Victim TV puts privacy at risk

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The Independent Online
The growth of fly-on-the-wall "victim entertainment" programmes such as Blues and Twos about the emergency services is raising public concern that television is intruding into people's privacy, according to a survey yesterday.

Commissioned by the newly formed Broadcasting Standards Commission, the study found that viewers strongly believe that ordinary members of the public should have a right to privacy.

"Broadcasters are believed to be willing to flout accepted rules of conduct as far as privacy is concerned in order to make their programmes," the report said.

"Programmes of this type are undoubtedly popular with many viewers and represent a growing genre of reality-based programming," said the report. "Critically, one in three felt that individual privacy was threatened.

"People are very interested in these programmes, but they are ambivalent about this aspect of it," said the BSC chairwoman Lady Elspeth Howe.

However, the survey found that people believe holding some form of public position removes your rights to privacy. Comparing different public roles, the survey found that viewers believe the Royal Family should have greater rights to privacy than a schoolteacher.

Only criminals were perceived to have fewer rights to privacy than politicians.

Like business people, they were deemed to have limited rights, depending on what they have been doing.

The findings will be a boost to documentary film-makers. The BSC is currently drawing up a code of conduct on privacy that covers secret filming and the use of interviews. Documentary film-makers argue that there is a public interest which allows them to invade the privacy of some politicians, businessmen or criminals.

The BSC, which was formed on 1 April after the merger of the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, conducted the survey to discover how social changes have affected people's views about television standards.

It found that only 5 per cent of people believed that anti-social behaviour such as violent crime was caused by television.

Instead it found that people thought it could contribute to "unsocial" behaviour such as swearing in children and a lack of respect that could lead on to anti-social behaviour.

The majority of respondents claimed that the media has more influence on the behaviour of children now than it did when they were growing up.

Most thought television had three times the influence on children that it used to have.

"They go to school and come home with their shirt hanging out," said one of the people surveyed.

"You see that in Neighbours - in Neighbours they go to school with their shirt hanging out, so our kids start doing it.

"It's only small things, but how far away are they from more serious things? That's what worries me."

It also found that around 60 per cent of the population are in favour of some form of regulation for television compared with only 16 per cent who believe that "anything goes".