Six of the bed and breakfast operators in the current series of the Channel 4 programme Four in a Bed are seeking legal advice after receiving abuse following their television appearance.
The most extreme case – now in the hands of the police – has included the sending of excrement through the post and threats of physical violence. Other businesses and owners claim to have suffered abuse via the placing of alleged fake reviews on TripAdvisor, e-mails, phone calls and letters.
Produced by Studio Lambert on behalf of Channel 4, the current series of Four in a Bed is the fourth to be screened during a daytime slot, following on from two peak-time series called Three in a Bed. The programme features bed and breakfast operators who take they turns to stay in each other’s properties and pay what they consider to be a fair rate for their stay.
The participants are chosen to represent a broad cross-section of the type of bed and breakfasts in the UK and the variety of people who run them.
Chris Emmins, the founder of Kwikchex, the online company which helps businesses protect their reputation, said the victims are extremely distressed and believe that they have been misled by Channel 4 in how they could benefit from appearing on the programme. “They expected great publicity, but instead have suffered at the hands of obsessive characters who we believe, in some cases, may be disgruntled ex-employees of the business or competitor operators,” he explained.
Emmins went on to say that any business considering appearing on a programme like Four in a Bed should be very cautious and understand that such programmes are edited for entertainment, resulting in the best part of their businesses being cut and the most unflattering aspects being emphasised.
“There is a severe risk of a very damaging and distressful downside,” he warned. “We have found that the attacks occur not only when the programme is initially screened, but also when repeats are broadcast.”
Kwikchex now intends to engage with the programme producers to point out their responsibility of ensuring that participants understand the risks involved of having every aspect of their businesses and personalities – good and bad – being televised.
Emmins said that review sites such as TripAdvisor also needs to take cases of reported abuse very seriously and find adequate ways of authenticating subsequent reviews quickly or remove them.
“Any members of the public who place fake reviews because they simply do not like the people featured are likely to result in action which can include criminal charges,” he added.
A spokesperson for Channel 4 said that while it recognised that the reported abuse suffered by participants of Four in a Bed is clearly distressing for those involved, the station cannot be held responsible for the actions of members of the public.
“The producers have conversations with all contributors before any filming takes place – first when meeting with the casting team, and again when they first meet the director – about the possible impact of appearing on television: positive in terms of increased bookings, for example, and negative.
“Contributors are also offered specific guidance on dealing with issues such as online privacy or negative comments on social media before transmission. In addition, the production team contacts all contributors prior to transmission and follow up with them again after transmission to get their feedback on the programme.”
The spokesperson went on to say that Four in a Bed is a well-established programme so contributors know what to expect when taking part. “The programme is not edited in a misleading way – it is edited fairly and in accordance with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. Each contributor is given a right to reply to anything any of the other contributors say or do to ensure the programme is balanced.
“The majority of contributors have positive responses to the programme, with many getting hugely increased website traffic, positive e-mails and bookings.”
With regards the alleged fake comments on TripAdvisor, spokesperson Emma Shaw said that the website has a “zero tolerance policy” on fraudulent reviews.
“In addition to being a violation of our terms of service and an unethical practice, it’s also a violation of the law in many jurisdictions, including the UK,” she explained.
“If an owner feels they’ve been subjected to an unfair review – regardless of the situation – we ask that they contact us immediately, either through our online management centre or by calling our free UK help centre.
“We have a team of content integrity specialists that investigates in detail every report of suspicious content. If a review is found to be in breach of our guidelines, it will be removed from the site.”