The Real Deal: Experiences of and Attitudes towards Reality TV

The Real Deal: Experiences of and Attitudes toward…
01 Sep 2011

In the past the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has determined a variety of complaints relating to reality programmes. Such complaints most typically cite issues such as alleged breaches of privacy or unfair treatment. There is, however, very little local research in this area and as a result the BSA undertook a focused project examining the experiences of members of the public filmed as part of reality programmes, as well as exploring perceptions of, and attitudes towards, reality programmes from the perspective of those who watch them.

The definition of ‘reality television’ covers a wide range of programmes and the issues relating to appearing on such shows are equally vast. For this project, the focus (in terms of those taking part) was on people who may not willingly choose to participate in the programme. This narrowed down the focus to programmes where people are ‘caught up’ in the filming or filmed without their consent and/or knowledge. While there are a number of programmes that fit this criteria (for example, Target, Police Ten 7, Border Patrol, Coastwatch, Piha Rescue and Fair Go) it was not possible to include all of them in the research. For the purposes of this project, therefore, three programmes were selected: Target, Coastwatch and Piha Rescue.

This report presents the results of the research conducted.


The key objectives of the research were to:

• Gain an in-depth understanding of the experiences of people taking part in reality programmes, and

• Explore the perceptions of, and attitudes towards, these programmes from the perspective of the people that watch them.


  • Qualitative project exploring expectations viewers have of reality programmes (ie. reality programmes where people had not agreed, up front, to take part) and experiences of participants 'caught up' in filming of these programmes
  • 20 one-on-one interviews with participants
  • Four focus groups (regular viewers of reality programmes) in Auckland

Key Results

Responses by Viewers

  • Reality programmes of this nature are primarily seen as entertainment by viewers. However, they also function to provide information or to educate.
  • There is a degree of confusion among members of the public concerning issues of privacy (ie. the rights of the public when they are filmed and if that footage is broadcast) and some relates to the rights of the producer or broadcaster of the programme (ie, their rights to film and broadcast).
  • This is especially true when filming takes place in a public place and, there even was confusion over what constitutes a ‘public place’.
  • Viewers recognise that filming by hidden camera carries an extra degree of risk to the subjects. Viewers are able to weigh the public interest in broadcasting hidden camera footage.
  • There were mixed views on whether pixellisation should be used to disguise the identities of those filmed, some felt it was a good thing, some felt it was unnecessary, especially if someone was ‘guilty’.

Responses by Participants

  • As with viewers, there was a degree of confusion and lack of knowledge amongst participants about their rights to privacy.
  • This primarily relates the rights around filming (both overtly and covertly) and whether the footage could be broadcast without their consent.
  • It is preferable if participants are aware of the probability or even possibility of being on television.
  • Clear efforts are made to ensure no participants are ‘surprised by the broadcast and the BSA encourages these efforts to be as exhaustive as possible.


For the BSA the key recommendation is that the public would be well served by clear, accessible information about the issues raised by this report, particularly around rights to privacy, filming and broadcast.

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018