Women Against Pornography and Smits and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1995-069, 1995-070
- J M Potter (Chair)
- W J Fraser
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- Women Against Pornography, Phillip Smits
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
A repeat broadcast of the series Sex on Channel Two at 11.00pm included an episode
screened on 18 April 1995 which contained an item about a career stripper.
Rosemary McElroy, on behalf of Women Against Pornography (Auckland) and
Phillip Smits complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the item was a breach of
good taste and decency. In Mr Smits' view it was also an attempt to glamorise live
pornography and was an unbalanced treatment of a controversial topic, while Women
Against Pornography maintained that it was denigratory to women. Both
complainants argued that since the particular item had been the subject of a previous
complaint to the Authority which had been upheld, its re-broadcast was in contempt
of the Authority's ruling.
Pointing out the late hour at which the programme was broadcast, TVNZ denied that
it was contemptuous of the Authority's previous decision, noting that the standard
allowed for contextual considerations, such as the time of the broadcast, to be taken
into account. Further, it argued, the series was intended to provide frank information
for young people and interspersed with the more serious pieces which contained
important health messages were lighter items designed to retain viewer interest.
Dissatisfied with that response, the complainants referred their complaints to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, a majority of the Authority upheld the complaint that the
item was in breach of standard G2.
The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read
the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its usual practice, the
Authority has determined the complaints without a formal hearing.
An item about a young woman who had chosen a career as a stripper was included in
the episode of Sex broadcast on 18 April 1995 on Channel Two at 11.00pm. A
complaint about the item when the series was first broadcast in 1993 was upheld by
the Authority as a breach of good taste and decency (Decision No: 75/93 PDF (484.07 kB)). A majority
of the Authority at that time declined to uphold the complaint that it discriminated
Rosemary McElroy on behalf of Women Against Pornography (WAP) and Phillip
Smits complained that the re-broadcast of the item was in breach of the standard
requiring good taste and decency and, having been upheld as a breach by the
Authority, that TVNZ's decision to broadcast the item again was in contempt of the
Authority's ruling. WAP also complained that the item discriminated against women
and sought an assurance from TVNZ that it would not re-broadcast material which had
been upheld as a breach of standards. In addition, Mr Smits complained that the item
breached the standard that requires balance when controversial issues are discussed.
TVNZ advised that it had assessed the complaints under standards G2, G6 and G13
of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which require broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency
and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context
in which any language or behaviour occurs.
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political ,
matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
G13 To avoid portraying people in a way which represents as inherently
inferior, or is likely to encourage discrimination against, any section of
the community on account of sex, race, age, disability, occupation
status, sexual orientation or the holding of any religious, cultural or
political belief. This requirement is not intended to prevent the
broadcast of material which is:
i) factual, or
ii) the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or
current affairs programme, or
iii) in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or
Responding first to the G2 complaint, TVNZ noted that a specific allowance was
made in the standard for contextual considerations. It argued that the time of the
broadcast was clearly an important factor in determining the context, commenting:
It is TVNZ's view that, far from treating the Authority with contempt, the
company has indeed demonstrated respect for the Authority's decision by
scheduling the repeat of the "Sex" series (and hence the specific item to which
your complaint refers) much later in the evening than was the case in 1993.
Furthermore, TVNZ asserted, the item itself needed to be seen in the context of the
programme overall. It reiterated that the intention of the series was to give
information to young people about sex and, in order to retain their attention and
interest, it was necessary to mix items on serious topics with material of a much
lighter nature. It considered that the item on the stripper was of general interest to
both men and women and was useful to retain viewer interest for the more important
health messages throughout the series.
Referring to the findings of research on public attitudes to the series commissioned by
the Authority, TVNZ noted its conclusion and recommendations. It concluded that in
the context of a programme which was screened at 11.00pm and in its broader context
within the series, there was no breach of what would have been acceptable to the
Both WAP and Mr Smits responded that the hour of the broadcast was not a relevant
contextual consideration. Mr Smits asked why a programme which was aimed at
young adults was broadcast at 11.00pm, and as a re-run. He suggested that it was
because it was TVNZ's version of late night pornography and reasoned that there was
no other explanation for re-screening it when the supposed target audience was
In its interpretation of the contextual arguments, the Authority noted that the only
difference between this broadcast and that in 1993 was the hour at which the item was
screened. Looking at the item in the context of the programme overall, the Authority
repeated its observation made in Decision Nos: 10/93–24/93 PDF3.96 MB when it wrote:
... items which portrayed women stripping were shown more frequently than
their importance in real life would warrant. In its view the series would have
been as effective without those items and it was a sad reflection on society that
the producers of the series felt it necessary to include such scenes merely to
retain viewer interest.
It therefore focussed only on the hour of the broadcast when it examined contextual
It was the view of the majority of the Authority that in spite of the later hour of the
broadcast, the item continued to be in breach of the standard requiring good taste and
decency. It did not resile from the Authority's conclusion in Decision No: 75/93 PDF484.07 kB,
dated 17 June 1993, that:
... this segment was simply an excuse to show another naked woman acting
provocatively and deliberately titillating her male audience. Accordingly, the
Authority was of the view that this strip performance was repetitious,
gratuitous and had no purpose other than to show the young woman's body
and the reactions of her male audience to her provocative routines.
The minority disagreed. In its view, the change in the hour of the broadcast was a
sufficient change in the context of the item to make it not breach the standard. It
considered that the later hour of the broadcast clearly signalled to viewers that the
material was intended for an adult audience. Accordingly, the minority declined to
uphold the complaint.
Turning to the alleged breach of standard G13, TVNZ pointed out that since the
Authority had already ruled that denigration did not occur in this item it (TVNZ) saw
no reason for the Authority to resile from that position.
Since standard G13 is not a contextual matter, the Authority did not re-consider it on
With respect to Mr Smits' argument that the item breached standard G6 because it
failed to give balanced comment about the controversial topic of strip shows, TVNZ,
declining to uphold the complaint, wrote:
The committee had some difficulty in recognising what sort of balance you
required in a simple story about a scholar who, with the encouragement of her
mother, turns to a career in stripping. It seemed to be a straightforward human
Likewise the Authority considered that, while some people might have strong views
about strip shows, the item was simply a factual report about one woman's career. It
did not consider this was the appropriate occasion to examine the issues or to
challenge the stripper's career choice. The Authority declined to uphold this aspect of
For the reasons set forth above, a majority of the Authority upholds the
complaint that the item about the stripper in the series Sex broadcast by
Television New Zealand Ltd on Channel Two at 11.00pm on 18 April 1995 was
in breach of standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The Authority declined to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.
Having upheld a complaint the Authority may make an order under s.13(1) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not intend to do so on this occasion since, although
the complaint was upheld by a majority, TVNZ had attempted with the re-broadcast
to comply with the standard.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
27 July 1995
Mr Smits' Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 22 April 1995
Mr Phillip Smits of Auckland complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the
broadcast of a repeat episode of the series Sex on 18 April 1995 was in breach of
broadcasting standards. Specifically, he claimed that the broadcast was in breach of
the standard requiring good taste and decency and, because it glamorised live
pornography, that it was a breach of the standard requiring balance.
Mr Smits described the item as:
... a miserable piece of propaganda for the 'live porn' industry in Melbourne -
exploitative, callous, 'sleazy', dishonest, and so dangerously misleading...
Noting that this item had been the subject of a formal complaint when first broadcast
and that it had been upheld by the Authority, Mr Smits accused TVNZ of being in
contempt of the Broadcasting Standards Authority's decision.
TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 10 May 1995
TVNZ first addressed the allegation that it had acted in contempt of the Broadcasting
Standards Authority by showing the item. Explaining that the standard under which
the complaint had been upheld allowed for contextual considerations to be taken into
account, it maintained that it had demonstrated its respect for the Authority's decision
by scheduling the repeat of the series much later in the evening than was the case when
it was first screened in 1993.
Turning to another aspect of context, it argued that the item should be considered in
the context of the entire episode. It wrote:
TVNZ reminds you that "Sex" is a series which was produced, with
professional medical assistance, with the intention of providing information
about sex to a generation of young people facing an unprecedented threat from
sexually transmitted diseases.
It suggested that in order to retain the interest of the target viewing audience, it was
necessary to mix items on serious topics with material of a much lighter nature. It
described the item on the stripper as a "gossipy piece" which it believed would have
been of general interest to both male and female viewers and, in the context of the
programme, would have been useful in retaining their interest for the important health
messages scattered throughout the series.
In the context of its 11.00pm time slot and in the broader environment of a series
which had already been widely discussed, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint
that the broadcast was in breach of good taste.
TVNZ also rejected the complaint that the item lacked balance, commenting that it did
not know what kind of balance would be required in a simple story about a scholar
who turned to a career in stripping.
TVNZ attached a copy of the recommendations and conclusions reached in a report
commissioned by the Authority from Chris Watson of Massey University about
public attitudes to the series.
Mr Smits' Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 18 May 1995
Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mr Smits referred the complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
He repeated his concern that TVNZ's re-broadcast of the series was in breach of the
Authority's previous ruling and argued that the hour of its broadcast was irrelevant.
Referring to the survey conducted for the Authority, Mr Smits wrote:
Regarding the survey, my recollection is it was something canvassing public
opinion about the series itself (in a 'broad' context), not about the integrity or
outright offensiveness of any particular segment of any particular episode - a
general approval by the public of the need for such a series (directed at young
adults) and its need to be 'frank' (etc) does not mean that 'anything' goes - it
Mr Smits then referred to an enclosure which described a live pornography show
which he had attended. He also enclosed parts of his submissions made on the
Technology and Crimes Reform Bill. Commenting on his knowledge of strip shows,
The reality is horrifying - to say what strippers do is 'harmless' is a lie.
glamorised an industry that manipulates and coerces and pressures women to
behave a certain way to sexually arouse a male audience. This industry offers
the women it exploits\degrades\uses nothing - except short-term quick money.
The 'product' is expendable and discardable - just as it is in the
pimping\brothel-keeping industry. Was that shown???
He asked why a programme which was directed at young adults was broadcast at
11.00pm, and as a re-run. Providing his own answer, he suggested that it was because
it was TVNZ's version of late night pornography and reasoned that there was no
other explanation for re-screening it when the supposed target audience was excluded.
He repeated that his complaint was that in glamorising the life of the stripper there
was no downside shown - either to the woman, her family or society in general, but
only that it was a fun way to make easy money and have a good time. Mr Smits
described some of the footage as outright pornographic - deliberate and calculated. In
his view it was a disgrace.
He expressed his view that TVNZ's re-broadcast of an item which had already been
upheld as a breach made a mockery of the complaints system. In referring the
complaint to the Authority he described TVNZ's reply as dishonest.
TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 31 May 1995
TVNZ took issue with Mr Smits' accusation that its earlier response was dishonest,
arguing that his disagreement with its views did not by definition mean that TVNZ
had been either dishonest or insincere in presenting its case.
It noted that standard G2 specifically allows for context. In TVNZ's view, the time
of the broadcast is an important element of context.
TVNZ explained that it was reluctant to drop the entertainment items from the repeat
series because they were there for a specific reason. It repeated that the lighter,
gossipy pieces were there to maintain the interest of the target audience so that the
important health messages which the series contained would reach those people.
Mr Smits' Final Comment - received 12 June 1995
With reference to TVNZ's argument that the treatment of the stripper item was
similar to a women's magazine piece, Mr Smits argued that other publications were
not bound by a requirement to show balance in matters of a controversial nature as
were broadcast items.
He commented that it still had not been explained to him why a programme with a
target audience of young people was being shown between 11.00pm and midnight. He
repeated his assertion that it was because it was entertainment directed at viewers who
wished to be titillated.
Mr Smits maintained that the item did not need to be looked at in context, arguing that
not only was it pornographic, but it glamorised and misrepresented the stripping
Finally, he accused TVNZ of being unwilling to admit that it had exercised poor
judgment in its programme decisions.
Women Against Pornography's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 8
Ms Rosemary McElroy on behalf of Women Against Pornography (Auckland)
complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the screening of an item on TV2 on
April 18 1995 in the series Sex was a breach of broadcasting standards. The item
featured the performance of a female stripper.
WAP noted that the item had been the subject of a complaint when the series was
originally broadcast and had been upheld as a breach by the Authority. It wrote:
Please do not suggest that playing this item one and a half hours later than its
initial screening somehow negates this ruling. The item was seen to denigrate
women at 9.30pm and it doesn't cease to denigrate women at 11pm or any
WAP sought an assurance that this would not happen again, pointing out that this was
not the only episode in the series which had had a complaint upheld against it.
TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 10 May 1995
TVNZ first responded to the allegations made by WAP about its actions in relation to
a previous complaint about the item which had been upheld by the Broadcasting
Standards Authority. It advised that WAP was mistaken in believing that the earlier
complaint was upheld on the grounds of denigration of women and noted that it was
upheld on the grounds of breaching good taste and decency.
TVNZ observed that standard G2 makes specific allowance for contextual
considerations to be taken into account and argued that the time of the broadcast was
an important factor in determining context. In TVNZ's view, it had demonstrated
respect for the Authority's decision by scheduling the repeat of the series much later
in the evening than when it was originally broadcast.
Turning to other contextual considerations which it believed were relevant, TVNZ
argued that the item had to be seen in the context of the whole programme. It
reminded WAP that the programme was produced with professional medical
assistance and was intended to provide accurate information about sex to young
people. In order to retain the interest of its target audience, TVNZ continued, the
items on serious topics were interspersed with material of a much lighter nature. It
considered the item on the stripper to be of general interest to both men and women
and, in the context of the programme, was a useful piece to retain viewer interest.
TVNZ referred to a report commissioned by the Authority from Chris Watson of
Massey University who analysed public attitudes to the programme and provided
copies of the report's conclusion and recommendations.
It concluded that in the context of a programme starting at 11.00pm and in the broader
environment of a series which has been widely discussed and debated, the item did not
breach standard G2.
Agreeing with WAP that denigration applies no matter what the hour of the broadcast,
TVNZ noted that the Authority had already ruled that denigration did not occur in
Women Against Pornography's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards
Authority - 17 May 1995
Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision not to uphold its complaint, WAP referred the
matter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting
WAP described as being of no consequence whether the previous complaint was
upheld on the grounds of good taste or denigration of women. Its complaint was:
... TVNZ showed contempt toward the BSA and the successful complainant
by re-screening an item that had been judged UNACCEPTABLE on National
Television. The very least they could have done would be to approach the
BSA and request permission to replay this item at a later hour. We consider
that TVNZ has an attitude problem that needs correcting.
Turning to TVNZ's response, WAP maintained that the issue of context was not
relevant because the complaint had already been upheld. It considered that good taste
and decency grounds applied at any hour, arguing that it was just as indecent and
inappropriate for a man to expose his genitals at 9.30pm as it was at midnight.
It is of little use for the BSA to encourage the public to complain if the TV
programmers disregard their obligation to respect BSA rulings and all their
effort amounts to a waste of time. The BSA is in existence to work for the
public in maintaining acceptable standards. The system will be ineffective if
the BSA do not exert their authority on our behalf and deal firmly with
programmers who presume to know better.
WAP urged the Authority to penalise TVNZ for its disregard of the earlier ruling and
to take it off the air if similar rulings are defied.
TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 23 May 1995
At the outset TVNZ pointed out that there was no requirement on the part of
broadcasters to receive permission from the Broadcasting Standards Authority to re-
screen material about which a complaint has been upheld. Its duty, it considered, was
to evaluate the Authority's decision properly when contemplating a re-screening.
Noting that the original complaint was upheld as a breach of standard G2 (taste and
decency), TVNZ observed that the standard contained a specific reference to context,
which included the time of screening.
In deciding to re-screen the series, TVNZ noted that it placed the programme much
later at night than the original screening time. It explained that it chose to retain the
lighter, less substantial items for the very reason it was there in the first place - to
retain the interest of the target audience. TVNZ pointed out that the item concerned
screened at close to 11.30pm and did not believe that in the context the same concerns
about good taste and decency arise.
Commenting on WAP's assertion that the display of male genitals was offensive no
matter what the time was, TVNZ explained that it considered context as being very
significant and that it had frequently placed programmes which contained nudity at a
late hour, recognising that what might be unacceptable at an earlier hour was not so at
a later time.
TVNZ also stated categorically that it had not treated the Authority's decision with
contempt. It maintained that it had carefully considered the earlier decision and had
decided to screen the repeat series much later at night than the original.
Finally, TVNZ recorded that all the Authority's decisions were subject to close
scrutiny by its staff and the statements made in its decisions were taken into
consideration when similar situations arose.
Women Against Pornography's Final Comment - 7 June 1995
When asked to make a brief final comment, WAP explained that while it recognised
that there was no set requirement for broadcasters to 'receive permission' to re-screen
material on which a complaint had been upheld, it believed that this should have been
It then referred to TVNZ's view that it was not equally objectionable for a male to
expose his genitals at midnight as at 9.30pm. It expressed surprise that TVNZ was in
the habit of showing genitals at a late hour. It considered that it represented the views
of most women - the silent majority who were distressed about the normalising of
obscene behaviour but feel they could do little to stop it.
Pointing out that the item involved more than a brief scene of nudity, WAP noted that
it showed sexually excited men groping at the stripper's breast and other degrading
behaviour on her part.
WAP challenged TVNZ's interpretation of context as including the hour of screening,
arguing that the wide use of video recorders meant that the material was available to
many. It added:
The Stripper item of the SEX programme was designed to get men sexually
excited. Are we to understand that a child is less likely to be woken and
sexually violated after an abuser viewed the programme at 11pm than at
9.30pm? Are young people of opposite sexes now immune from
embarrassment if they decide to have a late supper at home, look for
entertainment on TV and are faced with the sort of debauched behaviour that
was displayed on the SEX series.
Finally, WAP argued that if the SEX series was truly supposed to be educational, it
seemed out of context to switch to "the (filthy) entertainment" TVNZ felt was
necessary to retain audience interest.
WAP submitted that the issue of context did not stand up in this case and argued that
the true meaning of the word had been misused to try to justify re-screening the item.
It sought punitive action against the broadcaster.