Friday, March 22, 2002
Athens, Greece The head of Greece's television regulatory agency suspended broadcasts Thursday of two popular reality television shows, including "Big Brother," for violating laws on public decency and dignity.
To become permanent, the decision would require approval by the 11-member National Council for Radio and Television when it meets on Friday.
Broadcast by Greece's biggest private channels, Antenna and Mega, the two shows have some of the highest ratings. But in recent weeks, they have became the focus of intense public debate after showing scenes that include nudity or allusions to sex. Antenna carries "Big Brother," while Mega broadcasts "The Bar."
Council chief Vasillis Lambridis said representatives of the two channels would be questioned by the national watchdog group before it votes.
Government spokesman Christos Protopappas would not comment on the decision.
Mega said it would not air the show pending the council meeting, but criticized what it called an "unprecedented preventive ban."
Antenna said it would broadcast "Big Brother" and said its lawyers were examining the legality of Lambridis' surprise decision.
"The issue which has been raised is primarily political. Above all, it is an issue of democracy and respect of the principles of liberalism," the Antenna statement said.
The council was to discuss the possibility of shifting the programs to post-midnight time slots. They currently air at 10 p.m. for one hour.
Both stations have invested heavily in the shows, which are among the biggest earners for the channels.
"Big Brother" consists of 12 contestants living for 112 days in a house filled with cameras and microphones following their every move. One by one, the television and Internet audience vote them off the show. The last one to leave receives a cash prize of about $130,000.
"Big Brother" originated on Dutch television in 1999 and is produced for global audiences by Endemol Entertainment of the Netherlands. Its success spawned other reality shows around the world. In the United States, a version has aired on CBS.
The show borrows its name from George Orwell's novel "1984," in which society lives in constant terror and surveillance of a one-party state led by Big Brother.
"The Bar," has 14 contestants living together in an Athens apartment next to a bar which they must operate for 14 weeks. Both locations are filled with cameras and microphones. Every week a contestant is voted off the show with the last one winning $133,500.
Both shows are tame compared to other television fare in a country which consists of lurid soap operas, soft porn movies late at night and partial nudity in advertising.
The reality shows have been criticized by politicians, academics and religious leaders who think that they degrade contestants, provide a negative social image for young people and erode family values.
But few critics have demanded the shows be taken off the air.
In a related development, Turkey's state broadcasting board ordered a television channel off the air for six days for broadcasting a "Big Brother"-like reality show deemed to violate conservative Turkish family values, officials said Thursday.