The ethics of reality TV is significant to our understanding of the production, content and reception of the genre as a whole. The relationship between ethics and reality programming is problematic, as reality TV is often criticised for its lack of ethics. Such criticism will often focus on the unethical treatment of ordinary people who participate in reality programmes, or unethical programme makers who use people's private stories for the purposes of public entertainment (Dovey 2000). This type of concern for the production of fair and responsible reality programming is part of a wider debate about the ethics of television production, and includes issues such as fairness, privacy, and taste and decency, issues at the forefront of content regulation (Winston 2000). Debate about the ethics of reality programming is important because non-professional actors have a right to be treated in a fair and responsible manner in reality programming, and programme makers have a responsibility to present stories of ordinary people and their experiences in an ethical manner. All too often ordinary people have little recourse to complain about the way they have been treated or represented in reality programmes (Kilborn and Hibbard 2000; Messenger Davies and Mosdell 2001). Rather than considering ethical practices within television production, I want to focus on ethics in relation to television reception.
Much content of reality programming is concerned with ethics. Reality TV, in the words of Gay Hawkins, has 'taken an ethical turn' (2001:412). In this chapter, and the following chapter, I want to explore how certain types of reality programming, such as health-based reality formats or lifestyle formats, have taken ethical issues concerned with how we live our lives, and about how other people live their lives, and made such issues a central component of the programmes. In particular, I want to focus on an aspect of ethics related to care. An ethics of care is a form of moral reasoning that we use to understand how we ought to care for our home and family. How television audiences respond to the 'ethical turn' in reality programming is significant in that it illuminates ethical values as represented in the programmes, and as discussed by viewers. The type of reality programmes that attract family viewers, such as health-based