Jungle reality TV show faces probe
15 January 2004
HAMBURG – A German reality TV programme, set in the middle of an Australian subtropical rain forest, is to face an enquiry by broadcasting authorities.
During the programme, burly men lock a skinny German teenager inside a glass sarcophagus in the and then dump 30,000 live cockroaches onto him – as millions of television viewers back home in Germany watch in glee while the youth shrieks and writhes in terror.
The show, aired live from Australia, is the German adaptation of the British and American hit “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” and it is being aired nightly on the RTL television network to record audiences.
RTL is racking up nearly 40 percent of households in the lucrative 14-49 age bracket during the nightly broadcasts. That is phenomenal in Germany’s hotly contested TV market, where more than 20 networks are vying for viewers.
But RTL is also coming in for scrutiny from broadcast authorities in Germany who fear that the commercial network has crossed the lines of bad taste and disregard for human dignity in its quest for ratings.
Broadcast authorities have announced an enquiry into allegations that RTL may have over-stepped the bounds of allowable broadcasting and may even have violated the national constitution.
“The federal constitution guarantees the protection of human dignity for all individuals,” said Peter Widlock, a broadcast authority spokesman. “We will be looking into the possibility that RTL has violated the constitutional rights of these contestants.”
As part of the network’s 20th anniversary jubilee, RTL sent 10 celebrities off to Australia where they were plunked down with a few cots and mosquito netting in the middle of intractable terrain in Lamington National Park near Brisbane and were told to fend for themselves – while camera crews observe their every move day and night.
To add to the suspense, the celebs are given only enough food for two meals a day. In order to get their supper, one celebrity has to undergo a pre-selected ordeal – such as being buried alive with cockroaches.
Other trials have included biting the head off a large beetle, wrestling a python, sticking one’s head into a tank full of eels and water spiders, and also raiding the nest of irate female emus while wearing a suit coated with molasses and birdseed.
Up to six million households in Germany tune in each evening at 10 p.m. – it is 8 a.m. Australian time – to watch the celebrities wake up for another day of battling the flora and fauna of subtropical mid-summer Australia.
And the viewers are never disappointed when, a few minutes into the show, one of the contestants breaks down in sobs after being selected for some hair-raising ordeal.
The viewers sit back in comfort at home and take positive delight in watching a guy hyperventilate when he is up to his eyeballs in cockroaches and spiders,” wrote a TV critic for Lausitzer Rundschau newspaper. “They get a thrill out of seeing all of these so-called celebrities get their comeuppance.”
The fact that the show has mass appeal with younger Germans is particularly alarming, the critic wrote. “This shows a definite decline in moral values,” he wrote.
It is definitely not the kind of fare which staid public broadcasters in Germany aired prior to the advent of commercial broadcasting when RTL took to the airwaves 20 years ago this month.
“These kinds of shows in recent years have brought about a disturbing change in societal attitudes,” says Professor Jo Groebel, head of the German Media Institute in Dusseldorf.
“The very idea that a terrified person could be buried alive under thousands of cockroaches on TV is bad enough,” Groebel said. “But imagine the impact these images have on impressionable minds. Young Germans grow up thinking that this is acceptable behaviour.”
Subject: German news