ITV’s treatment of reality show contestants will be scrutinised by parliament after the deaths of former guests on The Jeremy Kyle Show and Love Island, a decision that could have major implications for the broadcaster.
Damian Collins MP said the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, which he chairs, would launch a formal inquiry into the British reality TV programme industry. ITV executives are expected to be called to parliament to give evidence in public hearings on the aftercare and mental health support offered to participants.
The MPs will consider stricter regulations on how contestants are treated on air and whether certain programmes place “unfair psychological pressure on participants and encourage more extreme behaviour”.
Although the inquiry will look at the entire reality TV industry, ITV will be under particular scrutiny as the committee decided to set up the inquiry in response to the death last week of the Jeremy Kyle guest Steve Dymond, which led to the permanent cancellation of the long-running daytime chat show on Wednesday.
Dymond was found dead last week after failing a lie-detector test on the long-running daytime programme, prompting the show to be taken off air on Monday.
In his first public comments since the scandal broke, Jeremy Kyle told the Sun: “Myself and the production team I worked with for the last 14 years are all utterly devastated by the recent events. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Steve’s family at this incredibly sad time.”
Carolyn McCall, ITV’s chief executive, confirmed the show would not be returning. “Given the gravity of recent events we have decided to end production of The Jeremy Kyle Show. The Jeremy Kyle Show has had a loyal audience and has been made by a dedicated production team for 14 years, but now is the right time for the show to end.”
She said ITV would continue to work with Kyle on future projects. The broadcaster had initially stuck by the programme. McCall told staff on Monday the company had decided to cease production simply to “protect the show” and its production team.
However, ITV came under pressure from Downing Street, MPs and mental health charities to take action against the programme, which pitted troubled guests against each other under confrontational questioning from the eponymous host.
Former participants have told the Guardian they were manipulated by the programme’s producers after turning to it for free help with their personal issues. Some said their negative portrayal had prompted them to attempt suicide.
The scrutiny of the aftercare offered on reality TV programmes has led to calls for greater understanding of the impact appearances can have on the mental health of those who take part.
The Portsmouth coroner is expected to open an inquest into Dymond’s death in the coming days after a postmortem. Dymond, 63, appeared on the show last week after he was accused of infidelity by his fiancee. The episode has not been broadcast.
One audience member told the BBC that Dymond was emotional. “He was crying from the beginning and he was so convinced he was going to pass this test,” said Babette Lucas-Marriott. “Jeremy brings out the lie-detector test and asked the audience who thinks he’s going to pass and 99% of the audience put their hand up.”
Kyle then told Dymond that he had failed the polygraph test. Lucas-Marriott said: “You just saw him collapse to the ground. He couldn’t believe what he’d heard. He was begging his fiancee for forgiveness … They were just completely and utterly devastated. It was clear that he’d just lost his entire life with his fiancee there.”
The pair split up and Dymond was found dead days later. Police are not treating the death as suspicious.
ITV has already faced scrutiny for how it supports contestants on its hit Love Island show, following two suicides. The broadcaster said it is reviewing the unaired episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show featuring Dymond.
The programme had been a mainstay of ITV’s coverage since 2005 and regularly attracted 1 million viewers.
Collins also specifically referred to the recent suicides of the former Love Island contestants Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon. Tighter regulation that could increase costs could hit the bottom line at the broadcaster, whose share price has fallen in recent months.
ITV is already reviewing the support offered to Love Island contestants, before the highly profitable show’s return next month.
Collins, whose committee has previously targeted Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, said: “ITV has made the right decision to permanently cancel The Jeremy Kyle Show. However, that should not be the end of the matter. There needs to be an independent review of the duty of care TV companies have to participants in reality TV shows and the DCMS select committee has decided to hold an inquiry this summer.”
The inquiry is now seeking evidence from broadcasters and members of the public on the level of psychological support offered by production companies before, during and after programmes – and whether a media regulator should be responsible for monitoring proceedings.
Collins said: “Programmes like The Jeremy Kyle Show risk putting people who might be vulnerable on to a public stage at a point in their lives when they are unable to foresee the consequences … for themselves or their families.”
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