"As our source told us, 'It's not a question of re-enactment, it's a question of whether this is even ethical or legal.'" -- Web Fraud Squad
Mystery Diners is fake
Legal Questions: A MysteryDinersFraud.com Dossier
Why does it matter?
A lot of people say, "What difference does it make if it is fake?" Most of the time, it does not make any difference from a legal standpoint if a "reality" television series is faked, so long as exterior parties are not negatively affected and persons or businesses are not defamed.
However, when a licensed business stages fake scenarios on their premises and publicizes those scenarios as "real", and gains an advantage over competitors, this presents a legal issue.
There are a few reasons why, in the case of Mystery Diners, the restaurants that participate in it are opening themselves up to legal action:
1) The show often casts the owners and managers of the restaurants in a positive light, as they deal with bad employees and improve their restaurant by discovering poor service through the use of hidden cameras. By the end of the show, the restaurant has gained favorable publicity.
However, since this publicity is faked, the public is now under a false presumption, and may patronize the restaurant over a competitor based on false pretenses.
2) In the case of Mystery Diners, at least one incident at a Scottsdale-area restaurant resulted in a competitor losing business due to the antics of the fake reality series.
Success Attracts Parasites
Despite the legal issues, reality TV shows -- staged or faked -- can bring great success to legitimate businesses and may do so by bending, but not breaking, the legal boundaries. In the case of Pawn Stars, a large "bad actor" lawsuit has been filed (in the order of $5 million dollars) that some have deemed "frivolous". Many reality shows have incurred lawsuits, most of them proving to be attempts by lesser parties to profit off the success of the show with spurious legal claims.
Our purpose is not to attack The Food Network or Mystery Diners. Our focus is on the restaurants who participate in the show without requiring a legal disclaimer to be aired before, during or after the airing of the show.
Integrity of Business
The public has a right to know that a business is conducting themselves in an ethical and legal fashion. Public oversight governmental bodies and private oversight bodies, such as the Better Business Bureau, ensure businesses conduct themselves properly. However, with reality TV, a new and uncharted terrority has been opened up, where legal lines are somewhat unclear and blurred. What constitutes fraud? What constitutes a legal, actionable basis?
The courts remain somewhat undecided, as certain reality shows have broken numerous public legal precedents and yet have gotten away with it. The nature of reality TV presupposes an assumption of doubt, rather than an assumption of authority. Since reality TV is regarded not as a legally-bound authority (such as the health, law and finance fields), few standards exist in terms of enforcing ethical boundaries. The public is largely left to their own devices and wits in determining what is real and what is not.
Why There Is A Need For An Authority
We at Web Fraud Squad aim to simply "keep them honest", by giving the public a "go to" platform for informative investigation and reporting. Before our sites came along, a Google search on the topic of "Mystery Diners" yielded a hodge-podge of hokey blogs and articles from second and third tier "news" sites. There is a saying, "The longer the URL, the less you can trust it."
By providing the public with an authoritative "dot com", we feel a gap has been filled, where before one was left to sifting through page after page of erroneous search results that yielded few definitive answers regarding the TV shows and methods of fakery we are actively exposing.