Smits and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2001-107, 2001-108
- P Cartwright (Chair)
- R Bryant
- J H McGregor
- Phillip Smits
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Space – two items about visits to studio which makes porn videos – promoted pornography – offensive and unbalanced
Standard G2 – not offensive in context – no uphold
Standard G6 – not a serious item – satirical – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Items on the magazine programme Space showed one of the hosts visiting a business which made pornographic videos and trying to sell a script. The items included some interviews with people in the business, and contained shots of the host in a spa pool with four topless women. The items were broadcast at 10.25pm on both 1 and 8 June 2001 on TV2.
Phillip Smits complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the items promoted pornography, and thus were offensive and unbalanced.
In response, TVNZ maintained that the items were satirical, and that the footage was not offensive in context. Humour, it wrote, did not require balance.
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.
For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the items complained about, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines these complaints without a formal hearing.
The programme Space is broadcast weekly by TV2 on Fridays at 10.25pm for ninety minutes. It is a magazine programme in which two hosts present live music, video clips and other multi-media material.
The programme broadcast on 1 June 2001 included an item of one of the hosts visiting a studio in Hamilton where pornography is filmed. He took with him a script for a pornographic video and spoke to a number of people in the studio, including four topless women in a spa pool. The item broadcast the following week, on 8 June, repeated some of the material and then showed the male host in the spa pool (also topless) asking the women to read part of the script.
Phillip Smits complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the items promoted locally produced pornography and breached the standards relating to good taste and decency, and balance. He maintained that the item was shown to attract the attention of "shallow" male viewers, and the sympathetic treatment of the Hamilton business allowed the photographer at the business to justify pornography. He concluded:
The whole ‘attitude’ taken by the presenter(s) and the producer(s) of both these items was (from start to finish) in my view inappropriate, irresponsible, reckless and quite possibly dangerous - incredibly this facile little git has the effrontery to (at the end on last Friday’s effort) sit there and recommend that anyone interested in getting involved with the local porn scene should visit www.-------com. Unbelievable.
TVNZ assessed the complaints against the nominated standards which require broadcasters, in the presentation and preparation of programmes:
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.
Pointing to the satirical nature of the item, TVNZ noted that the concept of pornography, despite its possible offensiveness, could still be the subject of humour.
As for standard G2, TVNZ said that while the items reflected the sordid surroundings and content of the business, there had been no full frontal nudity or explicit sex scenes. TVNZ also noted the following contextual matters which it considered relevant in its assessment of the complaint: the hour of broadcast, the programme’s classification (AO), and the fact that each programme was preceded by a warning. Moreover, TVNZ wrote:
The tone throughout was satirical. The porn industry was being "sent up".
Turning to the balance complaint, TVNZ expressed the opinion that the requirements for balance did not extend to humour. Accordingly, in view of the items’ satirical nature, it did not consider that they were the place for a serious discussion about the pornography industry.
In referring his complaint to the Authority, Mr Smits cited Decision No: 1991-039 in which the Authority declined to uphold a complaint about an item on Holmes which dealt with the influence of Buddhism on an Auckland strip club owner. Mr Smits expressed his annoyance that that complaint, and another about a year later which referred to the same club owner, were not upheld.
Mr Smits considered the items complained about on this occasion were similar in that the broadcaster had aligned itself "with porn/flesh merchants". Mr Smits disputed TVNZ’s claim that the items were satirical, describing them as "childish, puerile, immature self-indulgence". He insisted that the items had glamorised "the porn industry".
In response to TVNZ’s statement that pornography might offend but was not illegal, Mr Smits argued that the offence of illegal possession of pornography meant in effect that making pornography was also illegal. He considered that the items were similar to other items broadcast by TVNZ (such as the ones referred to above) and wrote that TVNZ:
…have glamorised/normalised/legitimised pornographer-pimp-flesh merchants and the pornography industry.
In its response to the Authority, TVNZ pointed to Mr Smits descending "once more into personal abuse".
In his final comment, Mr Smits argued that the items complained about, as with the earlier ones, involved pimps. He described the presenter’s act in getting into the pool as "disgusting" and "unethical".
The Authority's Findings
When the Authority assesses complaints which allege a breach of standard G2, it considers the context in which the material was broadcast. The items on this occasion were light-hearted. They recorded the efforts of the presenters in trying to sell a script to a studio where pornography is filmed. In view of the time of the broadcast, the programme’s classification and the warning which preceded the broadcast, there was nothing in either broadcast which the Authority considers contravened the requirements for good taste. The Authority rules that standard G2 was not breached.
Mr Smits also complained that the item was unbalanced as it promoted pornography without referring to the offensiveness of pornography. In view of the pseudo-satirical approach taken in the items, the Authority does not accept that the items promoted pornography. In this situation, it is of the opinion that balance was not required. Accordingly, it finds that standard G6 was not transgressed.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
20 September 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Phillip Smits’ Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 12 June 2001
- TVNZ’s Response to Mr Smits – 22 June 2001
- Mr Smits’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority plus attachments – 18 July 2001
- TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 1 August 2001
- Mr Smits’ Final Comment – 12 August 2001