Holmes – item on Erotica exhibition – offensive behaviour
Standard G6 – no uphold
Standard G7 – not applicable
Standard G11 – not applicable
Standard G12 – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
A Holmes item broadcast on TV One on 4 August 2000 between 7.00–7.30pm dealt with a trade fair held in Auckland entitled Erotica 2000. According to the organisers, the fair was intended to change people’s perception of erotica being sleazy and to present it as mainstream.
Dennis Walker complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the broadcast promoted the sex industry as a viable lifestyle and that TVNZ was irresponsible in screening such material. In his view, all aspects of the sex industry degraded women.
In its response, TVNZ noted that the broadcast had taken a "light-hearted look" at the trade fair. In its view, Mr Walker’s complaint was not so much about the item which it broadcast, but about the fair itself. It acknowledged that individual viewers might have found the subject distasteful, but maintained its right to broadcast the report. As a further point, it noted that the "more lofty objectives" of the fair had been lampooned by its reporters and that the item reflected a certain cynicism on their part towards those claimed objectives. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Walker referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
A trade fair exhibition entitled Erotica 2000 was the subject of an item on Holmes broadcast on 4 August 2000 between 7.00–7.30pm. Two reporters interviewed the organiser of the exhibition, who explained that its purpose was to bring the sex industry out into the open and to change people’s perceptions about erotica as being sleazy.
Dennis Walker complained to TVNZ that it had been irresponsible in screening such material. In his view, the sex industry promoted that which was contrary to good and proper principles of society, and he objected to what he saw as the programme’s attempt to make it seem respectable. He argued that the sex and pornography industries had always been closely associated with the criminal and drug scene, and therefore TVNZ should not be part of promoting it as a viable lifestyle. In his view, the sex industry degraded women for the selfish gratification of men. He complained that the broadcast breached standards G6, G7, G11 (i) and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under the nominated standards, which require broadcasters:
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
G7 To avoid the use of any deceptive programme practice in the presentation of programmes which takes advantage of the confidence viewers have in the integrity of broadcasting.
G11 To refrain from broadcasting any programme which, when considered as a whole:
Simulates news or events in such a way as to mislead or alarm viewers.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing hours.
TVNZ said that it considered Mr Walker’s comments about the link between sex and pornography and crime and drugs were directed more at the erotica trade fair than at the broadcast, as were his observations about the exploitation of women. It said it respected Mr Walker’s view, but noted that many others would not share his moral concerns. It wrote that it:
…believed that there are many aspects of life which, for one reason or another, certain individual viewers find distasteful, but if television were to stop reporting every event that any individual might potentially find offensive there might be little left for news and current affairs to describe. Besides, there are the important principles of free speech and the public’s right to know to take into consideration.
In TVNZ’s opinion, the item reflected a "certain cynicism" about the "more pretentious claims" made for the trade fair. It argued that the whole manner of presentation of the item indicated that its objectives were being lampooned by the two reporters.
Referring to the complaint under standard G6, TVNZ argued that there was no necessity for balance in a report on a trade fair. As for the complaint under standard G7, it responded that it was unable to detect any deceptive broadcasting practice. Standard G11(i), it said, did not appear to be relevant as no news was simulated. It added that it did not believe that the trade fair had been depicted in either a misleading or alarming fashion.
As far as standard G12 was concerned, it was TVNZ’s opinion that the item carefully avoided scenes of nudity, and that the references to sexual activity were sufficiently oblique as to go over the heads of innocent children. It said that it saw nothing in the item which posed any harm to children who had been watching at the time.
In his referral to the Authority, Mr Walker maintained that it was neither logical nor possible to differentiate between an event and an item about an event. He acknowledged that he was more concerned about the exhibition itself than the item.
With regard to what he said was the morality of the event and the item screened, he said that there was no question that the moral standing of the exhibition was in question, since it was classified as R18. He said he stood by his comments on the negative effects of pornography and its association with crime and the drug scene.
Mr Walker maintained that there was no positive advantage in screening the item and he argued that its "light-hearted" approach had been in bad taste, especially considering the damage and cost to the family and society of the sex industry. This, he said, was the basis for his complaint under standard G7. In his view, the item had been deceptive in implying that anything to do with the sex industry was light-hearted and fun.
The standards under which this complaint was considered were those nominated by the complainant.
In the complainant’s view, the report should have been tempered with commentary on the negative side of the sex industry and its association with criminal activity and the drug scene. However, as TVNZ notes, the report was not about the sex industry itself. It concerned a trade fair exhibition dealing with Erotica. The Authority accepts that the report did, to some extent, promote the fair, but does not consider that its content breached any of the nominated standards.
First, the Authority deals with the complaint that the item was unbalanced and breached standard G6 because it omitted to refer to the social implications of the sex industry. The Authority does not agree that this was a controversial issue, within the meaning of the standard, which necessitated an approach focusing on different points of view about the sex industry. It was a report about an event which was being held at the time. The Authority declines to uphold this aspect.
Concerning the complaint under standard G7, the Authority observes that in past decisions its application has been confined to such matters as technical trickery or editing practices which are intended to deceive. None of those matters was present on this occasion and the Authority considers the standard does not apply. The Authority finds that standard G11(i) does not apply either as the item did not simulate news in such a way as to mislead or alarm viewers.
Finally, the Authority addresses the complaint that standard G12 was breached because the content was unsuitable for children. Although the trade fair dealt with an adult topic, the Authority does not find anything in the report which warrants censure on the grounds that it was inappropriate for children. Accordingly, it declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
9 November 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: