Why do I have this nagging suspicion about Big Brother and the handling of the latest bit of poor publicity by Ten Network and the producers Endemol Southern Star? Ten and the producers have “form” in trying to manipulate the publicity for this program. The burst of bad publicity about the incident, involving the two evicted male housemates and a female housemate, certainly paid off, which is unfortunate.

Ten won the night last night and its key 16 to 39 age group on the back of the enormous publicity that raged all day yesterday (and continued this morning). Big Brother programs finished fourth and fifth in the rankings of most watched shows on Australian TV last night: the eviction (not the ousting of the two dubbos) from 7.30 pm averaged 1.562 million; the 6.30 pm warm-up program averaged 1.526 million. Ten won the night with a national share of 27.5% to 26.5% for Nine and 25.4% for Seven.

The daily program featured a tearful explanation of the situation from the woman at the centre of the incident, Camilla. It made gruesome TV viewing: it should not have gone to air and just should not have been allowed. Ten and the producers had no right to allow Camilla to talk about something like that: it was a highly emotional and highly personal incident. It left the impression that Ten and Southern Star were trying to get off the hook by allowing (forcing?) Camilla to discuss the incident live on national TV.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, which went a bit far in suggesting the police inquiry was still open (it isn’t – it was closed late Sunday afternoon), got it right when it said on its front page today: “Ten cynically exploits Big Brother contestant”.

The network put out a statement early Sunday revealing the incident, saying: “The producers will not be commenting any further on this serious matter.”

So much for that tosh which was as ham-fisted as anything issued by the Nine Network last week. Just after 5pm Sunday this statement was issued by Ten:

Network Ten and Big Brother producers, Endemol Southern Star, today reaffirmed their commitment to the highly popular television program and confirmed Big Brother adheres to all broadcasting codes of practice and all relevant rules and regulations.

No footage of the incident that led to housemates Ash and John being evicted was broadcast on television, nor would it be.

This is a closed police matter.

TEN and ESS proactively invited the Queensland Police to view the footage, and they subsequently interviewed housemate Camilla, who reiterated she did not wish to take the matter forward.

While the footage was never broadcast, and will not be, TEN and ESS will fully cooperate with any Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) investigation, and we are confident that we have upheld the Television Industry Code of Practice and any other broadcasting law or regulation.

Ash and John were evicted because they broke the rules of housemate conduct. Big Brother is very popular, as evidenced by the strong and broad audiences it draws every night of the week, and will remain on air.

That still didn’t prepare us for what was broadcast on Big Brother last night, nor the loopy statements by host Gretel Killeen, who attacked critics for “exaggerated, ill-informed stories” about the “foolish” incident. She descried the evicted men as “fantastic housemates”.

Gretel Killeen has as much understanding of reality as many of the people in the Big Brother house if she believes that rubbish. What she said was “foolish” and ill-advised. What she said was also totally at odds with the seriousness recognised in the statements from Ten and Endemol Southern Star.

This latest incident was hard for Ten and Southern Star to stop; it was something that the two male housemates did. But the producers sought a certain type of contestant this year and sought a certain type of atmosphere and behaviour in the house.That’s where their responsibility lies: and for forcing Camilla to appear on national TV last night in a highly emotional state.

Peter Fray

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