Treatment of Susan Boyle might be probed

U.K. culture secretary wants Ofcom to take action

LONDON -- Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said media regulator Ofcom should look into ITV's handling of "Britain's Got Talent" star Susan Boyle, and urged broadcasters to consider their "duty of care" to reality TV contestants suddenly engulfed by media scrutiny.

Boyle, who finished second in a Saturday night finale watched by 18.5 million viewers, had been suffering from strain even before her appearance in the final, in which she suffered a shock defeat at the hands of dance group Diversity.

She was taken by ambulance to a private clinic over the weekend, after being assessed under the Mental Health Act because of increasingly erratic behavior.

Burnham, who oversees media and broadcasting industries, queried whether program-makers and the network had done enough to safeguard the singer, who suffers from learning difficulties and was clearly exhibiting signs of strain in the weeks running up to the final.

"The contestants' welfare should always come first, even if that means that people have to look at the judgment calls. Ofcom takes responsibility for that," he told a meeting of the Broadcasting Press Guild.

The media regulator is understood to have received a substantial number of complaints about the program.

"I think there should be a process of discussion with the broadcaster concerned. Let's get the facts," he said.

Burnham said the 24-hour nature of news coverage means that broadcasters have an obligation to contestants well beyond the period they are on television.

"We are living in a world where it is not just about what happens on telly on a Saturday night. There is 360 degree scrutiny, 365 days a year," he said. "We need to look after people, not just around the camera."

Speaking to reporters ahead of the government's review into public service broadcasting, Burnham said the U.K. government plans to tackle the volume of illegal downloading, potentially opening the way to putting together an international approach to cutting piracy. He also said that the government will look at ways of helping U.K. broadcasters and rights-owners ramp up the value of their program sales overseas.

"It's a very important part of Digital Britain," he said. "Part of the future for this country is selling much more overseas and developing new partnerships with rights holders."
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