Saturday, 27 August 2011

TV industry 'quite corrupt' with reality stars, says Channel 4 executive

Panel discusses legal and ethical issues behind structured reality shows such as The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea

The television industry is "quite corrupt" in the way it deals with people who take part in reality shows, according to a Channel 4 commissioning executive.

Tina Flintoff, the Channel 4 features commissioning editor, said that while TV is "more honest that it's ever been" in some areas, "there's no point denying it's not a corrupt business". "Television is quite corrupt and we are all guilty of it," Flintoff added.

Her comments came during a session on reality television and exploitation at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival.

Flintoff and other panellists explored the legal and ethical decisions behind observational documentaries and structured reality shows such as ITV2's The Only Way is Essex and Channel 4's Made in Chelsea.

Presented with a hypothetical observational documentary about a circus family called the Murdochs and a series of dilemmas and interventions by panellists posing as reckless producers, Flintoff was asked by Channel 4 director of creative diversity Stuart Cosgrove how far she would push ethical and legal boundaries to ensure a hit show.

When asked about using sex scenes filmed by hidden cameras in bedrooms, which feature in MTV's Jersey Shore, she said that "as long as everyone is aware" the cameras were there, "that's absolutely fine".

Discussing whether or not sex sells, Flintoff added: "Yes, very much. Towie and [My Big Fat] Gypsy Wedding without love stories, sexy girls and boobs would not have rated as well."

BBC commissioning editor Harry Lansdown said that many documentaries from TV's early years were "exploitative" in the way they dealt with and portrayed contributors.

"We are more honest than 10 years ago. Shows like Towie have helped," Lansdown added.

Channel 4 lawyer Dominic Harrison said producers and commissioners "have to educate themselves" about legal boundaries and be honest with participants.

"Some people love entertainment confections but it's about letting the audience know what they are getting," Harrison said.

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