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Why reality TV having to tone down its drama could mean the end of a genre

Nicole Prince (left) and Fiona Taylor competed in home renovation show ‘House Rules’ in 2017.

A landmark ruling in court this week against the Seven Network could just see the death of reality TV as we know it.

A workers’ compensation claim brought to the courts by contestant Nicole Prince of House Rules stated she suffered a major bout of depression after one episode in particular, in which Prince was portrayed as hypercritical of other contestants, mean, and even violent.

Prince alleged she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder after her “mean girl” portrayal in the fifth season of House Rules in 2017. She won the ruling in court after providing convincing evidence that Seven had manipulated her character via cunning editing and mean-spirited critique kept on social media (the station was requested to remove criticisms online but neglected to).

The ruling stipulated that the ‘House Rules’ set constituted a “hostile and adversarial environment”.

Not only does the ruling raise the prospect of suing by other reality TV contestants who have been manipulated to look “bad”, it could see producers of reality programs having to be more cautious of their contrived character-building – which in the end could see a genre that relies on drama and conflict dwindle down to safe and boring.

While producers work closely with contestants on such reality shows, the networks themselves consider – or at least come across as assume – the contestants are not employees of theirs.

Seven had denied Prince’s compensation claim, which was first lodged in May 2017, on the basis that she was “not an employee”. As it turns out, even subcontracted employees in the entertainment industry have legal rights.

On top of this, an employer who exposes an employee to unnecessary risk of foreseeable harm – including social and psychological damage – can also be held liable at common law for loss of earnings for an individual beyond their work with said employer. In this particular matter, Prince gave evidence that she was unable to find work following her disastrous representation on the show and won a whole lot of money on that basis.

Antonino Tati


What do you think? Should television producers have the right to shape an individual’s personality – even if it means negatively – for the sake of creating ‘good’ television?


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