the public for many years afterwards. It may be because of their appearance, their attitude or simply the array of issues they have been accused of. This draws us into another area of potential controversy, how shows are edited to show guests and contestants in a particular light.
Protection From Mental Anguish
Over the years various TV shows have been accused of putting guests/contestants in situations where they are exposed to significant mental anguish. It is worth remembering that when looking at personal injury claims the court of law considers mental anguish in the same light as it would any physical injury. This area goes hand-in-hand with guest/competitor assessments prior to appearing. These assessments will take in both their mental and physical condition and if there are issues with either then it could potentially be seen as negligent to allow them to participate on the show.
There is obviously a certain degree of responsibility with those participating in TV shows. If they are made aware of the format of the show, potential challenges and issues which other participants may have experienced in years gone by, you could argue that the TV companies are fulfilling their responsibilities. The whole process of assessing participants relies to a certain extent on individuals disclosing relevant medical and physical issues they may have. The TV companies can only do so much to protect participants and this is very likely a defence if personal injury claims are pursued.
The subject of after-care is one which has received significant focus over the last few weeks. There is a very active and passionate debate as to whether TV companies should be obliged to offer after-care assistance once the show is over. It is difficult to imagine the short, medium and long-term impact of facing challenges which push you to your mental limit. There are also those who are made to face their darkest fears on tabloid TV shows which can stir feelings and emotions previously buried deep. More and more TV companies now seem to appreciate they do have a responsibility to offer after-care and indeed many already do so. One of the problems is that the shows are either based on controversy or danger and publicising the safety net of after-care may reduce the impact for audiences. Are the shows really as dangerous as they seem? Are tabloid TV shows viewed as an entertainment platform as opposed to real life?
Will Any More TV Shows Be Withdrawn?
Over the coming weeks and months there will no doubt be more rumours and counter rumours regarding the Jeremy Kyle show. There are also concerns that reality shows such as Love Island have placed participants in the spotlight creating significant mental pressure. While historically the shows have been seen as entertainment, it would seem that potential legal action by participants is now seen as more of an issue by the TV companies than in years gone by.
Tabloid TV shows and reality TV shows have attracted huge audiences over the years although recently advertisers have begun to take a step back. The controversy and rumours surrounding many of the shows, whether true or false, have to a certain extent reduced their marketability. On the surface, if you believe what you read in the press, some previous participants may well have a case for personal injury claims as a consequence of their experiences.
What we see on TV obviously has to be taken with a pinch of salt because it is broadly associated with the “entertainment industry”. Many of the shows thrive on the perceived danger and controversy, often attracting millions of viewers. However, amongst all the rumours and counter rumours, it is worth remember the legal obligations that TV companies have towards their guests.
It may be those legal obligations, and rumours of reduced advertising income, are tilting the risk/reward ratio. While we have focused on the well-being of participants, it is also worth mentioning the obligation that employers have towards their employees on these shows. Whether we have seen the end of this particular TV show genre remains to be seen. What does seem to be evident is the increased threat of personal injury claims and the negative press comment this can attract.