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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 14:28 GMT
Are housemates aware of race row?
By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Big Brother compound
Has the outside world invaded the Big Brother compound?

As the British media goes crazy over Celebrity Big Brother, the nine housemates remain blissfully ignorant of the controversy they have caused.

Or do they?

Recent episodes of the reality series have seen contestants questioned by the "voice of Big Brother" about the motivations behind their rows and insults.

One such diary room conversation seems to have provided the impetus for Jade Goody's apology to Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty.

And Shetty herself was asked if she thought the arguments between her and model Danielle Lloyd were racially motivated.

So, have the producers let the inmates know about the furore surrounding the programme?

The rules state there should be "no contact with the outside world," but there is always the caveat that "Big Brother reserves the right to change the rules at any time".

Exceptional circumstances

The real world has intruded on the Big Brother universe outside the UK. Contestants in the US were notified of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

But even then one, Monica Bailey, was not informed that her cousin, who worked at the World Trade Center, was missing until she left the show two weeks later.

Celebrity Big Brother logo
No contact with the outside world
Housemates are filmed 24 hours a day
The diary room is the only place where Big Brother will interact with housemates individually
Visits to the diary room are compulsory
Nominations are compulsory
Frank reasons must be given for nominations
It is not permitted to discuss nominations
Eviction is decided by public vote
All tasks are compulsory
No violence towards housemates
Housemates are free to leave at any time
Breaking rules may result in eviction
Big Brother reserves the right to change the rules
But in the UK, contestants were not told about the 2005 London bombings, which took place during the sixth series.

Psychologist Gladeana McMahon, who was an adviser on the first two series of Big Brother, says this year's contestants will probably have been kept in the dark about the accusations of racism in the house.

"The whole point is that they don't know what's going to happen when they leave," she says.

"They will only be informed of something if there are exceptional circumstances - something like a bereavement."

A Channel 4 spokeswoman admitted Big Brother had intervened in the latest row - but only to make contestants "realise that what they have said has been misconstrued in the house".

The idea, she said, was to allow the housemates "to explain themselves" to their fellow inmates.

Undoubtedly, however, the tactic has been used to stave off press criticism - with the show's media team issuing an unusually specific press release when Shetty said the arguments in the house were not racially motivated.

Thick skin

Shilpa Shetty
Shetty said she did not feel there was any racial discrimination
But the producers insist the housemates have not been told about the storm of criticism surrounding the programme.

"Before they leave the house, they're not made aware," said Channel 4.

Once evicted, however, the celebrity contestants are given access to a team of counsellors.

"Once they're brought out and they've been through what I call the 'running the gauntlet' bit, they have a debrief," says McMahon.

"There can also be a further debrief after the live programme."

Channel 4 adds that the celebrities have a thicker skin than normal Big Brother contestants.

"They deal with the media on a day-to-day basis," said a spokeswoman. "They know that controversy makes headlines."

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