SBS' survival TV show "Law of the Jungle" has been facing a backlash from local viewers after media reports that actress Lee Yeol-eum was charged in Thailand for catching and eating endangered giant clams while shooting the show.
The controversy erupted days after the June 29 episode aired last week. The reality show featured actress Lee capturing the endangered giant clams and eating them with fellow cast members in Thailand's Hat Chao Mai National Park.
The episode went viral on Thai social media shortly after it aired, after catching the attention of some Thai viewers who called for authorities to take action over the violation of local laws.
The show has been one of the most popular reality shows since the first episode aired in 2011. Showing celebrities surviving in the wilderness abroad, "Law of the Jungle" grabbed viewers' attention from the start. With over 10 percent of viewership, it has been the highest-rated weekend reality show for the past few weeks. The viewership for the latest episode went down slightly, marking 8.9 percent.
Since the success of "Law of the Jungle," other broadcasters aired programs that were filmed overseas.
As competition heats up with other reality shows, the SBS show has been experiencing a decrease in ratings.
Shows taking place in different countries have been the trend for the past few years. After TvN's "Grandpas Over Flowers" became a big hit, the trend quickly accelerated, leading more shows to film abroad.
The show's star producer Na Young-seok explained that the sketch of a foreign environment and different cultures offer viewers with new experiences.
"Our cast members are unfamiliar with the foreign countries where the show is filmed, so chances are high that they encounter situations that they are not familiar with and thus interesting things happen there while shooting the show," he said.
Producer Yoo Ho-Jin of "Where On Earth?" which was shot in a remote desert in Oman, explained that shows filmed in the wilderness offer virtual adventures to the viewers watching in comfortable surroundings.
Heavy competition for viewership among reality shows sometimes pushes staff to go too far and violate local laws.
It became apparent that the production team's "mistake" was intentional when Thailand's local news outlet PBS revealed a formal letter, Sunday, signed by the show's head producer Cho Young-jae, agreeing to neither film nor present content about fishing. The letter was sent to Thailand's Ministry of Tourism and Sports in March, prior to the filming.
The head of Hat Chao Mai National Park Narong Kongaid told AFP, Friday, that he had filed two charges against Lee for violating the National Parks law and the Wildlife Protection law.
If found guilty of these charges, the actress could face up to five years in jail under the National Parks law or four years under the Wildlife Protection law.
"Sea resources in Hat Chao Mai cannot be caught, hunted or cooked, and the cast and crew were fully aware of that because the park firmly informed them of the park's restrictions before they began filming," said Narong.
The production team told multiple news outlets, Thursday, that they abided by the local authorities' guidelines and there were no illegal activities when filming.
However, the team soon issued another statement the next day and admitted the violation. It apologized saying that the mistake came from not having a thorough understanding of the regulations. "We will be more cautious when producing the show in the future," it said.
An online user started a petition on Cheong Wa Dae's website, defending the actress and calling for the production team to take responsibility for breaking the law.
"This wouldn't have happened if the local coordinators and production staff had informed the actress," wrote the user.
The angry reactions from Korean viewers continued and some even called for the network to cancel the show.
Yonhap reported Monday that the Thai police have started an investigation and will question the local coordinator who guided the production team.
source: The Korea Times