CEO Update - Is Reality TV impacting our mental health?

Lachlan Searle

Is Reality TV impacting our mental health?

February is the month where Reality TV gets real… but is it really hurting us?

Television networks spend January pumping up, and pumping advertising dollars into their latest production, and news publications are increasingly happy to oblige, providing ongoing commentary as ‘click bait’. On and off screen they all stir the pot for a viewing and online audience apparently wanting more and more of a genre where it’s well known that ‘hate rates’.

Yes, Reality TV can promote conflict and hate, and therefore discrimination in subtle, but sophisticated ways. A way which cannot be good for the mental health of our community.

From Sylvania Waters in the early 90s to the endless Survivor shows, Reality TV has come, gone, and stayed… but at what cost?

Including at what cost to some of the individuals on these shows?  At what cost to a community which seems to thrive on ‘conflict as content’. And at what cost to the next generation looking for inspiration and influence?

This week we saw a 25-year-old male under personal pressure on national TV.

I didn’t watch it, and don’t plan to, but it’s becoming harder and harder to escape the commentary that comes with such ‘Reality TV’ content. Again, another subtle play to suggest more people are watching than actually are.

You only have to look at the success of on demand online/TV, with very little ‘Reality TV’ content, as the biggest indicator of all that the community is actually not as invested as the broadcasters and ‘news’ reports would have you believe.

But this young man was invested. And yes, it was his choice to go on the show, and yes, you could argue the motives may have been more than just raising money for charity, but where does the responsibility lie to protect individuals, sometimes even from themselves. What does it mean to broadcast responsibly? 

What role should Reality TV play in promoting the mental health of nation, or at least not damaging it?

Do these programs really service community demand, or are they simply ratings generating tools foisted upon us by advertising executives simply interested in numbers?

And when potentially negative situations inevitably do occur on these programs, surely magnifying them immensely for those watching is not our best path. 

We have the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA) to help regulate this problem and just what it is we determine as entertainment for our community, but I am not sure our legislation is keeping up.

As one member of the Mental Health Australia staff pointed out this morning, if some of these Reality TV programs were research studies proposed by universities, ethics committees would not allow them to take place.

And as for ratings… the only reality TV Network bosses seem interested in, 1.7 million people watched the Australian Open tennis final this year, a million less than last year.

Perhaps they were watching the other reality show on offer… or not even watching TV at all.

Warm regards,

Frank Quinlan

Chief Executive Officer

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