Degree Name

Master of Arts - Research (Journalism)


School of Creative Arts


The main purpose of the thesis is to determine to what extent duty of care is extended to reality television participants, to what extent elements of reality television programming are manipulated and whether those manipulations are ethical.

Program participants are encouraged to be their ‘real’ and authentic selves, yet reality programming itself is often so extensively manipulated that the genre renders its own output inauthentic, thus compromising participants’ contributions and casting their performance in the same false light. Despite this, reality television continues to be promoted and marketed as representative of the real, despite evidence to the contrary and accusations that the generic term is a falsehood.

This research employed a methodology combining textual analysis with a mixed method study. Input was sought from scholars and psychologists from the United States of America (US), Australia and the United Kingdom (UK). The research revealed that almost every stakeholder in the genre manipulated other stakeholders in a cannibalistic and parasitic business model.

It was found that some manipulations were considered necessary, while others were even deemed ethical when situated in Kantian moral philosophy. Some manipulations were considered blatantly unethical when viewed through the same prism in the context of stakeholders using others to serve their own ends. It was also found that a range of important production processes were not standardised and this lack of standardisation allowed for the use of duplicitous production methods.

The research process also uncovered that between 1994 and 2011, 20 former reality television participants reportedly committed suicide following their contribution to a reality program. The psychological effects of participation in this programming has not been measured in any meaningful way and there is a considerable push from consulting psychologists to monitor participants for a year following their filmed participation to study the psychological effects of taking part.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.