Big payouts could come for our reality TV ‘villains’
Reality TV stars could be in for a big payday - and that's bad news for the networks who earn millions of dollars from Australia's most watched shows.
A landmark ruling this week said Channel 7 was liable for trauma suffered by a contestant, who went on to have mental health struggles after filming the House Rules home renovation show.
The shock ruling from the NSW Workers Compensation Commission threatens to change the way Australians are treated on some of the most watched shows on television.
Arbitrator of the NSW commission, Cameron Burge, found in favour of House Rules contestant Nicole Prince, who claimed psychological trauma after she appeared on the home renovation show.
Prince claimed she was harassed and bullied while filming the show in 2017. The commission agreed with her that she was an employee and the Seven Network ordered to compensate her for medical treatment costs.
Industry experts believe the ruling has opened a can of worms for television networks and production companies.
One of the most infamous Australian reality contestants of recent years has fired a warning shot, saying she is seriously considering legal action over what happened to her since her appearance on the massively rating Married At First Sight.
Tracey Jewel told the Sunday Herald Sun that her mental health was wrecked after MAFS aired on Channel 9 in 2018 and she has spent thousands of dollars trying to get better.
"To be honest, since [the show] I have just been focusing on my mental health … It hadn't even crossed my mind I could take action against Channel 9."
It now has.
"Since this precedent setting ruling, my phone hasn't stopped … lawyers have been calling, wanting to represent me."
Jewel wanted to make clear there was a big difference in former stars wanting to make a "quick cash grab" and cases like hers where she has suffered.
"I think there is an important distinction there, I have been pretty open about my mental health journey so it's all fairly well documented."
She understood there would be some backlash and accepted some would form the view that people knowingly signed up for the consequences of appearing on national television.
"But no one expects that kind of bullying and trolling."
She was subjected to taunts about her appearance and her relationships both on and off the show.
She would make her decision on any legal action soon.
"I don't know if I will, but I'm definitely considering it."
Entertainment lawyer Yasmin Naghavi told the Sunday Herald Sun she had been expecting a reality show agreement to be tested.
"These are no mere competitions for prize money. These competitions are highly commercialised programs designed and edited for the primary purpose of generating advertising income and ratings success," Ms Naghavi said.
"Not only are the producers exercising considerable control over contestants both during and after the competition, they are exploiting the image and likeness of the contestants for very little consideration."
She believed it could bring big change to the industry.
"This decision, if upheld, has the potential to open the floodgates for not only similar claims, but also in relation to whether contestants are employees for tax or superannuation purposes or otherwise pursuant to the Fair Work Act 2009."