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Sharing your concerns about Big Brother

July 17th, 2007

Dr Petra

Recently I blogged about Big Brother 8 – the UK reality TV show. I expressed my concerns about:
- the ethics of the show
- the qualifications of experts used to vet and support contestants
- the qualifications and skills of those who appear on the programme’s spin-off show ‘Big Brother on the couch’, and
- the role of the British Psychological Society in relation to the programme and psychologists who appear on it.

All of which you might have thought would make me unpopular with Big Brother, but it seems either BB researchers don’t read blogs, or they simply don’t care what you say about them as long as you agree to go on their programme. I’ve been emailed and called by countless BB staff (of various levels of seniority) all asking if I’ll appear in their Big Brother on the couch show. I’ve had to refuse on each occasion because of the concerns listed above. The producers have informed me that “our guests [are] fully qualified, academia and though our purpose is psychology based and insightful, we are also there to educate our viewers in a ‘education friendly’ manner”.

Now this is partly true. Their guests are qualified – although not always academics and not always as psychologists. Whether they’re respected by their peers or act in a way that is professional and ethical is another issue, and whether they show is educating viewers is also debatable. Add to that the show has involved misleading contestants, has not prevented bullying behaviour, and has also withheld food. All of these things make it difficult to show support for the programme since
a. you don’t want to be associated with psychologists or other experts that you know your peers look down on,
b. you don’t want to have to give the same kind of commentary that existing experts do that’s not really psychology (but presumably fits with their “‘education friendly’ manner”)
c. you can’t in good faith support a show that involves activities that would be ethically unacceptable were they to be run in your own research.

Anyway, it seems that I’m not the only one to have worries about the show as I’ve had several emails from other psychologists, social workers and teachers – all concerned about the messages the show is giving out, the way contestants have been allowed to behave (particularly those involved in bullying behaviour) and about the qualifications and professional activities of the psychologists appearing in Big Brother on the couch.

So, if you are one of those people concerned about the show, here’s what you can do.

If your worry is about the programme itself you can write to or email Channel 4 or to Ofcom. That’s if you spot something happening that you think is unethical or is in some way ‘fixing’ the show.

If you are concerned about the behaviour, skills, ethics or qualifications about the experts appearing on the show you need to check their job title before complaining. If they are a psychotherapist then you can complain to the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. If they are a psychologist you can complain to the British Psychological Society. In the latter case it may help to read the BPS’s ethical guidelines and standards and their information on the role of psychologists on TV first to inform your complaint.

Remember these professional organisations can only investigate members of their group. So if a psychologist or therapist is not a member then little can be done. You can, however, complain generally about why these organisations have not spoken out against the show as it frequently does not fit with their ethical codes that govern people’s wellbeing.

If an expert is not a member of a professional organisation you can still complain to their employer – for example their university if they’re an academic, or an Primary Care Trust if they’re employed by one as a therapist.

Keep your complaints short, to the point and remember to list the date of the programme in question. Where possible indicate how the issue you’re complaining about contravenes professional or broadcasting standards.

I hope this helps those of you who are worried. If you’ve any further comments on this topic please email me.

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