Just their statements, not the questions asked after:
JODI: First of all my husband and I would like to thank you for this opportunity to discuss with you the need for guidelines and protection for children involved in reality
TV shows. Specifically, we are requesting that this new media format is included into the existing laws that are followed by scripted TV formats. My name is Jodi Kreider and my husband Kevin and I are sitting before you today as both advocates and voices for the children involved in reality TV. We have prepared a brief statement for you designed to outline the issue and provide the critical observations that support our request for immediate action to protect these children. We will also present you some possible solutions for this serious issue. The bottom line is the current laws designed to protect children involved in television production are outdated. They need to be revised to include the new reality format to insure that every child is protected. These children deserve the same legal protection and ethical safeguards provided to children involved in scripted television.
My husband and I are here as first person witnesses to the serious concerns raised and damages resulting from the lack of protection for the children involved in reality TV. My husbands’ sister is Kate Gosselin. Kate, along with her husband Jon, [Jodi chokes up here] and their eight beautiful children, were the stars of TLC’s reality show Jon and Kate Plus 8 for five seasons. What started out as a simple documentary to capture what it was like for a young couple to have one set of twins and one set of sextuplets turned into TLC’s highest rated weekly show. It is very important to make clear that we are not here because of Jon and Kate’s decision to be filmed. We are here because of what we saw, and what we did not see. We saw many concerning safety issues and did not see any safeguards in place to protect these children’s rights.
My husband Kevin and I along with our four children lived right around the corner in the same development as Jon and Kate. We spent a great deal of time enjoying everyday activities and special occasions at each other’s house. Because of our family’s close involvement we were included in some of the first few shows. My husband enjoyed helping Jon with small projects in the garage and I was filmed sometimes when I was looking after the children. My husband will now describe a few of our concerns with actual illustrations.
KEVIN: Our direct involvement with Jon and Kate Plus 8 has provided my wife and I with first-hand observations that will support our view that reality TV needs to follow the same guidelines as scripted TV. I will briefly address eight important concerning issues.
The first, the format was planned and formal. Jon and Kate signed a complicated contract without a lawyer to represent them. Once the contracts are signed the producer sits down with Jon and Kate and develops show content for each episode.
Secondly, the extensive professional filming schedule. Large professional camera lighting equipment was permanently installed in the kitchen, living room, dining areas, all around the house. Their daily routine revolved around the needs of a designed episode, rather than having a crew just follow around their normal routine. A crew included a video camera operator, audio operator, and producer, would follow the children around for and average of two to three days to get enough footage for a half hour episode. What started as a simple 2-hour documentary ended with Jon and Kate producing over a hundred episodes in two years. Just two years.
Thirdly, privacy rights concerns. Video cameras were installed in the children’s bedrooms. These cameras operated continuously in an effort to capture unscripted moments, positive and negative, to provide TV production company with enough clips to fill a half hour episode. The children’s potty training with skin exposed was filmed by camera crews in the children’s bathroom often without a parent present. These scenes were uploaded onto the internet and burned onto the season’s DVDs. The children’s potty training videos still remain to be highly viewed on the internet.
Fourth, the potential psychological damage. One very vivid example comes to mind. The children were told it was Christmas morning. It was so the camera crew could get the genuine reaction of the children. It wasn’t until after, until later, they were told it was not Christmas morning, they just did it for the show. Can you imagine how confused eight little kids were that morning? One child in particular had many outbursts captured on the show. Now media, general public and children at school have labeled her as the difficult or bad one.
Fifth, the lack of adult supervision. The children were often left alone with one or more production crew member without a parent present. These areas include bathroom, bedroom, basement, backyard, only to name a few.
Next, is increased professional demands. The children would voice their dislike for going on studio promotional events to promote the upcoming season or special event. The children would also consider the sit down interview times a chore or something to accomplish so they could resume their playtime. Remember, this is said to be an unscripted reality show. Extra security is hired to protect the children from the media frenzy at their last promotional event in New York City.
Next, lack of financial security. In scripted TV the law states that every child involved in the filming receives financial compensation. This includes an amount that is to be put in an irrevocable trust fund. In reality TV those laws do not exist. There are no rules to provide and protect a child’s financial security. Remember, these shows are created because of these children, and they are the only participants not receiving compensation.
Lastly, elevated personal security risks. TLC provided Kate with a bodyguard due to her high profile and concern for a large number of unknown people who have voiced their unkind and some disturbing comments about her treatment to her husband that was shown on the TV show. There are many disturbing, disturbing and threatening comments that are posted on newspaper blogs and social media formats against Jon, Kate and their children. There have also been many psychologists who have voiced their concerns, stating, “the act of providing such personal details and images of the children foster inappropriate and misleading ideas to some of the mentally unstable citizens. I’ll now pass it back over to my wife Jodi for some final remarks.
JODI: From my husband’s comments I’m confident you’ll now realize that there is very little reality involved in the production of a reality TV show. The only real thing are the issues and concerns for the non professionals who are involved. We are simply asking that the existing law for scripted TV include reality TV as soon as possible. This is an urgent issue. with production costs much lower, fewer filming restrictions and potential for high profit, the reality TV production companies are now seeking new large families, multiple sets of babies, families in conflict, to contact them for possible future filming. During Jon and Kate’s separation, Jon refused to allow his children to be filmed by reality TV, expressing a new insight from both disturbing comments from people toward his family members and concerning behavior some of his children were exhibiting.
TLC has now announced a new TV show with Kate and her children after she finishes Dancing With the Stars. Our goal is to have the law revised so that not only [Jodi chokes up again] our nieces and nephews will be protected, but for all children who are now or who will be involved in reality TV.
There are some people who view reality TV as an easy way to get fame and fortune. During these tough economic times we are hearing more and more troubling stories about desperate parents doing desperate things. You may have remembered the recent balloon boy story in the news. It wasn’t long ago where parents instructed their young son to be involved in a fabricated story about his son possibly in a runaway homemade balloon. This sparked national media attention and involved a major emergency response. They later admitted they pulled this stunt in the hopes to be contacted by the reality TV production company they had reached out to earlier. It is very important to note that the emergency responders and the public were put at risk responding to this unusual event.
Our suggested solutions to this problem. Number one: Because children are unable to provide informed consent about a decision that has potential to inflict serious harm to their personal development, they should not be allowed to be involved in any reality TV programming.
Secondly, for the children that are currently involved in reality TV production, they should be required to become a member of the Screen Actors Guild, a labor organization whose mission is to negotiate the best possible wages and working conditions for professional actors, even young ones. The Screen Actors Guild represents its members through negotiation and enforcement of collective bargaining agreements that establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits and working conditions for the performers, the collection of compensation for exploitation of their recorded performances and protection against unauthorized use. They are provided with guidance to protect their privacy and personal information as well as health and safety issues. Most importantly, the Screen Actors Guild are on set to protect all members especially working children. It is their job to insure that all SAG rules including work hours and safety rules are being followed. When children are on set, the SAG represented is keeping an eye out for the following. Number one, Are the children being asked to work overtime? Or beyond their permitted work hours? Are they getting adequate rest times? Are they being tutored in a safe and effective manner? Have them been asked to do hazardous work? Are they permitting the parents to be in sight and sound of the children at all times? Have they been provided with an appropriate dressing room area?
In closing, reality TV is a powerful media format with the potential for serious personal harm for adults and especially children. There are already harmful personal, private and embarrassing moments that the children cannot defend, delete or erase after they are uploaded on the internet for anyone to watch at the click of a button. Children need to be protected from potential danger. Reality TV has the potential to cause real danger, period. These children deserve the same protections for those involved in scripted TV because they are, after all, only children. With your support the children will be given a voice and provided their right to legal protection in regards to the reality TV industry. Thank you.
REP. MURT: First of all I want to thank you for testifying today Kevin and Jodi, and I hope the committee understands that I requested them to come here, they did not seek me out, I sought them out, so we could learn as much as we possibly could about this concept of reality TV.