Channel 5 Ordered To Pay £20,000 To Couple They Filmed Being Evicted
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Getting evicted from your home or having your things repossessed would have to be up there as one of the worst experiences imaginable - both mentally damaging and painful.
But imagine having that pain broadcast around the UK for a reality TV show titled Can't Pay? We'll Take It Away. The Channel 5 programme is described as: "Follows the bailiffs and repo men charged with sorting out those who have fallen into debt."
One couple who appeared on the show, however, weren't happy with being filmed at one of their lowest points and took legal action. Shakir Ali and Shahida Aslam woke up one morning to find their landlord and a camera crew outside.
The cameras went all through the house to get shots of their living arrangements and the landlord's son reportedly berated the couple for living on housing benefits and being unemployed.
A court has found the production went too far in its quest to film a scenario that Channel 5 argued was in the public interest. Lawyers for the channel said that by filming these situations and capturing their moment of heartbreak, it 'was the best way to engage the public and stimulate debate'.
The production notes were revealed in court, which showed the crew were only really trying to stoke some drama out of the couple. According to the Guardian, the notes said: "Eviction of a seemingly gentle tenant from hell and his very stroppy wife... the main drama here is the confrontation between the landlord and the tenants."
While some might ask who would want to watch people dealing with a pretty rough situation, it appears the show is a big hit, with nearly 10 million viewers over an 18-month period.
Mr Justice Arnold ruled in favour of Shakir and Shahida, ordering Channel 5 to pay the mum and dad £20,000 ($28,000). But the real sting was in his delivery of the statement, in which he had some choice words for the network.
"The focus of the programme was not upon the matters of public interest, but upon the drama of the conflict," he said in his ruling. "The programme did contribute to a debate of general interest, but I consider the inclusion of the claimants' private information went beyond what was justified for that purpose."
Channel 5 issued a statement which welcomed the justice's comments about 'debate of general interest' but insisted this was an isolated incident and not symptomatic of reality TV shows in general.
The ruling will now serve as a reminder to shows likeCan't Pay? We'll Take It Away to ensure their stories are for the public interest rather than just low-key drama.