How ITV Blurred The Distinction Between Hancock Being A Politician And A Celebrity

How ITV Blurred The Distinction Between Hancock Being A Politician And A Celebrity

By Abbi Hoxleigh-

Matt Hancock’s appearance in I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here highlights the importance of broadcasters and the media considering the consequences of endorsing politicians as celebrities following the resulting complaints to Ofcom.

The boundaries become blurred when a politician appears on a combination of breaking news, reality TV, the Houses of Parliament, and then the family entertainment show. This mixture of messages becomes a catalyst for public confusion and the question of appropriateness.

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When members of parliament, past and present, are presented as television celebrities, it affects the true meaning of the word ‘celebrity.’ It does no justice when those individuals are known rule breakers, because setting respectable and ethical standards is always important.

Research by this publication found that the word is established with an honorary connotation independent of being known or famous. There are many benefits to politicians enjoying a significant level of media attention and becoming well-known by the general public, but that won’t always warrant the title of celebrity.

Depending on the format of the television show, MPs can bring public policy into the mainstream, demonstrate their humanity, build trust, and be seen as authentic and accountable as a person of the people.

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Former MP for West Suffolk, Matt Hancock’s appearance in I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here on ITV is a perfect example. The broadcaster’s dilemma created a situation where the audience was divided between public complaints to OFCOM that Hancock was included in the celebrity line-up and then a follow-up of complaints about his fellow contestants bullying him.

Promoting a man  as a celebrity who broke all the rules of government guidelines by breaching social distancing rules, including the parliamentary code of conduct was an obvious mistake by ITV. Never mind the automatic implication of a man who broke the guidelines by cheating on his wife, in the process breaking up his own family.

No broadcaster can justify selling such an individual as a celebrity. Without a shadow of doubt, the programme makers did not think deeply enough before signing off Hancock’s inclusion on the show, and can perhaps be forgiven for perceiving like most members of the public do, that the requirements for being a celebrity is simply to be well known.

Navigating who’s who in the media has become increasingly challenging in this age of influencers.

The word ‘celebrity’  has been misplaced over the years, and is conventionally understood  as defining a celebrity as someone who is recognised and famous for their achievements or prominence. Today we use the word ‘celebrity’ interchangeably with being in the public eye, which can create an issue.

Reality TV is a cycle of celebrities that takes everyday people to stardom, like Rylan Clark on XFactor, and some politicians win the nation’s hearts, such as Ed Balls, who grew a devoted following dancing to Gangnam Style on BBC Strictly Come Dancing. Some past celebrities use the reality TV platform to kick start their career again, and then there are those such as Hancock seeking public forgiveness.

Politicians make mistakes and the news media is full of political scandals, errors and mishaps, which can expose a level of incompetence or dishonour. Politicians need to acknowledge and take accountability for their mistakes; they will demonstrate transparency and express genuine remorse by addressing those impacted by their errors; if possible, they will explain their misdeeds and set out an improvement plan, but most of all, they will commit to change.

Did Hancock manage to achieve this by participating in continual bushtucker trials in I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here? Politicians once acted with a level of decorum that set them apart as decision-makers.

Reality TV strips them of the ability to carry themselves professionally, but leaves their reputation in the hands of the audience based on popularity contests and non-governmental capabilities. Reflecting on past serving Health Secretaries such as Jeremy Hunt, Virginia Bottomly, Norman Fowler and Enoch Powell, to name a few, it is difficult to imagine these politicians taking themselves to the celebrity jungle for a televised public humiliation for their mistakes.

Celebrity Culture

Celebrity culture has become an onslaught of bidding for visibility rather than the consideration of delivering thought-provoking substance in the age of mass media. Many MPs have been criticised for lacking relatable qualities as that makes their ability to cross boundaries into TV more challenging.

Ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson built a reliable public persona as an MP by appearing on programmes such as Have I Got News For You. Does that mean Rishi Sunak will incorporate selfies on TikTok to make himself accessible, rather than the live session he posted on LinkedIn?

Becoming a ‘celebrity’ for an MP needs relevance and purpose and a consideration of their role in the office, past or present, because they have been voted to make decisions on behalf of their constituency.

It is their policies that we hope got them elected, and that is the reason they are in the public domain in the first instance. Depending on the ‘context’ of the programme, MPs can enjoy spending time in the media personally and professionally.

However, there will always be those politicians who need the limelight more than others to help boost their reputation and win back the public vote. It is important that audiences are discerning when it comes to the differences between the role as MP and that of the ‘celebrity’ entertainer.

Broadcasters like ITV must responsibly draw the line on whom the sell to the public as being a celebrity. Being well known in the public eye is the known criteria, but being truly respectable should be another.

The latter will often be a value judgement, but where an individual has conducted themselves in a shameful manner that is still in the consciousness of the British public , at the very least, there has to be ample time for public healing and forgiveness before they can be sold to the public as one whose identity is worthy of celebration before they are allowed that valuable name tag.

The Eye Of Media.Com has respectfully asked ITV to carefully consider those it presents to the public as celebrities, taking into account the reasonable expectations of The British public.

Censoring those who appear on British television is not the recommendation here, careful choice and consideration is the least the British public can ask for from broadcasters.

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