The Dark Side of "Reality TV": Professional Ethics and the Treatment of "Reality"-Show Participants

Jelle Mast


This article proposes an inventory of key ethical issues emerging from the production of reality TV shows, with a primary focus on participants’ rights/interests and program makers’ responsibilities. The analysis is structured according to four categories of potential harm (intrusion, humiliation, misrepresentation, and appropriation) and different stages of the production process, integrating theorizations on media, documentary, and image ethics with insights derived from 48 semistructured qualitative interviews with reality professionals and participants and several contracts. It is argued that professional practice needs to be informed by ethical considerations and accountability measures, touching a middle ground between incident-centered and all-encompassing critiques and between structural factors at industry and genre levels and (situational) measures of agency and differentiation.


reality TV, professional ethics, hybridity, television production

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