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Blow for French reality show

A security guard prevents a protester from entering the site where "Loft Story" takes place  

PARIS, France -- France's media watchdog has ruled that contestants in a reality television show should be liberated from round-the-clock camera surveillance "out of respect for their human dignity."

"Loft Story," based on the exploits of a group of twentysomethings in a sealed compound jammed with television cameras, has attracted huge ratings since its launch a few weeks ago.

In an emergency sitting called after fierce criticism of the programme led by French intelligentsia and clergy, the Paris-based CSA authority ruled that the constant TV scrutiny of the contestants harmed their human rights.

"(The authority) requires daily breaks of significant and reasonable duration in which no audio or visual recording or broadcasting shall take place," it said in a statement.


"Regardless of the aim of the programme or the fact that the contestants have given their consent, it is imperative from the point of human dignity that there are places and times in which they are not submitted to public observation," it added.

It was not clear whether it would be forced to comply with the decision or whether it could appeal.

While the scenes broadcast on public access TV are edited, an uncensored live version -- which has included shots of a couple appearing to have sex in the compound's swimming pool -- is available on the Internet and a satellite pay-TV channel.

Audience figures have gone through the roof, peaking at 7.7 million viewers last week and capturing around three-quarters of the 15-24 viewership.

The show's phenomenal success has left M6's rivals reeling, especially TF1, France's biggest channel, which is preparing its own reality show for the summer.

Policemen face protesters on Saturday at the site where the series is filmed  

"Loft Story" aims to eliminate successive male and female participants over 10 weeks by public vote until only one couple is left. The prize is a $407,000 house -- but the pair will not win it until they have lived there together for a further six months, still under the scrutiny of cameras.

Commentators accuse M6 of inventing this formula to create an atmosphere in which participants know they have to pair off to have a chance of winning.

However it is not just the show's reliance on a blend of voyeurism and exhibitionism that has come under attack.

The French anti-racist group Mrap said on Monday it was asking authorities to investigate allegedly racist comments made during a conversation between some of the contestants last week after it received complaints from viewers.

M6 is jointly owned by Bertelsmann affiliate RTL Group and Suez.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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