Channel 4 cosmetic surgery show called 'exploitative' by MPs

The Surjury will see panel vote on whether participants should get life-changing procedures

MPs have condemned Channel 4’s reality TV strategy as “tawdry and exploitative” over a show in which a panel will vote on whether participants should get “life-changing” cosmetic surgery for free.

The Commons culture select committee questioned Channel 4’s chief executive, Alex Mahon, and chairman, Charles Gurassa, about whether the broadcaster had lost sight of the public service facet of reality TV in favour of “voyeuristic and titillating” viewing.

Once the home of Big Brother, Channel 4 makes a wide range of reality-style TV programmes – from 24 Hours in Police Custody and Gogglebox to SAS: Who Dares Wins and The Great British Bake Off – but MPs primarily focused on an upcoming show, The Surjury.

The show, unveiled in January and due to screen next year, will have a panel – or jury – of 12 “peers and experts” who vote on whether or not participants are granted their desire to get “life-changing procedures”.

“How concerned are you that you are in fact becoming tawdry, voyeuristic, titillating and essentially exploitative?” asked the Scottish National party MP Brendan O’Hara, in the committee’s second evidence session looking into reality TV. “You are going after people who already have low self-esteem, in terms of the [cosmetic] procedure, and you are trivialising what will be a life-changing procedure and doing it in pursuit of ratings.”

The committee pointed to Channel 4’s advert for the show, which pitched to those wanting surgery: “This new TV show could make your surgical dreams come true. For your chance to receive the surgery you’ve always wanted get in touch.” Calling for members of the public to appear on the panel it said: “Would you like the chance to decide whether somebody is granted the surgery of their dreams?”

Mahon defended the show, arguing that the underlying rationale was to raise awareness of an important social issue.

“This is not intended to be exploitative and tawdry but is bringing to the fore an important issue in society today,” she said. “There are huge volumes of cosmetic surgery in society and there have been shows dealing with cosmetic surgery for decades, such as Extreme Makeover. The question is can we create a useful discussion about what that means in society and whether the current rates of cosmetic surgery are acceptable.”

O’Hara countered that the public service argument “kind of falls down when it goes to a public vote”.

Gurassa said Channel 4 could have made a one-off current affairs investigation on the issue for its Dispatches programme – which would have drawn a narrow audience – but that part of the broadcaster’s government-mandated remit was to create shows that would appeal to younger audiences.

“The question for us is how do you engage an audience in issues that not only inform and stimulate debate but also entertain and attract [wider audiences],” he said. “[The Surjury] has a serious question at its heart. We have a range of formats in which we seek to stimulate debate around public issues.”

The Conservative MP Simon Hart said: “The real reason [it was commissioned] was it is titillating television and you know it.”

Gurassa, who was appointed Channel 4 chairman in 2016, responded: “I have never seen evidence in my time of this organisation wanting to produce things you describe as voyeuristic or titillating. Absolutely never.”


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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