Programme’s terminally ill patient was an actor. Dutch stunt praised by media commentators . The Guardian Saturday June 2, 2007
It was decried as the show that would break the reality TV format’s back. The makers of the Dutch De Grote Donorshow (The Big Donor Show) promised a one-off programme in which a terminally ill woman would chose which of three contestants would receive her kidneys when she died.
But last night the show, which sparked worldwide controversy, was revealed to be a hoax staged by Endemol Netherlands and the public broadcaster BNN to raise awareness about organ donation in the Netherlands.
“If the Big Donor Show had been real, it would indeed have been shocking but facts illustrate that the reality is far more so,” said Paul Romer, managing director of Endemol Netherlands.
“In staging this programme our goal has been to promote a debate about this crisis in the Netherlands. We have succeeded in spades.”
The hoax was announced at the end of last night’s show, which showed the “donor”, identified only as Lisa, 37, “selecting” the recipient of her kidney based on their history, profile and conversations with their families and friends.
Lisa, 37, was revealed as an actor by the programme makers, but the three patients involved were genuine cases who were fully aware of the stunt and supported the programme’s aims.
Laurens Drillich, chairman of BNN, said: “Obviously a staged programme of this kind can only ever be a one-off but organ donorship is a subject that BNN is dedicated to.”
BNN said to it wanted to focus on the plight of kidney sufferers as a tribute to its founder, Bart de Graaff, who died of kidney failure five years ago in spite of several transplants.
Endemol is no stranger to controversy; it was forced by Ofcom to air a lengthy apology before this week’s launch of Big Brother 8 because of the racism row involving Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty in the celebrity edition earlier this year.
The news of the hoax was met with disbelief and not a little admiration among media commentators.
PR guru Mark Borkowski, head of Borkowski PR, said: “If there are various charities and health organisations linked up to this hoax then it is indeed a very clever publicity stunt.
“Endemol needs to generate some positive publicity for itself because they have been experiencing a backlash and perhaps this is an attempt to do that.”
Mr Romer added: “The impact of this has gone far wider than we imagined. This is an issue that goes beyond Dutch borders and across Europe. The message we want to send is that people need to take action now and fill in a donor card.”
According to UK Transplant more than 400 people die every year because they cannot find a kidney donor.
Noel Davies, a spokesman for the charity, said: “There is a desperate shortage of donated organs. Any informed debate on this subject is to be welcomed. But donation and transplantation is a serious topic and we encourage campaigners to present it in a responsible and sensitive manner.”