Under New Zealand's new health and safety laws, can Married At First Sight (MAFS) get away with putting emotionally vulnerable people into a situations where they will likely experience emotional trauma?
The potential harm that can be caused by playing out one's life on television has been made clear by the post show suicide of a guest on a UK reality show The Jeremy Kyle Show where a participant, humiliated by events on the show, allegedly committed suicide due to the public shaming and emotional trauma. The show has now been cancelled.
Let's look at some of the situations that are potentially harmful to participants on the Australian version of MAFS, assuming a similar model will be adopted in New Zealand. A lawyer could argue whether these situations are legal in New Zealand law.
The on-the-couch discussions with couples are set up for the "experts" (a psychologist, a neuroscientist and an actor) to probe the intimate feelings of the participants. At the beginning of the show these discussions are cordial and friendly. As time goes by, they often turn nasty, where one or both participants use it as a platform to make hurtful comments about the other, or in some cases, admit to affairs. Some participants might be tough enough to endure this mixture of intimidation and humiliation, but most will feel some emotional trauma. If you are an anxious or low self-esteem person going into this show, might your feelings of insecurity be exacerbated by this situation?
They know the work is emotionally dangerous and I suspect they engineer pairings to maximise there being an 'accident', thereby creating drama.
While the show says it does not explicitly encourage affairs, they religiously trail the "adulterers" around with cameras while they meet and perhaps hook up. The affair can be exposed to the other partner by the adulterer on "the couch" if they are still together on the show; or if the couple has split up, and the timing is right, the newly paired people can show they are together at a MAFS party where past and present participants are all invited. Either way, the shock and public humiliation for the jilted person must be high, and again, for the emotionally unstable participant, extreme. Is this ethical and/or legal? The experts view all this on camera from another room and feign surprise at these liaisons as they are exposed to the group.
The Australian show seems to choose a good proportion of participants who seem from the outside to have difficulty controlling their emotions. A proportion of the participants react very emotionally, either with anger or tears, when confronted by rejection, disappointment, humiliation, or embarrassment. Now reacting emotionally is normal – but the seeming lack of control of the emotion, especially when you know you are being observed and would be on their best behaviour, suggests they are not good at this type of self control. Do they select a proportion of the participants who have low emotional control?
Any emotions make for prime viewing for audiences, and will boost the show's ratings. But is it ethical, or legal, to choose participants who will obviously find it difficult to deal with the emotional trauma the show will inevitably dish up. And if you have "experts" involved in the recruitment, they surely would know whether someone will be able to handle the difficult emotional situations of the show?
The contestants' relationship with the network I would assume is that of a contractor. I am sure the contestants sign restrictive contracts saying they consent to doing whatever the producers say they have to do. But that contractual consent has its limits.
For example, if a building company employs a contractor to cut put up scaffolding, they cannot ask them to work in areas where there may be debris falling from others working above, and that they know is dangerous and may result in injury. They need to 1) make the work environment safe, and 2) ensure that the contractor has the skills to do the work. The network Channel 9 seems to fail on both these items.
MAFS star says show 'stress' led to her dramatic 12kg weight loss
'I was a nasty brat': Jessika Power opens up about MAFS
On the first point, they know the work is emotionally dangerous and I suspect they engineer pairings to maximise there being an "accident", thereby creating drama. And on the second point, they know that some of the contestants lack the skills to undertake the "work" in front of them.
Drama and emotion is what attracts people to watch this show. There are some happy emotions. But there is equal, if not more unhappy, emotions. This type of show has been labelled "misery porn". Television drama that hurts participants, so viewers can enjoy watching others' pain. My view is this type of programme has passed its use by date. Maybe we need the health and safety law to tell us that.
• Don Purdon is an New Zealand-based management consultant with a master's degree in psychology
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE : 0800 111 757
LIFELINE : 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS : 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE : 0800 376 633 or text 234
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here .