60 Minutes – sex tourist trade in Thailand – breasts exposed – offensive behaviour – unsuitable for children
Standard G2 – not unsuitable in context – no uphold
Standard G12 – warning sufficed to comply – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
A 60 Minutes item broadcast on TV One on 12 November 2000 beginning at 7.30pm examined the exploitation of young women in the sex industry in Thailand. It examined the attitudes of a group of Australian men who went to Thailand for sex holidays.
Kristian Harang complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that a scene where a young woman exposed her breasts was offensive and inappropriate for broadcast at a time when children were likely to be watching television. He also complained about some night club scenes where women were seen "gyrating".
TVNZ responded that the item was a "story that needed to be told" about the seemingly callous attitudes of Australian men towards young Thai women working in the sex industry in Thailand. In its view the visuals were appropriate to the subject matter of the item and did not exceed norms of decency and good taste. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Harang 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 60 Minutes item on the sex tourist trade in Thailand was broadcast on TV One on 12 November 2000 beginning at 7.30pm. The item, titled "The Ugly Ockers", examined the attitudes of some Australian men who go to Thailand to exploit young Thai women for sex. The presenter explained that the women were very young and uneducated, and had come to the cities to earn money from prostitution to support their families. A Thai government minister explained that prostitution was, in fact, illegal in Thailand, but that the trade flourished because of the willingness of men from more affluent countries to exploit the women.
Kristian Harang complained to TVNZ that the item breached broadcasting standards. In particular he complained about a scene where a young woman briefly exposed her breasts, and a scene showing women dancing in a night club. In his view, the content breached the good taste standard and was unsuitable for broadcast when children were watching television.
TVNZ assessed the complaint, as requested, under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards 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.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing hours.
Noting the context in which the scenes were depicted, TVNZ observed that the item was part of a weekly current affairs programme and that the subject of the sex trade in Thailand had been debated frequently in New Zealand as it had been in Australia. TVNZ suggested that the item added a new dimension to the debate by "revealing the seemingly callous attitudes of the predatory Australian men towards Thai women, some of whom appeared very young indeed." In TVNZ’s view, this was a story that needed to be told because it questioned the role of Australian men (and possibly New Zealanders as well) who perpetuated the sex trade in Thailand.
Although the subject of the item was the sex trade, TVNZ maintained that the pictures used had been carefully shot and used with discretion. It wrote:
It was probably not possible to describe the wretched existence of the Thai prostitutes without some illustration of the dissolute relationships they had with the Australian men. The shot of the young woman exposing her breasts seemed to [TVNZ] to be a particularly sterile one – not at all salacious but symbolic of the way in which her "client" treated her as a temporary chattel to be discarded at a whim.
In the context of the story, TVNZ said it did not consider the visuals had strayed beyond currently accepted norms of decency and good taste.
As far as standard G12 was concerned, TVNZ noted that the item had been preceded by a specific warning advising that some viewers might find it offensive. It said it was not convinced that the subject matter was itself likely to be harmful to children watching under the guidance of an adult, but considered that 60 Minutes had demonstrated that it had been mindful of young viewers by including the warning. In addition, it was noted that 60 Minutes was not by its nature likely to be viewing choice of young people. It did not consider that standard G12 had been infringed.
Referring the complaint to the Authority, Mr Harang said that he disagreed with TVNZ’s response as the Authority’s own research showed that on a Saturday night, 46% of young people between the ages of 6 and 13 were watching television at 9.30pm. As this item was broadcast considerably earlier, Mr Harang concluded that a large number of young people would have seen the woman expose her breasts, encouraging them to believe this was a normal act in society.
TVNZ responded that the item made clear the context in which the woman revealed her breasts – she had done so in response to an Australian man "who had callously hired her for as long as she retained his interest."
In his final comment, Mr Harang repeated that in his view the scene where the woman exposed her breasts was objectionable in family viewing time.
When the Authority considers a complaint which alleges a breach of the good taste standard it does so in the context in which the language or behaviour complained about occurs.
On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors are the programme genre, the time of the broadcast, the warning which preceded it, the subject matter and the relevance of the footage objected to. The Authority acknowledges TVNZ’s argument that 60 Minutes is not likely to be the viewing choice of unattended young people. It also notes that it was broadcast during PGR time when programme content is deemed more suitable for adult audiences, but not necessarily unsuitable for children when subject to the guidance of an adult. In addition, the item was preceded by a warning advising viewer discretion.
Next, the Authority considers the content. In the context of an item about the sex trade in Thailand, it does not consider the brief footage of the young woman revealing her breasts exceeded community expectations of good taste and decency. It reaches the same conclusion in relation to the footage of the night club scenes. It declines to uphold the complaint that standard G2 was breached.
With respect to the complaint under standard G12, the Authority considers that the addition of the warning preceding the programme sufficed to demonstrate that the broadcaster was mindful that children could be in the viewing audience. 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
22 February 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: