Rise of reality TV spurs look into Pennsylvania’s child labor laws


[from The Montgomery News (Penn.), Published: Tuesday, April 20, 2010]

 By Jesse Reilly
Staff Writer

With the number of television and movie productions increasing in Pennsylvania the state’s House Republican Policy Committee held a public hearing at the Blair Mill Inn in Horsham Wednesday to begin the process of possibly updating the Keystone State’s child labor laws.

“According to the Internet Movie Database, 922 productions took place in Pennsylvania from 2002 to 2008,” state Rep. Stanley Saylor, chairman of the committee, said, adding that knowing that the industry is growing the committee was hoping to determine if the state’s laws are adequate, if they are being enforced and what needs to be done to strengthen them.

The staggering rise of reality television shows also energized the need for change, state Rep. Tom Murt said.

“The laws must evolve too,” he said. “We need to ensure that we are providing appropriate protection for the children.”

Providing testimony at the hearing were former child star Paul Petersen, civil rights advocate and attorney Gloria Allred, Rebecca Gullan, a professor of psychology at Gwynedd-Mercy College; Robert O’Brien, the executive deputy secretary for the state’s Department of Labor and Industry; as well as Kevin Kreider, the brother of television reality star Kate Gosselin, and his wife, Jodi.

Having participated in the early days of the now discontinued “Jon & Kate Plus Eight, the Kreiders said the situations the eight Gosselin children were put in throughout the show’s five seasons was “very disturbing.”

“There is very little reality involved in the production of a reality television show,” Jodi said.

A number of clips taken in the children’s bedroom and bathroom when they were potty training are available online, she said

The Kreiders said they were concerned with the position the footage puts the children in and the long-term effects and could have on them.

“It started out as a documentary, very innocently, but then it turned into a circus,” Kevin said. “It went from a way to record family moments to planned episodes for viewers and ratings.”

According to the Kreiders, the children’s daily routine revolved around the needs of the television show. The crew, including a video camera operator, audio operator and producer, were around the children two to three days a week.

Throughout the show the Kreiders said the children voiced dislike for going to promotional events and were confused and upset over certain staged moments.

Because children cannot provide consent the Kreiders suggested that children not be able to be involved in reality television shows. The two also said they thought kids involved in reality productions should be required to become members of the Screen Actors Guild to ensure they are compensated for their work.

Petersen agreed.

“We have become far too careless with our kids, with the quality of their education, their broadcast images and their need for spiritual nourishment and right to privacy,” he said in his testimony. “There is no delete button on the Internet. Once your identity becomes public there is no going back.”

Throughout his testimony Petersen questioned the strength of the state’s current laws and touched on a new set of rules needed for reality TV.

“There are writers, producers, publicists and paid production crews. There are hand-crafted stories and do-overs and second takes,” he said. “It’s just too easy to excuse the working reality of television production by believing in the term `reality show.'”

Allred, a native of Philadelphia, focused on the legal side of the entertainment business.

“Children working as performers are exempt from the fair labor laws,” she said. “The welfare of children is put at risk and kids are increasingly being exploited.”

To combat the growing problem, Allred encouraged the legislators to look to a law that would require a trust fund, with a portion of the money they earn, to be returned to them when they turn 18.

Working with the legislators, the attorney agreed that the work had to be defined to include multiple situations as well as providing pay to reality workers and ensuring that necessary permits are obtained for young children.

Addressing the psychological damages early stardom can have on children, Gullan outlined the bond young children form with their caretaker in infancy and early childhood, through school age and adolescence.

In infancy and early childhood, she said that reality television has, “the potential to create an atmosphere that challenges the child’s need for consistency both in terms of parents’ time as well as routine, rules and expectations.”

Issues of trust and pressures are found in school-aged children who are involved in reality television and teens may develop increased narcissism, increased difficulties with trust and a confused sense of one’s place in the world.

“Although one might not say conclusively that children should or should not participate in reality shows or television in general, if these shows are to take place, great care should be taken to produce them in such a way that puts development needs of the children and adolescents first,” she said.

Finally, O’Brien agreed that it was time for change.

“Pennsylvania’s current law has not kept pace with changes to the entertainment industry including reality television and technological advances in other media such as the Internet,” he said, adding that his department is currently, “drafting language to reconcile state and federal child labor laws, address inconsistencies that exist throughout the current child labor law, update the enforcement provisions granted to the department and clearly address new technologies, reality TV and the Internet.”

The day’s testimony will be included in the changes.

Using the testimony gathered at the hearing, current laws will be explored and possible changes could be proposed.

[Paul Petersen’s group,  A Minor Consideration, is a former member of the CLC. Those of us with some grey hair may remember Paul from the Donna Reed show.]