A person pointing a remote control at a television screen

Protecting people taking part in reality shows

Published: 6 October 2023
Last updated: 4 March 2024

Big Brother returns to our TV screens this weekend, marking the return of one of the biggest reality shows and arguably the one that helped the genre to become a firm fixture in UK TV schedules.

Over the years, Big Brother and the further reality shows that it helped to spawn have featured hundreds of participants and contestants.

The welfare of those taking part in shows like this and after their time on them comes to an end is critical.

Stronger protections are now in place

Since April 2021, rules introduced by Ofcom have helped to make sure people taking part in TV and radio programmes are properly looked after by broadcasters.

We introduced these rules after reviewing how people participating in programmes were being protected. This was in recognition of the growing openness and concern in society about mental health and wellbeing, as well as a steady rise in complaints in recent years about the welfare of people taking part in programmes.

We consulted with broadcasters, programme-makers, healthcare professionals, and former programme participants and their representatives, to make sure the right rules could be put in place.

Responsibilities for broadcasters

Under the rules, broadcasters are required to take due care over the welfare of people who might be at risk of significant harm as a result of taking part in a programme.

The measures are aimed at protecting vulnerable people and others not used to being in the public eye.

Broadcasters need to take due care where, for example: a programme is likely to attract a high level of media or social media interest; the programme features conflict or emotionally-challenging situations; or it requires a person to disclose life-changing or private aspects of their lives.

The measures don’t apply where the subject matter is trivial, or a person’s participation is minor - or when the broadcaster is acting in the public interest, as is likely to be the case for most news and current affairs programming.

Also, under the rules people taking part in programmes must also be informed about any potential welfare risks that might arise from their participation, and any steps the broadcaster or programme-maker intends to take to mitigate these.

These rules only apply to programmes made after April 2021; we cannot apply them retrospectively to programmes made before then.

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