Thought-Provoking or Sleazy? Volunteers to Take Ecstasy Live on British TV


Here’s a terrific lose-lose media proposition: Put on a live show, with people taking ecstasy (M.D.M.A.) in a clinical environment, surrounded by doctors and nurses and a hushed narrator. Claim with a straight face that this piece of exhibitionism is all about broadcasters taking “real risks” in today’s world. Lard it on thick, as part of the rollout of the Drugs Live series from British television network Channel 4, as a way of proving its intention to pursue… thought-provoking television? Yes, that must be it. As Jay Hunt, Channel 4’s Chief Creative Officer, put it: “The Government’s drugs czar Professor (David) Nutt was sacked for claiming that L.S.D. and ecstasy were less harmful than alcohol. In an incredibly bold experiment we are going to be putting that to the test live, looking at the impact all of those substances have on the human body in a clinical environment.”

The idea is so bad that drug reform activists and anti-drug campaigners both hate it. The chief executive of Drugscope, a respected nonprofit drug education group in the U.K., said that, considering the “significant ethical, legal and safety issues that would need to be addressed, the value of such a programme is questionable." We looked into the matter, and found that this isn’t the first time the U.K.'s TV stations have gotten up to such shenanigans. Way back in 1955, says the U.K. Guardian, “Labour MP Christopher Mayhew took mescaline and allowed himself to be filmed for a Panorama special.” That must have been interesting to see—except nobody saw it. In the end, the B.B.C. chickened out, or was pressured by the government, and the broadcast was shelved for 30 years.  When it finally came out, it was of a media curiosity than a serious documentary. We can’t help suspecting much the same fate for Drugs Live.


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