Question of ethics raised by new reality show


Over the last few years reality shows throughout the world have enjoyed growing popularity among both radio and TV audiences, and the Czech Republic has not been immune. Following the Czech release of Pop Idol, broadcasters in this country, have been looking for new ways to attract audiences through the reality format. But none has gone as far as Cerna Hora - a commercial radio station in east Bohemia - that hit upon the idea to offer listeners a chance to win - not a new car or a paid vacation - but a trip to the plastic surgeon's.

Shows like "I Want a Famous Face" or "The Swan" offering contestants plastic surgery may now be common in the U.S., but this is the first time Czechs are offering a similar format: the chance to improve one's appearance under the surgeon's knife. If you think few people would be interested, think again: some 200 contestants have called in to take part since the show began earlier this month, each telling why they think they should win. Marcel Kotyk is Radio Cerna Hora's director of programming:

"There are a lot of participants and the people are very serious: nobody makes fun of it, or jokes, they are really serious about winning this contest."

Marcel Kotyk disagrees with criticism the project is in poor taste: he says the contest could really change someone's life.

"Of course there are a lot of people who just want to improve their appearance. But, we do have people who want us to help them with their accident."

So, somebody who was disfigured...

"Yes. For example we have a man who was working with a chainsaw and the chain broke and hit him in the face. An awful accident, he is one of our contestants."

But, the idea of contestants vying for plastic surgery, even those who need it, has provoked strong feelings and strong opposition. Jiri Mikes is a professional media watcher and an official of the Council for Advertising. He says if the winner of the contest were decided by professional surgeons it would be alright, but that under the current circumstances, in which the winner will haphazardly be decided by phone-in listeners, the project is highly-dubious at best.

"I don't like it at all, you know, it's a question of ethics and I do think it's against human beings and normal life."

Arguably, though, if people are willing to take part?

"Well, certainly people are willing to listen to the 'wrong' music and read the 'wrong' books and prefer tabloids to good newspapers. Such is life today: I think civilisation is at an end."

On its website, beside a picture of Marilyn Monroe, Radio Cerna Hora promises to "Change your life forever" and "shocking change within reach". The one thing it doesn't promise is "happiness" and the winner going to the plastic surgeon's will have to weigh carefully whether "shocking change" is really what he or she wants, or needs.