MKs concerned over reality show degradation of women

Lawmakers call for tougher regulation in order to stop what they describe as a wave of statements degrading and even criminally harmful to women.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
March 10, 2011 03:48
4 minute read.
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shifra big brother 248 88 . (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Lawmakers called Wednesday for tougher regulation of reality programming in order to stop what they described as a wave of statements degrading and even criminally harmful to women.

Some of Israel’s top-rated television programs, including Beauty and the Geek, Survivor and – most prominently – Big Brother, came under fire during a hearing of the Knesset’s Committee for the Advancement of Women, for statements that legislators complained verged on illegal.

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MKs first launched their assault against Big Brother last month, when the show’s editor and the voice of “Big Brother” himself, Yoram Zak, was heard directing lewd comments at participant Dana Ron.

Zak claimed that he did not know that the microphones were on when he said “Good evening, Dana. You have half-a-minute to turn to the audience and convince them why you are the one who wants me to play with my [organ] between your breasts.”

Since then, lawmakers have kept an eye on the program, and discovered a long list of sexual comments, some of which, complained MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), violated laws prohibiting incitement to sexual violence.

Zuaretz, and fellow legislators from both coalition and opposition parties, called on television’s regulatory bodies to take a more active role in screening out content that is deemed inappropriate for prime-time programming.

“The fact that content of reality shows are being discussed in the Knesset at all shows that there is a systemic failure,” Zuaretz said.



“This isn’t a technical failure, as was claimed when Zak’s comments were broadcast, but a conscious editorial decision to increase profits at the expense of the participants, who are assaulted like contestants in a gladiator match, waiting for someone to die.

“The television franchises simply don’t have to broadcast messages on prime time that encourage violence in general and violence against women specifically,” she continued. “Afterwards, we wake up in the morning and see the problems of increased violence in our society, and wonder where it comes from.”

MK Nahman Shai (Kadima) agreed with Zuaretz that regulatory bodies must increase their involvement in reviewing content.

“The reality shows reflect a decline in the level of television broadcasts and in their oversight,” Shai said. “We see a hint of what will happen in Israeli television when franchises become licensees and the regulation will be reduced.

“The two public councils – the Second Authority and the Cable and Satellite Council – are afraid to use their authority and flee from the responsibility vested upon them. The result is base television that is simply insulting.”

Shai said that recently he saw a number of clips from Big Brother that included an explanation on how to have sex, drug stories and indecency.

He said that the live broadcast format, combined with a lack of oversight, was the root of the current problem, and added that he opposed any further regulatory legislation.

Television representatives at the meeting, however, defended their companies’ content choices.

“Big Brother is a program that elevates and glorifies the female sex,” argued attorney Zohar Kadmon-Sela, who represents Keshet, the franchise-holder that broadcasts Big Brother. “Powerful female figures, both intellectually and mentally, are presented on the program.

Women who take brave actions.”

Nitzan Chen, the chairman of the Cable and Satellite Broadcast Council, said that it would consider imposing a 10-minute delay on the live broadcasts of Big Brother in order to remove potentially harmful content.

Although the popular program currently is broadcast with a two-minute delay, lawmakers noted that the current arrangement has proven ineffective in allowing editors to block out what they deem to be the most harmful material.

In addition, the Second Authority’s representative at the hearing, Eilat Metzger, told MKs that the organization plans to approve on Thursday a convention that would regulate the behavior and statements of the production teams, franchise-holders, and participants in programming, and force them to take responsibility to not make statements that are “harmful.”

Nevertheless, she said, the Supreme Court had already ruled that the licensing authorities are not allowed to cancel a program on the grounds of poor taste or offending the public’s sensitivities.

But legislators seemed reluctant to believe that voluntary action would rectify the situation. Following the hearing, committee chairwoman Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) asked Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon to tell the Second Authority for Radio and Television to to use all of its oversight powers to “put a stop to the decline in the status of women on reality programs.

“In the event that clear instructions are not given regarding the use of content that harms women, I will advance legislation that will strengthen regulation on the subject,” Hotovely promised.

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