Broadcasters could be held responsible for the “wellbeing and dignity” of TV participants, including reality show contestants, under new proposals issued by the UK’s media regulator.

Ofcom has suggested two new rules which it says have been put forward following “growing openness and concern in society about mental health and well-being” in recent years.

The two new rules the regulator has proposed are:

  • Due care must be taken over the welfare, wellbeing and dignity of participants in programmes
  • Participants must not be caused unjustified distress or anxiety by taking part in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes

The new proposals also include suggested guidance for different stages of television production, including advising that potential participants minimise or limit social media usage after a programme has gone out on-air.

It follows the controversy surrounding ITV’s The Jeremy Kyle Show and Love Island.

Steve Dymond, a participant on The Jeremy Kyle Show, was found dead a week after failing a lie detector test.

Steve Dymond - Jeremy Kyle
Image: Steve Dymond’s death led to ITV pulling The Jeremy Kyle Show

The inquest into Mr Dymond’s death heard he had been “concerned about the repercussions of the show”.

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His death prompted ITV to cancel the show, which was its most popular daytime programme.

Two former Love Island contestants – Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon – killed themselves after appearing on the show.

ITV has said it will offer therapy and social media training to participants of Love Island in the future.

Former Big Brother contestant Caroline Wharram, who appeared on the Channel 5 show in 2012, told Sky News she felt she had no support during and after her time on the programme.

Mental health issues lead Ms Wharram to quit university. Her problems only got worse after she left the Big Brother house.

Although she was assessed by the show’s psychiatrists before entering, Ms Wharram says she was not fit to be on the show.

“I received absolutely no care from the producers.

“When I came out [of the house], I was just sort of thrown to the lions. I didn’t have any help whatsoever or support and I was really ill and I really needed someone to talk to. There just wasn’t anyone there available at all.”

Caroline Wharram appeared on Big Brother in 2012 when it was broadcast on Channel 5. She says she received no help from the show's production staff.
Image: Caroline Wharram appeared on Big Brother in 2012 and says she received no help from the show’s production staff

Endemol Shine, the production company behind Big Brother, told Sky News: “Big Brother has always taken contributor welfare extremely seriously and had a robust assessment and welfare system in place.

“A team dedicated to contributor welfare, including mental health experts, was on hand to support housemates both during and after transmission.”

Ofcom said it would invite feedback from broadcasters about the proposed changes until 23 September.

Tony Close, Ofcom’s director of content standards, said: “People who take part in TV and radio shows must be properly looked after by broadcasters, and these rules would ensure that happens.

“These new safeguards must be effective. So we’re listening carefully to programme participants, broadcasters, producers and psychologists before we finalise them.”

Ofcom cited complaints it had received about other reality TV shows, including Celebrity Big Brother and Loose Women.

ITV said it welcomed the “opportunity to respond” to the review held by the regulator. The broadcaster added it will take “responsibilities around duty of care to participants very seriously”.

ITV will air two series of Love Island a year from 2020, with the winter series taking place in South Africa.

:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.

courtesy of Sky News