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Gregory and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-133

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Patricia Gregory of Hamilton

Dated

22nd February 2006

Number

2005-133

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Exposé: Prostitution – After the Act – documentary looking at the effect of the Prostitution Reform Act on the sex industry – allegedly in breach of law and order, balance and accuracy

Findings
Standard 2 (law and order) – nothing inconsistent with the maintenance of law and order – no incitement to illegal acts – not upheld

Standard 4 (balance) – item provided a range of views on the controversial issue – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – no inaccuracies – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] Exposé: Prostitution – After the Act was a documentary broadcast on TV One at 8.30pm on 29 September 2005. The programme examined the way in which the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) had affected the sex industry in New Zealand. The introduction stated:

In June 2003, prostitution was decriminalised. The Prostitution Reform Act aimed to bring the sex industry out into the open and provide greater protection for workers. Two years on, do the workers feel these ideals have been achieved?

Complaint

[2] Patricia Gregory complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was poorly researched and contained biased reporting. She argued that it was a one-sided portrayal of what had happened in the prostitution industry since the introduction of the PRA.

Standard 2 (law and order)

[3] Mrs Gregory maintained that the programme did not “respect the principles of law which sustain our society”. She argued that the broadcaster did not respect the principles of the PRA’s purpose, which she said stated that it must not “…endorse and morally sanction the use of prostitution”.

[4] In the complainant’s view, the documentary endorsed prostitution to a large degree. She wrote that the first part of the programme gave such lengthy coverage to a particular brothel that it made her wonder whether it was a paid advertisement. The same could be said for another brothel mentioned in the programme, she said, because it even advertised how much services cost at that establishment.

[5] Further, Mrs Gregory considered that the reporting in the programme appeared to “morally sanction” prostitution by only interviewing those with a vested interest in the industry. These people would naturally show prostitution in a favourable light, she said. The complainant noted that a brothel manager and Prostitutes’ Collective spokesperson had spoken out against those opposed to the PRA, implying that they were religious or bigoted so should therefore be ignored.

Standard 4 (balance)

[6] Noting guideline 4a, Mrs Gregory submitted that the programme did not comply with the requirement to be balanced and impartial. It did not contain interviews with anybody who opposed brothels or prostitution, ex-prostitutes, or groups that dealt with people who have had bad experiences with brothels or prostitutes. She gave as examples groups such as Stop Demand, which states that prostitution creates demand for the trafficking of women and children, or ECPAT, which works to get children out of prostitution. Interviewing either of these groups about what had happened since the introduction of the PRA would have provided balance, Mrs Gregory said.

[7] The complainant also referred to guideline 4b, arguing that the broadcaster had neglected to show “all significant sides”. She noted that the documentary did not contain:

  • the views of those who lived in the vicinity of a SOOB (small owner-operated brothel)
  • details of the financial hardship on families because a family member was spending money on prostitution
  • the emotional impact on a wife or child of finding out that their spouse or parent had been into a brothel
  • the later psychological effects on prostitutes.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[8] Mrs Gregory complained that parts of the programme were in breach of Standard 5. First, she wrote that the two national spokeswomen for prostitutes were not accurate on their points of fact – for example, one had stated that District Councils should leave those in the sex industry alone to get on with their business. Mrs Gregory observed that the Government had given councils the responsibility of making bylaws to accommodate prostitution in their cities. By not challenging the woman’s statement, she said, TVNZ had breached Standard 5.

[9] Second, the complainant noted a brothel manager’s statement that it was a “religious few” who opposed prostitution in Hamilton. She provided several statistics to support her view that this statement was inaccurate, including the fact that 85% of submissions about the city’s bylaws had opposed prostitution in the suburbs. In Mrs Gregory’s view, the programme did not show impartiality because the views expressed in it only put prostitution in a good light.

[10] Referring to guideline 5b, the complainant stated that much of the information in the programme was misleading because it normalised and condoned prostitution without showing the other side of the issue.

Standards

[11] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 2, 4 and 5 and guidelines 2a, 4a, 4b, 5b and 5d of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 2 Law and Order

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

Guideline 2a

Broadcasters must respect the principles of law which sustain our society.

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Guidelines

4a   Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality.

4b   No set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested parties on controversial public issues. Broadcasters should aim to present all significant sides in as fair a way as possible, it being acknowledged that this can be done only by judging each case on its merits.

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Guidelines

5b   Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

5d   Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[12] TVNZ felt that Mrs Gregory had “missed the point of the programme”. It had not been intended as a review of the whole issue of prostitution following the passing of the PRA, it said. As the introduction made clear, the programme was specifically looking at prostitution from the perspective of the sex workers who had been promised greater rights and freedoms under the new law. TVNZ wrote:

In effect the programme said, “sex workers were promised a better and safer environment; did they get it?” The answer seemed to be, “yes, but only to an extent”.

[13] The broadcaster believed that there was nothing unethical or contrary to programme standards in a documentary taking this approach. It noted that the various views on prostitution had been widely canvassed over recent years, and the programme itself indicated that strong opposition remains. TVNZ stressed that the programme was not about the wider community or moral issues, but was about those who worked in the industry.

[14] The broadcaster considered that Mrs Gregory’s suggestions under Standard 4 (guidelines 4a and 4b) were clearly outside the scope of the programme. The effects brothels might have on a neighbourhood were covered in respect of suburban-based brothels, it noted. TVNZ quoted the comments in the programme by Grace Haden, a long-time opponent of a prominent Auckland brothel:

You have a ten-year-old walking up the street [where] these people are looking for sex. Now some of these people have been out drinking and some of these people have already been to a brothel. What you are doing is putting a high concentration of people in an area of people who are looking for sex, which is not normal. Normally people don’t go to the shops when looking for sex but these people are walking through. You’re leaving children vulnerable; you’re leaving society vulnerable.

[15] As far as SOOBs were concerned, TVNZ did not consider that there was any issue because they were not matters that had changed as a result of the PRA. The small one-person brothels had existed for decades, it said.

[16] In the broadcaster’s view, issues such as the psychological effects on women who go into prostitution were similarly outside the scope of the programme. That was not an issue that had changed as a result of the legislation.

[17] Turning to consider Standard 2 (law and order), TVNZ did not believe the programme was inconsistent with the maintenance of law and order, or that it failed to respect the principles of law which sustain our society. The broadcaster observed that prostitution was not illegal in New Zealand and could not fairly be described as lacking in legitimacy as an occupation.

[18] It did not agree that the material showing a particular brothel amounted to an advertisement. The material was directly relevant, TVNZ said, because it showed how bringing the sex industry out in the open had benefited the workers. By contrast, a South Auckland sequence referring to a drive-by shooting indicated that not all sex workers had experienced an improvement in their working environment.

[19] TVNZ also disagreed that the programme appeared to “morally sanction” prostitution by only interviewing those with a vested interest in the industry. It had confined interviews to that group because it was a documentary which chronicled experiences within the industry under the new law.

[20] Looking at Standard 4 (balance), TVNZ was not convinced by Mrs Gregory’s argument that the item was unbalanced. The scope of the programme had been clearly set out, it said, and within that scope the documentary had presented a balanced account of how the sex industry was faring since the PRA.

[21] The broadcaster could find no examples of inaccuracies, and therefore it concluded that Standard 5 (accuracy) was not breached. It noted that the complainant’s examples were expressions of genuinely held opinion by the two spokeswomen concerned. TVNZ noted that the Television Code specifically upheld the right of individuals to express their own opinions (Standard 6, guideline 6d).

[22] Noting Mrs Gregory’s contention that the Government gave councils the responsibility of making by-laws, TVNZ argued that the law actually gave councils the option of making by-laws. It was an option, and not a requirement.

Referral to the Authority

[23] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mrs Gregory referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She said that her main reason for making the complaint was that many people believed it was a “blatant advertisement for prostitution”. Mrs Gregory reiterated her view that the programme seriously breached Standard 2 and guideline 2a.

[24] Referring to TVNZ’s argument that the purpose of the programme was to look at prostitution from the perspective of sex workers, the complainant submitted that TVNZ had not addressed her complaint. By interviewing only those with a vested interest in the industry and those who were running “successful” brothels, the programme was unbalanced. It did not give a true picture of the sex industry after the PRA, she said.

[25] Mrs Gregory argued that the opinions expressed in the item were not distinguished from statements of fact. She also noted that the programme did not mention a recent court case where a brothel owner in Wellington had been found guilty of using 14 and 17-year-old girls for prostitution. In the complainant’s view, this situation had only arisen as a result of the PRA “loosening the laws on prostitution”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[26] TVNZ reiterated that many of the matters raised by Mrs Gregory were not matters which had arisen because of the PRA. Some may have occurred since the Act became law, it said, but not because of it. It maintained that Prostitution – After the Act was intended to look at whether, from the perspective of sex workers, the PRA had brought about the beneficial changes in security and conditions which had been promised.

[27] The broadcaster advised that the programme was broadcast with an AO classification and was preceded by the following warning:

[28] Tonight’s Exposé on One is rated adults only and recommended for a mature audience. It contains sexual material that may offend some people.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[29] In her final submission, Mrs Gregory reiterated some of the points made in her earlier correspondence, and she maintained her view that the programme had breached Standards 2, 4 and 5. She also argued that TVNZ’s complaints committee had shown “extreme partiality” towards the broadcaster, and expressed her disappointment that it had not upheld television standards.

Authority's Determination

[30] The members of the Authority have viewed a copy of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 2 (law and order)

[31] Mrs Gregory maintained that the broadcaster acted in a manner inconsistent with the purpose of the PRA, because she felt that the programme endorsed and morally sanctioned prostitution. However, the Authority notes that section 3 of the PRA only applies to the Act itself, and it does not prohibit any such endorsement by others. It states:

The purpose of this Act is to decriminalise prostitution (while not endorsing or morally sanctioning prostitution or its use)…

[32] The Authority has stated on a number of occasions that the intent behind the law and order standard in the Broadcasting Code is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity. In the present case, the Authority finds nothing in the broadcast which constituted the broadcaster encouraging viewers to break the law, and no criminal activity was shown. Accordingly, it does not uphold the law and order complaint.

Standard 4 (balance)

[33] Standard 4 requires that balance be provided when controversial issues of public importance are discussed. The Authority agrees with TVNZ that this programme looked at whether the PRA had brought about the beneficial changes in security and conditions for sex workers that had been promised. Given the ongoing controversy surrounding this legislation, the Authority considers this to be an issue to which Standard 4 applies.

[34] The Authority notes that the complainant’s main concern was that the programme “morally sanctioned” prostitution. Mrs Gregory submitted that the programme should have included a number of interviews with various persons and organisations who could have detailed the negative side of the industry. In the Authority’s view, the prospective interviewees nominated by the complainant could have been relevant to a different programme examining the rights and wrongs of prostitution. However, that was not the focus of this programme.

[35] The Authority considers that the programme’s clear focus was on the impact of the legislation on members of the industry rather than its impact on the communities within which they operated. It did not set out to examine the wider issue of prostitution, its morality or negative effects. As such, interviews with any of the persons or organisations suggested by Mrs Gregory would not have been directly relevant to the controversial issue under discussion.

[36] Considering the focus of the item, the Authority finds that the programme as a whole was sufficiently balanced to meet the requirements of Standard 4. The documentary contained a range of views from people who had been directly affected by the legislation, including sex workers and brothel operators. Although most of their experiences were positive, the documentary also detailed some of the problems that had arisen as a result of the PRA. This included by-laws that had been passed by local councils which negatively impacted on some brothel owners, and comments from a long-time opponent to an Auckland brothel.

[37] The Authority considers that TVNZ made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on the controversial issue under discussion. Accordingly, it does not uphold the balance complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[38] Mrs Gregory complained that it was inaccurate for the Prostitutes’ Collective spokeswoman to say that district councils should leave those in the sex industry to get on with their business. The Authority considers that this was clearly an expression of the woman’s opinion that district councils should not be involved in the sex industry. As her comment was not presented as a statement of fact to which the accuracy standard applies, the Authority declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

[39] The complainant also objected to the comment from a brothel owner that only a “religious few” had objected to prostitution in Hamilton. As above, the Authority is of the view that this was clearly distinguishable as an expression of the brothel owner’s opinion about the people who were opposed to prostitution in Hamilton. It does not uphold this part of the complaint.

[40] In general, Mrs Gregory felt that the documentary was misleading, as it “normalised and condoned” prostitution without showing the other side of the issue. In the Authority’s view, the programme took a dispassionate approach to the issue at hand without making a moral judgment about the rights and wrongs of prostitution. As discussed in its consideration of the balance standard above, the Authority finds that it was not necessary to explore the negative aspects of prostitution, because the programme focussed only on the impact of the legislation on those in the industry. It concludes that Standard 5 was not breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
22 February 2006

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

  1.    Patricia Gregory’s formal complaint – 7 October 2005
  2.    TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 25 October 2005
  3.    Mrs Gregory’s referral to the Authority – 1 November 2005
  4.    TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 10 November 2005
  5.    Mrs Gregory’s final comment – 20 November 2005