MKs call reality TV 'a danger to children'

Say shows fail to adequately warn audience members against trying the tricks at home.

geller 88 (photo credit: )
geller 88
(photo credit: )
The many dangers facing Israel were on the minds of Knesset members Monday as they debated Kassam attacks on Sderot, smuggling in Egypt and reality TV. MKs from across the political spectrum came together in the Knesset's Education Committee to debate two new reality TV shows that feature "magicians" performing various feats. "These types of shows romanticize the antics of their performers and convince young children to try the same at home," said committee chairman Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad). "There is a dangerous recipe brewing here, and I do not want to stand idly by while young people in Israel injure themselves, and God forbid, die because of irresponsible television." The two shows in question, Channel 2's "The Heir" with Uri Geller, and Channel 10's "Inconceivable" with Nimrod Harel, were blasted by MKs for failing to adequately warn audience members against trying the tricks at home. Melchior told the committee of one instance in which Geller claimed to stop his heartbeat for 30 seconds. The next day, a young boy in the North was hospitalized for attempting to try the same trick at home. "The Web sites for these shows even encourage people to 'go ahead and explore at home;' what type of message is that?" asked MK Zevulen Orlev (National Union-National Religious Party). Orlev, who was responsible for legislation in 2002 that forced television stations to mark certain shows as inappropriate for those under 12, suggested that he would create laws that would take further steps to censor shows unsuitable for young people. The debate surrounding reality TV shows has been raging in the US and Europe for years, with many countries imposing their own laws and restrictions on when, how, and where TV stations can air certain programs. Most famously, senator and then-Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman campaigned for the popular MTV show "Jackass" to be taken off the air. MTV refused to cancel the show, which showed several characters performing dangerous and self-injuring stunts and pranks, but announced that they would only air the episodes after 10 p.m. Channels 2 and 10 currently air their shows at 9 and 10 p.m. respectively in order to prevent younger children from watching the shows, said a Channel 2 spokeswoman. "We have already changed the programs so that there are warnings for viewers not to try these stunts at home," said the spokeswoman. "We are doing everything in our power to make sure no one comes to harm. For the Knesset to come in and try to censor us is completely unnecessary." While most of the Knesset members seemed to support a bill introduced by Melchior at the start of the meeting that would impose restrictions on "dangerous" TV shows, several MKs said they were swayed by "the magic" of a speech given towards the end of the meeting by magician Nimrod Harel. "Do you know who Eric Weiss is?" Harel asked the quiet room. "Well, he's the most famous Jewish magician in history - Houdini. What I have done on my show has been done by thousands of other magicians all over the world as part of the magic started by Houdini. If people had told Houdini that he couldn't wrap himself in chains and get thrown underwater to free himself, they would have destroyed the art of our magic." Harel said that the first two-thirds of his program showed him training to undertake the stunts that he performs at the close of the show. "We have to ask ourselves - where do we draw the line? When is it the responsibility of the parent?" said Harel. "The line you are drawing now is a type of censorship that takes us back to the 1950s." "I don't know if I have fallen under a spell," said MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) after Harel spoke, "but Harel's words have made me reconsider supporting this bill." Geller had also been invited to attend the committee meeting, but a spokeswoman for Melchior said that Channel 2 forbid him to attend.