Rebecca Ferguson calls for UK media watchdog to investigate reality TV shows

By Naomi Clarke and Mike Bedigan, PA

Singer Rebecca Ferguson has called for the UK media watchdog Ofcom to conduct an investigation into reality TV shows to “ensure the future safety of contestants”.

The Liverpool-born performer, who was a finalist on ITV’s The X Factor in 2010, has previously campaigned for the introduction of a regulatory body for the music industry, which would work to ensure artist welfare.

On Wednesday, Ferguson posted on her Twitter account a screenshot of an email which she said she sent to ITV and Ofcom in 2021 making a “formal complaint” in relation to the treatment of contestants on reality shows but said “my concerns appeared to be fobbed off”.

“I was refused by ITV and OFCOM, no investigation was taken place and my concerns appeared to be fobbed off,” she wrote.


“I am open to communication should they now wish to follow up with my private complaint now that I have made my complaint public.”

She cited reasons for her complaint relating to contestants being “mentally manipulated and abused whilst having mental health problems” and being “reduced to tears due to pressure/bullying”.

The singer also added that her complaint was in relation to contestants being “forced into contracts without independent legal advice” and having to sign with a management company with “no freedom of choice”.

Within the letter, Ferguson said she was making the complaint as she is “very concerned about the future contestants and their welfare”.

She wrote: “Although my life has moved on and my career is still thriving, I am very concerned about the future contestants and their welfare.

“I believe that Ofcom needs to conduct an urgent inquiry to ensure the safety of contestants and ensure adequate safeguarding measures are put in place to protect future contestants on these shows.”

An Ofcom spokesperson said that they did reply to Ferguson and met with her virtually in 2021.

Regent Street Christmas Lights 2016
Rebecca Ferguson (Ian West/PA) Photo by Ian West

“We listened carefully to the extent of her concerns about the treatment of contestants during her time on The X Factor in 2010,” a statement said.

“During these exchanges, we explained our powers and how our broadcasting rules apply in detail. We confirmed that new rules introduced to protect participants in programmes were not applicable to programmes broadcast before April 5 2021.

“We also clarified that our statutory remit, as set by Parliament, means that our fairness rules do not extend to contractual matters or conditions imposed by broadcasters on participants, and only to content as broadcast.

“We suggested to Ms Ferguson possible routes to escalate her complaints to ITV and the appropriate authorities.”

A statement from ITV said the broadcaster was “committed to having in place suitable processes to protect the mental health and welfare of programme participants”.

“We have continued to evolve and strengthen our approach, and we expect all producers of commissioned programmes to have in place appropriate procedures to look after the mental health of programme participants as well as their physical safety,” a statement read.

“Those processes and procedures will differ from programme to programme, to ensure that the welfare of all participants in ITV programmes is appropriately safeguarded.

Bridget Jones’s Baby – World Premiere – London
Rebecca Ferguson has called for the media watchdog to investigate reality TV shows (Ian West/PA) Photo by Ian West

“Whilst the practical detailed processes required to manage participant welfare in each programme must sit with producers themselves, ITV as a broadcaster and commissioner of content provides guidance on what we consider to be best practice: in the selection of participants before filming, in supporting them during filming, and in continued support up to and after the broadcast of the programme.”

ITV added that in its correspondence with Ferguson it had stressed that contestant welfare was of the “highest priority”, as reflected in its Duty of Care Charter and “detailed guidance” – introduced in 2019.

“ITV responded to Rebecca with information provided to us by the producers, detailing their arrangements regarding welfare, aftercare, legal advice, and management, at the time of her participation,” the statement read.

Following her success on The X Factor, Ferguson went on to release four albums and became a panellist on ITV’s Loose Women.

Her debut album Heaven, released in 2011, peaked at number three on the UK albums chart.

The singer also met with former UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden in April 2021 to discuss discrimination in the music industry, a meeting which she described at the time as “very productive”.

Her recent claims come after ITV instructed a barrister to carry out an external review of the facts following Phillip Schofield’s departure from This Morning.