Is it ethical to watch Love Island?

Controversies surrounding reality TV show unlikely to dent its impressive ratings

Love Island
Love Island 2019 begins tonight
(Image credit: ITV2)

Love Island returns tonight with a new batch of contestants hoping to find romance and win a cash prize in Majorca.

Last year’s finale was watched by 3.6 million viewers, breaking the record for ITV2’s most watched programme, but the show is not without controversy.

Duty of care

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In the past year, two former islanders - Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis - have died in suspected suicides, prompting calls for the show to be axed as The Jeremy Kyle Show was last month.

Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee announced an inquiry into the support offered by reality TV producers during and after filming, which could result in more regulatory oversight for television bosses.

But this hasn’t stopped 80,000 people applying to take part in the fifth series of the show.

Host Caroline Flack told The Sun’s Fabulous magazine that the programme has evolved and “the duty of care has become greater”, adding: “I don’t think you can just turn around and cast blame… you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s head, and if we did obviously we’d try to help.”

Flack compared Love Island to football, saying: “It’s a show that brings everyone together, like the World Cup, where you can all talk about it. It’s a show about love.”

ITV has published a detailed statement on its duty of care processes. Key changes for 2019 include better psychological support, a proactive aftercare package including a minimum of eight therapy sessions for every contestant and bespoke training on social media and financial management.

Dr Paul Litchfield, who was made a CBE for services to workplace well-being last year, independently reviewed the processes and concluded that they “show a degree of diligence that demonstrates the seriousness with which this is taken by the production team”.

Body image problem

Another common criticism levelled against Love Island is its lack of body diversity.

Today the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) published a survey that found reality TV made nearly a quarter of people aged 18 to 24 worry about their body image. Of 4,505 people surveyed, 23% said they had suicidal feelings because of such concerns.

Dr Antonis Kousoulis, of the MHF, said: “Millions of people enjoy Love Island for a whole range of reasons.

“Our research clearly shows that a large number of young people say reality TV has a negative impact on how they feel about their own bodies.

“Concern about body image is linked to anxiety, depression and feelings of shame and disgust.”

The Guardian notes that adverts for plastic surgery during broadcasts of the show were banned last year and “it is understood dieting products will also not be advertised during the show this year”.

An ITV spokesperson insisted that this year’s islanders come from a “diverse range of backgrounds with a mix of personalities”, but Richard Cowles, creative director of ITV Studios Entertainment, only fuelled the criticism, by saying in The Independent: “Yes we want to be as representative as possible but we also we want them to be attracted to one another.”

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Kick-starting careers

The Independent also points out that not all reality TV experiences are negative. “These shows have kick-started careers for thousands of contestants, propelling them into other industries such as music and broadcasting,” one unnamed former producer tells the newspaper.

Last year’s Love Island winner Dani Dyer has been estimated to earn as much as £15,480 for an Instagram post, while others have gone on to launch fashion lines, perform in West End shows and even star in their own reality TV shows.

The question of whether we, as a nation, are wrong to watch Love Island is emerging as “one of the great philosophical questions of our age”, wrote Tim Jonze in The Guardian.

He left the answer to Olivia Buckland, one of the few former contestants who went on to marry the islander they coupled up with on the show. She told him: “The intensity of the situation creates a real bond between people. People can see now that the relationships from last year have lasted, and that the friendships have lasted, too. You’re getting to see normal people fall in love, and that’s something you just don’t see on TV very often.”

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