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A Reality Show Code of Ethics

By Alyssa Rosenberg  

"A Reality Show Code of Ethics"

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At NPR Linda Holmes has a thoughtful piece on the ethics of watching reality television, and more importantly, a proposed voluntary code of ethics for reality show producers that covers everything from conditions while filming to obligations to appear on reunion shows and speak about the experience. I particularly like the idea of a review board that can order networks to release up to a half hour of uncut footage. And I do think a wage structure should be part of this. But there one item on the list that I’m still trying to decide how I feel about. Holmes’ idea for how to deal with minors:

Minors. Shows agree to use no non-incidental footage of any child under age ten, and to employ an on-set counselor specializing in adolescents to provide care and advice on the well-being of any participant who is a minor.

I’m not sure how I feel about any footage of kids under the age of ten, incidental or not being used on reality television, and I wonder if the role should be higher for incidental footage. I don’t know that kids can really consent to making their own narrative vulnerable like that, even if they create their own for consumption by smaller audiences of their friends, and if the goal’s to be as ethical as possible, I think the genre should stay away from children as much as it can. I don’t think kids should be identifiable to be asked about their parents’ behavior by people who they don’t already know. I understand that there’s legitimate interest in documenting things like child beauty pageants, though I think the intent of something like Toddlers and Tiaras is not actually documentary. And I think any code should be appealable for projects with documented merit, but the standards to get an appeal should be high.

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