Entertainment TV Has SBS gone too far with its latest documentary?

Has SBS gone too far with its latest documentary?

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The first episode of the three-part series of Go Back To Where You Came From aired on SBS on Tuesday night, but it is the controversial finale due to be screened on Thursday that has the world talking.

A promotional clip depicting bulletproof vest-clad “ordinary Australians” Kim Vuga, Andrew Jackson and Nicole Judge being shot at by Islamic State militants has prompted international outrage over the show putting lives at risk.

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In the episode – which The New Daily has watched in full – the three participants are taken by Kurdish fighters to within a kilometre of the front line of the war with Islamic State.

On two separate occasions the terrified Australians are told to flee, the second such time seeing them duck and weave out of a ruined building as gunfire is heard in the distance. Two of the contestants, Vuga and Judge, have spoken to media this week about how frightening the experience was.

Later in the program, the same three have to put their bulletproof vests back on in Baghdad, where suicide bombings and kidnappings remain a daily occurrence, to be taken in an armoured car to meet the brother of an asylum seeker who made it to Australia.

‘You only know when it is too late’

Monash University terrorism expert Professor Greg Barton told The New Daily it would have been extremely difficult for the showrunners to guarantee the safety of the participants in such circumstances.

“The [promotional] clip looks scary, but the thing about real danger is you only know when it is too late,” he said.

“The nature of those frontier zones, particularly in case of Syria, is that things can change very quickly.

“I’m sure the producers figured it was fairly safe, but it looked scarier than they perhaps counted on.”

Professor Barton said it was difficult to give a definitive verdict based on promotional material and the interviews with participants, but suggested going to a refugee camp in neighbouring Turkey would have achieved a similar impact without the danger.

The contestants wear bullet-proof vests in Syria.
The contestants wear bulletproof vests in Syria.

‘It’s important to shine a light’

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre campaign manager Mary Fall told The New Daily the showrunners deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt until people get to see the controversial episode in full. She said the program, now in its third season, provides a vital new perspective on asylum seeker issues.

“When it comes to understanding the circumstances behind why they are fleeing the country, be it war or persecution, we’re supportive of anything that shines a light on these issues in a different way,” she said.

Amnesty International Refugee Campaign Coordinator Graeme McGregor also backed the program’s approach as useful for highlighting the human stories behind asylum seeker issues, and said that real dangers were an important part of that.

Contestants are taken to Baghdad, where suicide bombings and kidnappings are a daily occurrence.
Contestants are taken to Baghdad, where suicide bombings and kidnappings are a daily occurrence. Photo: Getty

The NGO coordinated with the program’s second season to produce education packs for schools and adults, and Mr McGregor said that experience left him with the impression that the producers were responsible in how they went about things.

“Obviously it is a very dangerous situation, but the key issue is not whether [participants] were safe, but whether they were properly informed of the dangers to give consent,” he said.

An SBS spokesman told Fairfax Media that participants and crew were warned about the dangers and accompanied by a private security team.

“During security briefings, participants and crew were given the same choice to continue or not without jeopardising their position in the show, or their jobs, respectively,” the spokesperson said.

One of the crew chose not to accompany the others to the frontline due to safety concerns.

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