The use of lie detectors in reality TV programmes could be banned following the deaths of participants on Love Island and The Jeremy Kyle Show, the chief executive of the UK’s broadcasting regulator has told a committee of MPs.
Sharon White, the head of Ofcom said Ofcom was scrutinising the use of lie detectors, which were used to increase drama and tension on both shows.
“In the context of guidance around harm and offence we will be looking at lie detectors and other tools used by production companies as to whether it is fair treatment of particular vulnerable individuals,” White told the digital, culture, media and sport committee.
“These high-risk prize events or the use of a lie detector or a particular editorial tool may not be appropriate.”
Damian Collins, the chair of the culture select committee, said there were questions over the validity of lie detector results, yet on reality TV shows they were “being presented as bona fide fact”.
Steve Dymond, a participant on The Jeremy Kyle Show, was found dead after failing a lie-detector test that supposedly showed he was cheating on his fiancee. White said ITV, which cancelled the long-running daytime show last week, had asked for an extension to a deadline set by Ofcom to file a report on the incident.
“We had asked for a report from ITV within five working days about the processes they had followed,” White said. “And particularly whether there was going to be a read-across for them for other factual and reality shows. ITV have now asked for more time to complete their inquiry.”
The use of lie detectors is an eagerly anticipated element of ITV’s hit Love Island show, which is due to return on 3 June.
White said Ofcom had been looking into reality TV shows after the deaths of the Love Island contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis.
“As well as the most recent tragedy with Steve Dymond alarm bells were particularly rung with the two suicides on Love Island, some months after the broadcast,” said White.
“We have been particularly concerned about what has then happened to participants after the programme is over. After transmission at the moment there is a window between filming and transmission with advice [for participants] about the media and social media and going from a private person to the media world. I’m asking my team if that [duty of care] needs to be extended.”
The ITV chief executive, Carolyn McCall, is reviewing the support offered to Love Island contestants, but has said a broadcaster’s duty of care “can’t be indefinite”.
White said Ofcom was looking to introduce tougher guidance and extend the rules broadcasters have to follow relating to under-18s appearing on TV to anyone taking part in a reality TV show. That draft guidance would be available “before the summer”.
“It would cover as much the [BBC’s] Victoria Derbyshire Show as it would Love Island,” she said.
The culture committee is to hold a formal inquiry over the summer into the reality TV industry and the treatment of contestants.
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