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.

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Hmm. I agree that they are probably publicity seeking but if you saw someone bleeding to death on TV you wouldn’t quibble about the lack of proper diagnosis. I think a trained clinician could pick up more than enough from TV coverage to express concern.

My understanding is that CH4 offers all housemates access to a proffesional counsellor in the diary room with a guarentee that the footage will never be broadcast and that also they have a consultant clinican who can express concerns about house mate behaviour.

I suppose the counter arguement to mine is that that package is a better than most serving prisioners will get so perhaps CH 4 are so bad after all.

by Cllr David Morton on May 23, 2006 at 11:29 pm. Reply #

It is a bit publicity seeking, but Shahbaz has been so erratic — he doesn’t sleep, he talks to himself, he spends hours in the diary room (possibly receiving therapy). He seemed to think that stealing food and hiding it would win the others’ respect. (I don’t know how this was supposed to work.) And he made oblique threats of self-harm and suicide.

I’m concerned that vulnerable people are put on TV in this way. Nikki seems equally at risk (she’s a former anorexic, and she’s kept many anorexic traits: not drinking tap water because of impurities and threatening to throw up).

Dr McCulloch hasn’t speculated on Shahbaz’s clinical condition. He says so explicitly. And it is his job to work against discrimination against those with mental illness. If he thinks Channel 4 is so discriminating (by using Shahbaz as a freak show), it’s his duty to do something.

Riveting, if very guilty television. God, I’m a ghoul.

by Backword Dave on May 24, 2006 at 12:11 pm. Reply #

Sorry what’s a Shahbaz and who is Big Brother?

by Martin Hoscik on May 24, 2006 at 3:44 pm. Reply #

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