Duty of care in Reality TV under the spotlight

Last week the most significant story in television -at least in my humble opinion- was not the federal election, Eurovision or Game of Thrones.

It was ITV’s decision to axe The Jeremy Kyle Show in the UK, following the death of a participant.

ITV has been under pressure over Duty of Care matters since the death of 2 Love Island contestants.

Sophie Gradon died by suicide in 2018, two years after appearing on the second series of the dating show. Her mother Deborah slammed ITV for ‘exploiting’ people and ‘using’ them for their ‘own advantage’. Earlier this year, Mike Thalassitis, who appeared on the third series, died by suicide after his body was found in a forest near his home.

The Jeremy Kyle Show, a Jerry Springer-style show, was cancelled last week following the death of a guest who failed a lie detector test and all broadcast episodes were pulled.

Manipulation on Reality TV has long been under the magnifying glass, but when combined with the vitriol of social media, paparazzi, clickbait and the pursuit of TV ratings, it is reaching dangerously new lows.

Married at First Sight this year attracted unprecedented attention and on-air conflict. Channel Seven, which is currently promoting a physical altercation last night in its upcoming series The Super Switch, put the show in its crosshairs last night when Sunday Night spoke with 2016 participant Clare Verrall. Verall has previously criticised the show’s tactics on social media and in interviews.

She revealed two attempted suicide attempts following production as well as raising questions about duty of care by Nine. Verrall also insisted she had never met any of the show’s 3 experts prior to filming her TV wedding.

Also speaking out was Colleen Vincent, mother of 2019 participant Billy (he remains under contract). She spoke about how upsetting it was to see her son losing it on camera, and how she questioned his decision to participate.

2012 Big Brother winner Benjamin Norris also told Sunday Night he was not prepared for a tirade of abuse on social media after leaving the house, while 2017 Bachelorette participant Stu Laundy exposed editing tricks of 10’s season when he fell for Sophie Monk.

Sunday Night was right to raise concerns about Duty of Care in Australian television production. It was unfortunate the only Seven programmes that got a look in, My Kitchen Rules for example, were in montage clips. There have been plenty of contestants who have also criticised its tactics, including this year when a promo with Victor twirling a knife to spooky sound effects was later revealed to be a moment when he was bored during a long shoot. Piper also criticised producers for including a ‘sex scandal storyline’ in a cooking show.

Nevertheless the broader point of ‘what will it take before new guidelines are put in place?’ is a valid question.

“We know that in overseas shows people have taken their lives,” psychologist Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg told Sunday Night.

“Do we really have to wait til there’s a suicide or some serious mental health problem that’s emerged as a result of being on one of these shows before we act? I hope not.”

Married at First Sight producers Endemol Shine Australia, echoed in statements by Nine, have repeatedly defended their Duty of Care saying, “There is a dedicated show psychologist and support team available to every participant throughout the entire production, broadcast and beyond.”

While on-air psychologists (or ‘experts’ as MAFS now refers to its trio) do differ from off-camera psychologists  supplied for casts, they are increasingly embedded into the genre. Seven will soon feature couples therapist Guy Vicars and psychologist Jacqui Manning in The Super Switch. By the look of those volatile promos, Sunday Night‘s concerns may yet be applied to the network’s next profile show…

More concerning are the lengths to which story producers will go to elicit conflict on camera in the chase for ratings.

We can only hope incidents in the UK are not mirrored in Australia and that sensible people working on crews can draw a line in the sand. Or that Free TV and ACMA take a stronger line on production guidelines sooner rather than later.

Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg declined to speak on the topic when previously approached by TV Tonight. The Australian Psychological Society has also declined to discuss the role of psychologists appearing as on-air talent in Reality TV.

ITV statement on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
ITV statement on duty of care.

Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36


  1. Maybe there needs to be some sort of whistle-blower clause mandated as part of reality TV contracts to help with transparency? How would this work – it means of illegal behaviour is observed or alleged on the set of a show participants can speak out about it without violating confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements?

  2. They probably don’t have the legal powers to do so, but ACMA should undertake an audit of these shows to establish and test the processes they have in place to ensure their legal duty of care to contestants and require remediation if they found it lacking in any area. A more proactive approach. Otherwise we will end up with some poor bastard taking their life and then some long protracted legal case to establish what DoC exists and who was responsible for what.

  3. This is just commercial television doing its job – delivering the largest possible audience to advertisers. If there weren’t stupid people desperate for their “fifteen minutes of fame” to take part and even more stupid people tuning in to watch, such programming would quickly disappear from our screens. You can’t legislate against stupidity.

  4. A morbid but more-or-less related point to the article – The first contestant voted off the original Sweedish version of Survivor did take his/her life – that was in 1997.

    The Sweedish incident above should have been an early warning sign to producers that their participants to their shows are people who have gone through an extreme experience. Hence, they should have some variety of care during and post-production to decompress from their experience.

    I’m a fan of some reality shows – particularly competition-centric shows: Survivor, Amazing Race, ect – so unlike the other commenters here, I hope that of reality TV does continue but I hope that the genre becomes less exploitative to the contestants and that contestants are provided greater post-show provisions.

  5. They cut to break during this story where the reporter is mortified at reality tv and went straight into promo’ing House Rules. Contradiction much Ch7?

  6. Maybe there needs to be some new regulatory guidelines in place that cop big fines, if Networks, Production Houses, or Producers don’t comply. Because it’s just television, and it shouldn’t be affecting people’s lives so terribly. Duty of Care is more important than a cash grab for advertising dollars, any day of the week.

    • You mean like the code of conduct and broadcast licence conditions administered by the AMCA. Duty of Care is a legal term in civil torts. ITV had procedures designed by their lawyers. and which their insurers accepted, and followed them. Reportedly many Australian shows don’t. That doesn’t matter to social media and the show had no future.

      • ACMA has rules around privacy in making news & current affairs for example, Screen Producers have guidelines around sexual harassment of staff as another example. But should we have some guidelines around the making of reality, such as how long producers can keep talent on hand without sleep / food / bathroom, or whether alcohol should be allowed during filming scenes, a minimum age for participants, standards for psychological care…. etc. A lot to consider.

        • Yes, there should be laws that around the Duty of Care, re not sleep depriving contestants, stopping people from having toilet breaks, etc. You can’t get away with that in a regular job, why do they get away with it on TV?

  7. Here’s an idea – don’t sign up to these things.
    If you are keen for the spotlight, be an Actor.
    When you have some public exposure, employ a Social Media manager to run your account.

  8. I was always of the opinion that if participants didn’t say certain things then they couldn’t have their words manipulated, but Sunday Nights exposé proved that cut and paste editing can be very deceiving.

  9. Thank you for highlighting this story. I hope mainstream media pick this up and continue to shine the spotlight on what has become gratuitous exploitation of naive people for network ratings.

  10. TV fanatic29

    I thought the Sunday night report was good but isn’t 7 contradicting their upcoming show, which would fall into the category?

    • Well said. Not to mention, as David said, limited vision of one 7 show (MKR), and that show not mentioned by name nor participants interviewed. No doubt worthy points and concerns raised in the story and drawing much needed spotlight on topic, but it was pretty hard to stomach 7’s holier than thou assertion that MAFS and 9 are only worried about ratings, when, in the in the interest of ratings and no negativity, 7 shows escape any scrutiny.

    • I said it before and I’ll say it again, Seven is being hypocritical with its holier than thou by criticising Nine’s “reality” shows such as “Married at First Sight” but “My Kitchen Rules”, “The Super Switch”and now “Temptation Island” (which as mentioned yesterday is coming next year) is okay because it’s on Seven. Seven’s hypocrisy knows no bounds.

      And whoever proposes these so-called “Reality” shows, commercial television stations would find a way to force us to watch the crap, like a recap on shows like “A Current Affair” or an interview with the latest eliminated contestant on “Today Extra” or “The Morning Show”. But hey, I don’t watch much on commercial television anyway (I even deleted Nine off my TV).

      • MAFS cheating scandal vs MKR sex scandal cooked up to generate interest in a failing season (pun intended). No difference at all

  11. Sadly none of what they do to try and prevent harm to those taking part in these shows will matter …what is really needed is for the people who watch these shows to stop doing so and they are cancelled.

  12. TV absolutely has a duty of care but so does society – social media abuse generally doesn’t come from the production team, especially if it’s occuring months on from broadcast.

    The Last Leg actually had a brief but decent discussion on this aspect and how if people are looking for answers to their issues in life from shows like Jeremy Kyle then society is failing them before they even get on such a show.

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