The biggest media show in town

by Stephen Tall on May 23, 2006

I watched my first episode of Big Brother last night, having put it off as long as I was able. I was, as I knew I would be, instantly hooked. (I’ve analysed my reasons in as much depth as I intend ever to do here.)

Tonight’s breaking news is that Shahbaz (“a huge fan of Kylie Minogue and knitting”) has walked. Which is, I suspect, a relief for all concerned: for him (because he’s proven to himself, once again, his own exceptionalism); for his housemates (who were being driven up the wall); and for Channel 4 (who have the double whammy of early controversy and being rid of someone a tad high maintenance).

Oh, and for we viewers, because Shahbaz’s behaviour was uniting the house in a boring way.

What did suprise me (though not that much) was the intervention of Dr Andrew McCulloch, the chief executive of Mental Health Foundation, who has written to Channel 4’s director of television, Kevin Lygo, commenting:

“Whilst I can only guess at Shahbaz’s clinical condition, we are concerned that vulnerable people apparently continue to be allowed into such a high-pressured environment. This kind of programming can make individuals who are distressed a laughing stock and this will only seek to feed the discrimination that already impacts heavily on people suffering from mental illness.”

This kind of language makes me uncomfortable. First, Dr McCulloch speculates about an individual’s clinical condition without the benefit of any examination. (I’m not an expert, but isn’t that a bad thing?)

Secondly, he chooses to release this letter to the press – so gaining his organisation some publicity – while bandying terms such as ‘vulnerable’, ‘distressed’ and ‘mental illness’, dignoses he’s clearly in no position to make.

And, thirdly, having made his snap judgment, he concludes:

“It is disappointing that Channel 4 seems to have little regard for vulnerable contestants in the Big Brother house. I should be interested to know what screening and welfare measures are in place to protect contestants.”

Those sentences read, to me, as non-sequiturs: Dr McCulloch asserts Channel 4 has “little regard”, but has clearly made no effort to discover what regard it has. If Dr McCulloch cares as much as he says he does, he could have sought to establish the facts first, and without seeking publicity for it.

Big Brother is the biggest media show in town, and everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the action.