Screws tighten on Aussie TV


Australian Communications Minister Helen Coonan is laying down the law with Aussie broadcasters, saying that they must prevent "the demeaning or exploitative" portrayal of "vulnerable competitors" on such reality TV shows as "Big Brother."

Coonan on Friday called for a tightening of industry codes of practice in the wake of the uproar instigated last year over the now-infamous "turkey slapping" incident on Network Ten's "Big Brother" offshoot "Big Brother Adults Only."

The incident, which involved one contestant using his penis to slap the face of a female contestant, led to allegations of sexual harassment, the ejection of two castmates from the program and the show's cancellation this year. It also triggered two investigations by broadcast regulator the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Coonan also called for a streamlining of ACMA investigation processes arising from any community complaints for mature adult, or MA-rated, reality programs.

ACMA's latest investigation into reality television found that the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice was "providing appropriate community safeguards for reality television on free-to-air TV."

But Coonan said that "a number of matters … require action," including tightening the MA classification guidelines defining "sexual references" at the MA level and the consideration of "cumulative intensity" as an element in the MA classification process.

In addition, broadcasters will have to im-prove the way they handle complaints.

Industry body Free TV Australia Ltd. will provide ACMA with a monthly report on complaints, containing sufficient detail to enable ACMA to analyze trends on an ongoing and timely basis.

The ACMA investigation found that "many people are concerned about the way in which vulnerable contestants can be exploited in a reality show context for entertainment purposes," Coonan said.

"Contestant welfare is paramount in all Channel Ten programs. We take comprehensive steps to protect all participants and reject any suggestion of exploitation," Ten said in a statement responding to Coonan's call for action.