High-rating reality series such as SAS Australia are not only a source of entertainment for viewers, but a platform for controversial figures — and sometimes, convicted criminals — to redeem themselves in the eyes of the public.
Whatever their circumstances, reality TV continues to serve as a stage for them to plead their case, to prove they’re not as bad as the headlines have made them out to be, or not as destructive as their former partners claimed they were.
After all, they’re human, too, right?
**TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains graphic references to violence and domestic violence and may be triggering to some readers.
However, fans of the Special Forces training course were in an uproar upon the announcement of the 2022 cast.
In 2007, Wayne pleaded guilty to two counts of battery on a law enforcement officer after kicking a female police officer in the mouth when she responded to an incident in a Miami hotel where Wayne allegedly smashed a wine glass in the face of then-partner, Kate Neilson. Ten years earlier he had pleaded guilty to indecent assault after grabbing a woman’s breast on a Melbourne street.
Despite all of this, Wayne has still maintained a successful football commentating career with the Seven Network since 2014 and was thrust back into primetime limelight in 2020, when Seven cast him in The All New Monty: Guys and Gals to raise awareness of various cancers.
Now, he heads up SAS Australia 2022 three nights a week in a primetime position.
Regardless of how admirable the circumstances may be, by parading these controversial individuals around on their famed programs, the Seven Network is sending the message that these acts of violence have been forgiven and forgotten.
Channel Seven’s 2021 Line-Up Featured Similar Personalities
Imagine turning on your television and being faced with your abuser. An abuser who is now being featured as the next big star of your favourite reality TV show, despite being charged with threatening your family, beating you or glassing you — maybe even after holding you at gunpoint.
To you, it may seem unlikely, however, this is the reality for countless women, who are victims of men who have made their way onto the Seven Network’s lineup of primetime reality shows.
More recently (and probably the most baffling), Meghan Markle’s half-brother, Thomas Markle Jr, was cast on the inaugural season of Big Brother VIP Australia.
Markle was heroed by the network as the “controversial” contestant ready to spill the dirt on his royal-adjacent sister, but if you dig a little deeper, perhaps the most controversial and harrowing thing of all is that he himself was charged in 2017 with unlawful use of a weapon and menacing, after pointing a gun at the head of his then-girlfriend Darlene Blount.
He was arrested again in January of 2019 on a DUI (driving under the influence) charge in Oregon, blowing a blood alcohol level of .11 per cent. The state’s legal limit is .08 per cent.
Thomas is certainly not the first, and unfortunately, dare we say the last, convicted abuser to land a star on the reality TV hall of fame.
The Seven Network is dismissing their behaviour to be “in the past”, giving them a redemption arc they don’t necessarily deserve and then using them as a form of “entertainment” and capitalising on their controversial pasts for shock value and in turn, higher ratings, despite the fact that domestic violence culture is still rife right now in our country.
According to Mission Australia, one in four Australian women experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Alarmingly, many cases of family and domestic violence are never reported, which makes it all the more heartbreaking for the women who do report assault to then see their abuser put on a pedestal and raised to hero status on a popular TV show that is going to be extremely hard to avoid, no matter how hard they try.
They wouldn’t dare cast the man who doused his wife, Hannah Baxter, and their children with gasoline and set them alight as a contestant on Big Brother or SAS, so why give airtime to celebrity men with a similar rap sheet? Or any rap sheet at all. Is it because they’re a famed footy legend? A controversial conversation starter? Maybe they just want to “set the record straight”. Do these things automatically override any crimes they have committed?
In a teaser trailer for SAS Australia 2021, recruit and disgraced former South Sydney Rabbitohs captain Sam Burgess can be seen breaking down during the interrogation portion of the special forces reality series, confessing he “lost it all” after being arrested for being driving under the influence of cocaine in February 2021.
According to Fox Sports, Sam allegedly choked out one of the instructors of SAS during an intense “kidnapping” exercise, where the “soldier was so damaged that an ambulance had to be called”. The rugby league player was also previously found guilty of intimidating his ex-wife Pheobe Hooke‘s father Mitchell Hooke, but the charges were quashed in May this year.
Similarly, though not as terrifying, the network cast Schapelle Corby in the 2020 season, who was not convicted of abuse, but was convicted of smuggling cannabis into Indonesia and spent nine years in a Bali prison.
Putting Sam and Schapelle back onto pedestals of influence brings to light one of the most grinding realities of casting individuals with egregious criminal histories: that as long as these people are presented to us on screen, viewers will tune in to laugh, cry and even sympathise with these figures — who will no doubt continue to be awarded glittering superlatives — allowing them to play out their redemption arcs as if their damning charges are just a tiny little blip in their careers.
It’s time the Seven Network take a long, hard look at what and, more importantly, WHO, they award screentime to, and reassess the picture they’re depicting to viewers — one that reveals their repetitive blatant attempts to give problematic people a platform.
When discussing Katie Hopkins’ (rightful) dumping from Big Brother VIP prior to filming and her subsequent deportation back to the UK in 2021, the Shameless podcast hosts Michelle Andrews and Zara McDonald highlighted that the Seven Network is “massively powerful in our media landscape and… has continually exposed itself as having the most backward values and priorities in Australia as far as the media industry is concerned”.
“Channel Seven is arguably the most dangerous and destructive when it comes to societal values,” Michelle said at the time, though she did note that this does not mean other networks are without their shortcomings.
“Big Brother is the same show that has a host in Sonia Kruger, who has said that maybe it’s time to stop Muslim immigration to the country to end terrorism.
“It’s also the network that, earlier this year, gave Craig McLachlan a primetime spotlight program to discuss and defend the number of sexual harassment and assault allegations against him.”
The Seven Network has scraped the bottom of the barrel, and in some cases, their bank accounts, to have international personalities and people with criminal histories appear on their most popular primetime shows, instead of amplifying the voices of diverse and deserving Australians.
We asked the Seven Network why they choose to cast such polarising characters in shows such as SAS and Big Brother, however, they had not responded at the time of publication.
Sheeren Kiddle from @MyRedFlags — a support and advocacy group started by women who had influential, media profiled husbands who were abusers — said that “the behaviours and beliefs expressed by… TV contestants may further be normalised by tolerance and a lack of accountability within the show”.
“For viewers, it is ‘just a TV show’ but it can serve as a purposeful platform for insight and awareness of issues that impact us,” she told So Dramatic!.
At the other end of the spectrum, Network Ten presented itself to advertisers as the network to align with if their brand’s aim is to “promote and employ social justice, equality and inclusion” during its mid-year UpClose online presentation in June last year.
“We are acutely aware of our ability to influence culture, which raises a number of questions about our responsibility,” chief sales officer Rod Prosser said at the presentation, which proves there is room for networks to be progressive and to take the initiative to be forward-thinking and inclusive of morals which resonate with their target audience.
As Shameless made a point of noting, change all comes down to the values television networks want to implore in every facet of their operations, and according to the Seven Network’s Linkedin page, their purpose and core values include “Be[ing] the Solution”.
“Take initiative and own it.”
But looking at the Seven Network, there is no sight of a solution or responsibility being taken for the violent culture they’re inciting — only a company so entrenched in gaining ratings through shock factor and controversial participants that they are too blind to see the real damage and issue burdening network television: themselves.
If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also talk to someone from 1800RESPECT via online chat. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.
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