BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Smits and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1994-117

  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • J R Morris
  • L M Loates
  • W J Fraser
  • Philip Smits


As "Playboy" has been published for 40 years, Channel 2's Eyewitness broadcast a

profile of founder Hugh Hefner at about 10.15pm on 21 September.

Mr Smits complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item

was unbalanced as it did not discuss the extensive criticism which has been directed at

both the magazine and Mr Hefner over the years.

Arguing that the item was not unbalanced as it was a story about a famous and

interesting person – not a discussion about pornography – TVNZ declined to uphold

the complaint. Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Mr Smits referred his complaint

to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act


For the reasons given below, the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.


The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read

the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the Authority

has determined the complaint without a formal hearing.

Channel 2's Eyewitness broadcast a profile of Mr Hugh Hefner to record 40 years of

the publication of "Playboy" magazine.

Mr Smits complained to TVNZ that the "sycophantic" report did not mention

pornography once but allowed Mr Hugh Hefner and his daughter to promote

themselves and the magazine.

TVNZ assessed the complaint under standard G6 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice which requires broadcasters:

G6  To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political

matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.

Describing Eyewitness as a news magazine where items ranged from hard news issues

to light stories, TVNZ said that the item was a profile of a famous figure in the

entertainment and publishing industry and balancing material was not needed in that


When he referred his complaint to the Authority, Mr Smits contrasted the item on Mr

Hefner with an earlier one on Eyewitness on computer pornography. To ensure

balance in that instance, he wrote, both the liberal and conservative views on

censorship had been reported. The item on Mr Hefner, as TVNZ acknowledged, he

continued, had made no effort to ensure balance. Noting some of the writers who had

criticised Mr Hefner and "Playboy", he said that their views had been omitted from

the item.

In its report to the Authority, TVNZ again took the view that the standards were not

breached, stating:

We again affirm that there are occasions when it is appropriate to screen profiles

of this nature without needing to enter any wider social controversy which may

surround the activities of the person being profiled.

The first task for the Authority was to decide on the nature of the item about which

Mr Smits had complained. Having viewed it, the Authority was of the opinion that it

was a profile. As such, it accepted TVNZ's argument that it was not necessary to

explore the reasons why the particular person had acquired fame or indeed infamy. It

reported on this occasion a number of events in the biography of a person who had

become famous – or infamous – as the publisher of "Playboy". Although it accepted

some of the footage was of questionable taste, the Authority did not consider the

programme to be salacious.

Having decided that the item was a personality profile of the magazine's publisher and

not an item about the contents of the magazine, the Authority concurred with TVNZ

that it was not necessary for the item to include a debate about pornography.

Accordingly, it decided that, unlike the earlier Eyewitness item on computer

pornography that Mr Smits referred to, it had not been necessary to provide balance

about that issue under standard G6.


For the reasons given above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Iain Gallaway
24 November 1994


Mr Smits' Complaint to Television New Zealand Limited - 22 September 1994

Mr Phillip Smits of Auckland complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about an

item discussing Mr Hugh Hefner and forty years of "Playboy" broadcast at about

10.15pm on 21 September on Channel 2's Eyewitness. As the item lacked balance, he

alleged that it breached standard G6 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

Mr Smits said that the sycophantic report did not mention pornography once but

allowed Mr Hefner and his daughter to promote themselves and the magazine.

As there was no direct criticism of "Playboy", he expressed his disgust at the


and argued that balance was missing

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 4 October 1994

TVNZ reported that it had assessed the item, which it said was a profile on Hugh

Hefner, under the nominated standard. It also reported that Eyewitness was

specifically aimed at the young, mature and sophisticated late evening audience. It

included both hard news items and material which was simply light and interesting.

As Eyewitness was a television news magazine, TVNZ drew a parallel with the gossip

column in "Time" which chronicled the latest gossip about high-profile figures.

TVNZ pointed out that Hugh Hefner was a famous figure in the entertainment and

publishing industries and was seen as an intriguing person by many. It continued:

The occasion of the 40th anniversary of his magazine is an appropriate occasion

to peep behind the scenes at the man and his empire. No balancing material is

needed in this context.

Referring to a number of other famous and colourful personalities, TVNZ said that the

item was broadcast as Hugh Hefner was "an interesting guy". It concluded:

As far as G6 is concerned, TVNZ does not believe that a profile on Hugh Hefner

of this sort is an appropriate vehicle for a debate on pornography. There was

no cause for balancing material in an item that was there simply because it was


Mr Smits' Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 9 October 1994

Describing himself as not only dissatisfied but "shocked" by TVNZ's reply, Mr

Smits referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a)

of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Mr Smits mentioned that an earlier item on Eyewitness that evening (21 September)

had discussed computer pornography and had included a debate between the liberal

and conservative perspectives on censorship. However, the item on Hugh Hefner was

introduced with a comment about the popularity of "Playboy" and suggested that

"Playboy's" 40th birthday was a time for celebration.

As magazines, unlike broadcasters, were not required to ensure balance, he dismissed

the relevance of TVNZ's argument on this point. Mr Smits maintained that Hugh

Hefner, while he might be interesting, was also controversial and he listed a number of

authors who had written critically about "Playboy". He considered TVNZ's

description of Eyewitness's target audience to be patronising and insulting.

He criticised the item's closing comment and wrote:

Programme Standard G6 exists - TVNZ have to abide by it. The principle of

balance is an extremely important and vital concept in the area of news and

current affairs - 'Eyewitness' is bound by this requirement, whether they like it

or not, and whether their perceived 'consumers' like it or not. They can go out

and buy a copy of 'Playboy' if they want to see women made into pornography

- or Hefner deified

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 20 October 1994

Noting that Mr Smits' letter of referral included references to an item on Eyewitness,

which did not feature in the original letter of complaint, TVNZ asked the Authority

not to consider that aspect of the referral. TVNZ also advised:

We also think it pertinent to advise the Authority that Mr Smits had apparently

decided to complain about this item before he even saw it. TVNZ's telephone

logs reveal that he telephoned the company after seeing a news trailer, warning

that he would lodge a formal complaint if the item was screened. This suggests

that Mr Smits did not view the profile dispassionately.

TVNZ maintained its opinion that screen profiles of the nature of the item complained

about did not need to enter the wider controversy which might surround the activities

of the person being profiled.

"Playboy" was something of a twentieth century institution, it added, and the item

was known as a "people" story - not a review or discussion about pornography.

It rejected the complaint that the item was "salacious", pointing to the time of the

broadcast and target audience and, in context maintained that the profile did not lack


Mr Smits Final Comment - 29 October 1994

In his response, Mr Smits said that he had been angered by TVNZ's letter. He had

telephoned TVNZ during the evening before the broadcast of the offending item to say

that he would complain if the item was unbalanced. And after it had proved to be so,

he had rung back to say so.

He objected to Mr Hefner - "a pornographer and exploiter of women" - being treated

by TVNZ just like any other major business leader. He was not a celebrity but a


He also objected to TVNZ not accepting the need for balance although it had provided

balance for an earlier item on a computer pornographer. The absence of balance for

the item on Mr Hefner, he stated, was a "double standard".

Maintaining his opposition to "Playboy" and to Mr Hefner ("a parasite"), he insisted

that TVNZ was soft on pornography. He concluded:

TVNZ had the affrontery (sic) to promote and endorse and minimise and

normalise and glamorise and legitimise the incidence of "Playboys 40th

birthday" - even though the magazine is widely held to be damaging to women

and widely considered to be a vital organ of the pornographic-monster that has

been created in recent decades. They present it as being an item of

'entertainment' even though there are a number of scenes in which women are

objectified, sexualised - even shown naked (but 'blocked out') as Hefner's

'playthings'/sexual chattels.

They spout on about how much they recognise the appropriateness and need to

"examine critically such issues as pornography" - which they have NEVER

done. An opportunity to question the whole facade of 'soft pornography' and

how 'attitudes' to it have changed - and they do what??? They give it the

'Eyewitness/Hard Copy' treatment - promote (for ratings), titillate (for ratings)

and present as 'entertainment' (for ratings).

The Authority may be, what's the word I'm looking for??? - 'disappointed' at

the 'style' etc of this letter - I can only say (in defence) that I don't know how

else to put these things - It is simple rage at how they abuse their power. I

cannot accept that these people have any right to 'treat' items such as this one

other than to balance anything that is arguably imbalanced. Instead they took

something and made it worse. I cannot let that go unchallenged.