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Big Brother 9 – and yet more bullying

June 27th, 2008

Dr Petra

It’s no secret that I have concerns over the ethics of the TV show Big Brother. From the way the programme is set up, to the involvement of psychologists in the series there are major issues about the show.

Concerns include the problem of experts in the programme not always being the psychologists they claim to be. That psychologists who appear on the show are simultaneously advocating a programme that acts in ways that are unethical, and that the production company behind the programme will not allow dissenting voices from psychologists to be heard on their shows. There are also worries about the conditions participants in the show are kept in – from restricting food, to setting up stressful situations that lead to conflict and hostility.

While there’s the argument that people consent to be on the show therefore they know what they’re letting themselves in for, even the series producers claim that they can’t be sure how people will react once in the Big Brother house. Ergo you can’t truly consent to something even if it seems familiar to you. Particularly if, year on year, the show aims to set up increasingly stressful and difficult scenarios so contestants can seem more interesting for the viewing public.

In previous years there have been scandals over the show allowing bullying and racism to go unchallenged. This year, there seems to be both a nod to understanding this, but also using this as a means of upping ratings.

Although the series has been on for only a few weeks, already we’ve seen contestants deprived of food, subjected to stressful situations and two contestants evicted for bullying behaviour – including threatening the wellbeing of fellow housemates and their families and spitting in a housemate’s face.

Putting people into cramped conditions, stressful situations and introducing alcohol into the mix is always going to cause flashpoints. So is including people who are picked for being deliberately different in their views and backgrounds. Engineering difficult situations to make people more hostile to each other, particularly as a means of making things more ‘entertainment’ is unethical broadcast journalism.

Every year I caution about the programme, I disclose how psychologists are involved within the shows, and I question about the ethics of the series. But this years series seems to be worse than before. Despite of warnings over showing bullying and racism in the past, it seems Big Brother are more than happy to allow this to happen this year – just so long as they remove offending housemates after an aggressive act has happened.

Year on year I ask for the British Psychological Society to speak out against the programme, for psychologists to boycott it, and for greater awareness for the public over how the programme manipulates both contestants and the viewing public.

I suspect I waste my time whenever I speak out against the programme, but this year it has completely got out of control. It is not acceptable to set up stressful situations that lead to violence or threats, and cause distress to contestants all in the name of ‘entertainment’.

Letting people get stressed to the point of aggressive behaviour, only to then evict them is psychologically damaging, as is the effects on the remaining housemates.

Clearly this year people have been selected for their volatile behaviour, and said behaviour has not been monitored or managed appropriately. This is not entertainment, it is exploitation.

It’s not just a case of psychologists refusing to endorse this show anymore. Anyone linked with it – celebrities, presenters and TV workers ought to be ashamed of themselves.

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