What constitutes ‘unjustified’ distress could be a contentious issue
Three cheers for Greg and Amber, who’ll leave the Love Island villa with £50,000, a blossoming romance – and their world turned upside down.
What happens next will be a major test of how well the industry can protect its contributors from the madness of media intrusion and the mayhem of social media, and whether Ofcom’s proposed update of its duty of care regulations is fit for purpose.
Only a few months ago, there was significant political pressure on the industry and the regulator as a result of the Jeremy Kyle scandal and the deaths by suicide of two former Islanders. Yet Ofcom has sensibly resisted the temptation to take a sledgehammer approach with a rather gentle proposed update.
The first element, that “due care” should be taken over the “welfare, wellbeing and dignity” of programme participants, seems self-evident.
The second, that contributors must not be caused “unjustified distress or anxiety” by appearing in programmes or their broadcast, is more open to interpretation and could end up being the subject of much debate.
A Love Island task, in which contestants guess which of their peers is the subject of barbed tweets by the public, has become a staple. It’s often funny, generates several storylines and helps drive the series’ narrative at a point at which it could run out of steam. It also often upsets some of the participants.
Is that distress justified? It is a contrived scene in a contrived show, that the contributors could reasonably expect to take place ahead of signing up.
But that might not be on their minds when they discover that a Twitter bully has branded them a money digger, or suggested their new girlfriend really has the hots for a rival.
“If producers and broadcasters were looking to Ofcom for clarity on how they should help contributors navigate the online world, they will have been disappointed”
If a contributor’s tears generate a few hundred complaints, the regulator is going to have to make genuinely tricky decisions about this kind of content, which could have significant repercussions for constructed reality shows.
It’s no coincidence that Ofcom is looking to better protect contributors at precisely the same moment that ITV wants to double the run of Love Island. The remarkable success of the show is what prompts so much social media activity, and it is the online maelstrom that is potentially most harmful to contributors.
If producers and broadcasters were looking to Ofcom for clarity on how they should help contributors navigate the online world, they will have been disappointed.
A joined-up conversation on this issue would surely be a good thing and an attempt to build a best practice consensus would serve the sector well.
Trolling, bullying and bile have become standard fare for those appearing on TV and the industry needs to be prepared to learn from one another and from external experts about how it can support them.
- Chris Curtis is the editor in chief of Broadcast