The Slovenia Times

The Show Must Go



The Human Rights Ombudsman, Zdenka Čebašek-Travnik, has found that the reality show Big Brother, currently being aired by the Slovenian TV station Kanal A, contains violence and degrading behaviour with and among the participants, which violates the dignity and other human rights of those in the house. Furthermore, the ombudsman found that the fact that children are exposed to watching the show also qualifies as a breech of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As Čebašek-Travnik states, "The prohibition of torture, and inhuman and degrading punishment is outlined in Article 18 of the Slovenian Constitution. This prohibition ... is absolute, which means that any kind of consent to this kind of behaviour by the victim still does not make such actions permissible."

The ombudsman has made this official complaint against the producers of the show, following many complaints to her office that human rights were being violated in the house. Although not clearly stated, this questionable behaviour includes the contestants being forced to live in lodgings where only the bare minimum of hygienic requirements are met, while forced to wade through and sort piles of garbage and waste, having to strip to their underwear every time they go from one part of the house to another, weekly tasks which include being locked up in cages, or led around on a leash as dogs, only allowed to eat and drink when their "master" allows, and others.

The mere fact that the contestants are in the Big Brother house voluntarily, and can leave at any time, does not mean that they can be subjected to the kind of tasks and behaviour that the ombudsman has found to be degrading and on par with torture, and inhumane treatment.

Such degrading tasks have already led to two contestants leaving voluntarily, one of them following a physical fight with another. While in past shows, Big Brother would evict contestants for making racially or nationalistically coloured jokes, this time they were not so eager to stop a fight before it escalated into physical violence. It seems that the motto is, "anything to get the ratings up."

Big Brother Abusing Children

The ombudsman further contends that viewing these scenes of degrading treatment could seriously damage the development of children and young adults, which constitutes a breach of children's rights. The convention on the Rights of the Child in Article 17 mandates the states parties to adopt guidelines for the protection of children against information and other materials that could damage their wellbeing. In the opinion of Čebašek-Travnik, watching the activities in the Big Brother house poses such risk for children and young adults.

Despite this rather serious accusation, there have been no changes made, since the complaint by the ombudsman. The show continues, and most people still hold to the opinion that "if you don't like it, don't watch it." Perhaps the Slovenian Ombudsman should have explained her positions more clearly, as the human rights violation is not merely in the fact that the contestants are locked into a house with no contact with the outside world, but rather what they are forced to do in order to remain in the house and stay in the running for the grand prize of EUR 90, 000. Or perhaps Slovenia is just a country where putting people in cages naked, filming it and showing it on prime time television is considered appropriate behaviour: behaviour they would like their children engaging in, or maybe behaviour one would like to participate in.

The History of Reality Shows in Slovenia

The first reality show to be made in Slovenia was Sanjski moški (The Bachelor), which aired on Pop TV in 2004. The main aim of the show was for one man to choose his lady from among 25 female contestants. Sanjska ženska (The Bachelorette) was the next Slovenian reality show, which included one woman having to pick one man from among 25 contestants. We also saw the celebrity version of The Bachelorette, where Nina Osenar, the current host of the Big Brother Show, had to choose a mate from among 25 male contestants.

Bar, which aired on Pop TV on 26th September, 2005 and lasted until 17th December, 2005, was the next type of reality show filmed in Slovenia. The task of the contestants was to run a bar in Knafljev podhod in Ljubljana, while each week the viewers would vote one of the contestants off the show. The success of the first Bar, led to the airing of Bar 2, which ran from the 23rd of September, 2006 until the 16th of December, 2006.

Kmetija (The Farm) was another reality show in Slovenia, and included a group of contestants on a farm, which they had to run to the best of their ability. The difference between Kmetija, and the rest of the reality shows was that this one was pre-filmed, and did not include any input from the audience. The decisions on who was to leave the house were made entirely by the contestants.

Surprisingly, Big Brother, the first reality show conceived and enacted for mainstream audiences, didn't come to Slovenia until the 17th of March, 2007. The show, which is currently seeing its second season on Kanal A, involves locking the contestants into a house with cameras in every room and keeping them entirely cut off from the outside world for the period of 84 days. The goings-on in the house are filmed 24 hours a day, and each week the viewers vote for one of them to leave the house, with the last one left winning a cash prize.


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