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Women Against Pornography (Auckland) (WAP) and Max TV Ltd - 1997-115

Members

  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • A Martin

Complainant

  • Women Against Pornography (Auckland)

Dated

4th September 1997

Number

1997-115

Channel/Station

Max TV

Broadcaster

Max TV Ltd


Summary

The prone, naked torso of a woman, in which her genitalia were explicitly exposed,

was featured on a video of Iggy Pop's song "Pussy Walk", screened on Max TV on 20

May 1997 at 10.55pm.

Elizabeth Paton Simpson, on behalf of Women Against Pornography (Auckland),

complained to Max TV Ltd that the video was offensive and insulting to women, and

that the visual offensiveness was compounded by the lyrics of the song. An apology

was sought, as well as an assurance that the video would not be played again on Max

TV.

In a brief response, Max TV advised that it considered it acted responsibly by

preceding the video with a warning that some viewers could be offended, and by

playing it in AO time at 10.55pm. It declined to uphold the complaint.

Dissatisfied with that decision, Women Against Pornography 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 upholds the complaint and orders Max TV

Ltd to pay to the Crown the sum of $3000 by way of costs.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and

have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). On this occasion, the

Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

A music video featuring the song "Pussy Walk" by Iggy Pop was screened on Max

TV on 20 May 1997 at 10.55pm. The song, which was about the genitalia of girls and

women, was accompanied by a still photograph of the torso only of a naked woman,

filmed so as to place her genitalia in the centre of the picture. For most of the song's

duration, the camera panned over her body, frequently resting in close-up on her

genital area. There was also a brief sequence in which two men were shown driving

recklessly through an urban area, to accompany a verse of the song which expressed

the singer's inability to concentrate on simple tasks when he was distracted by the

thought of the genitalia of the women he saw.

Elizabeth Paton-Simpson, on behalf of the Auckland branch of Women Against

Pornography (WAP), complained that the video was offensive and insulting to

women, and that its offensiveness was compounded by the lyrics. WAP observed

that the woman's body was shown in a standard masturbation-object pose, and that

the depiction encouraged viewers to emulate the singer, who was unable to think of

anything but their genitalia when he looked at young girls and women.

WAP referred to a High Court judgment in Re People [1993] NZAR 543. That

judgment confirmed that when the dominant content is the close-up depiction of

genitalia which reduces a person to her or his sexual parts, it is within the category of

depictions which "demean or treat as inherently inferior or unequal any person or

group of persons [and] ...are intended as sexual stimuli" (at 551552). This was

labelled by the Court as the "second guideline", and it held:

There is now no doubt that the Tribunal has a reasonable basis for confirming

its view that harm will result from material falling within the second guideline,

and for concluding indeed that harm to one segment of society can constitute

harm to society as a whole. Our basis for these findings is our growing

conviction, based on evidence heard in the Penthouse proceedings, and on the

very personal and intense testimony of WAP's witnesses, that material which

demeans women or treats them as inherently unequal is harmful to women.

This harm to women can be seen as hindering and undermining women's

pursuit of equality in all facets of life, as promoting disrespect for women, and

as condoning callous attitudes towards the experience of women which could

manifest themselves in covert or overt acts of discrimination or worse.


WAP maintained that women had a right not to be exposed to this kind of material,

and sought from Max TV an acknowledgment that it was inappropriate, an apology,

and an assurance that it would not be played again.

In its response, Max TV maintained that it acted responsibly when it showed the

video. It pointed out that it was preceded by a warning that it could offend some

viewers, and that it was played during AO time, at 10.55pm. It noted that the video

was not on a station rotate, and if played again would only appear on a Tuesday night

between 10.0011.00pm. It did not uphold the complaint.

When Max TV responded to the Authority, it explained that with music videos, many

directors wanted to explore the visual medium and "push the envelope". It added that

it believed in promoting creativity, and where appropriate would push the envelope

itself. Nevertheless, it maintained, it was also responsible as to when and how the

clips were shown.

The Authority is not unfamiliar with the song "Pussy Walk". It dealt with a

complaint about it on a radio station and, in Decision No: 1996-068, upheld the

complaint that at the hour of the broadcast (6.00pm), the lyrics were offensive and

breached the standard of good taste and decency. It did not uphold the complaint that

it denigrated women, although it considered the words of the song "come close to

denigrating women because it reduced them to body parts". It is relevant to note that

the standard in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice contains slightly different

wording than the comparable standard in the Television Code. The Television Code

prohibits the portrayal of people which represents them as inherently inferior, or is

likely to encourage discrimination against them, while the Radio Code prohibits

portrayal of people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination

against them.

Although on this occasion no standards were nominated by the parties, it is clear from

WAP's complaint that standards G2 and G13 are relevant. Accordingly the Authority

considers the complaint under those standards. They 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.

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

dramatic work.

It deals first with the complaint that the video was offensive and in breach of standard

G2. The Authority has no hesitation in finding this standard was breached. There are

no aspects of context  such as the time of the broadcast, the warning which preceded

the item, the type of station, or the fact that it is a short music video  which

ameliorate the breach. The Authority finds the video grossly objectionable, and

considers the combination of the lyrics with the still photograph of a woman's naked

torso far exceeds the good taste standard.

It then assesses the item against standard G13, the standard which prevents

broadcasters portraying people in a way which represents them as inherently inferior,

or encourages discrimination against them.

The High Court of New Zealand has confirmed (in Re People, cited above) that

depictions of women which reduce them to their sexual parts demean women and treat

them as inherently unequal, and thus are harmful to women. The Authority defers to

this guideline in its assessment of standard G13. In its earlier decision (which dealt

only with the lyrics of "Pussy Walk") the Authority found that they came close to

degrading women because of their emphasis on the genitalia of girls and young women,

these being the subject of the singer's fantasies. It now finds the combination of those

lyrics and the explicit imagery in the video is in clear breach of standard G13. It

considers that such demeaning of women is not an issue which is mitigated by context

or time of screening. The Authority further notes that the imagery of genitalia,

frequently in close-up, dominated the playing time of the video. It regards this as an

act of deliberate provocation which compounds the offensiveness, and takes this into

account when assessing the appropriate penalty.

 

For the reasons set forth above the Authority upholds the complaint that

standards G2 and G13 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice were

breached by Max TV Ltd's broadcast of the music video "Pussy Walk" on 20

May 1997 at 10.55pm and makes the following order:


Order

Pursuant to s.16(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 (as amended in 1996), the

Authority orders Max TV Ltd to pay costs to the Crown in the amount of $3000

within one month of the date of this decision.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
4 September 1997

Appendix


Women Against Pornography (Auckland)'s Complaint to Max TV Limited 
27 May 1997

Elizabeth Paton-Simpson, on behalf of Women Against Pornography (Auckland)

complained to Max TV that its broadcast of the video of the song "Pussy Walk" by

Iggy Pop on 20 May 1997 at 10.55pm breached broadcasting standards.

Women Against Pornography (WAP) considered the video offensive and insulting to

women because it showed a woman's prone and naked torso, and focussed on her

genitals. It added:

The visual offensiveness was compounded by the lyrics, about how when the

singer looks at women and girls, all he can think about is their genitals. By

showing a woman's body in a standard masturbation-object pose, the video

encouraged viewers to emulate the singer. The lyrics also encouraged adult

male viewers to think of "young girls in their young girl clothes" as they

masturbated. We believe the screening of this video was in breach of standards

G2 and G13 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

The complaint continued:

The High Court of New Zealand in Re "People" [1993] NZAR 543 confirmed

that "magazines the dominant content of which is the close-up depiction of

genitalia and other body parts and other depictions which reduce a person to

her or his sexual parts" fall within the category of depictions which "demean

or treat as inherently inferior or unequal any person or group of persons

which are not serious treatments and which are intended as sexual stimuli" (at

551-52). This was labelled the "second guideline", and the Court held:

There is now no doubt that the Tribunal has a reasonable basis for

confirming its view that harm will result from material falling within the

second guideline, and for concluding indeed that harm to one segment of

society can constitute harm to society as a whole. Our basis for these

findings is our growing conviction, based on evidence heard in the

Penthouse proceedings, and on the very personal and intense testimony

of WAP's witnesses, that material which demeans women or treats

them as inherently unequal is harmful to women. This harm to women

can be seen as hindering and undermining women's pursuit of equality

in all facets of life, as promoting disrespect for women, and as

condoning callous attitudes towards the experience of women which

could manifest themselves in covert or overt acts of discrimination or

worse.


WAP argued that women had a right not to have this kind of material forced upon

them in their own living rooms. It suggested that Max TV should contribute towards

equality, not be part of the backlash against it.|

WAP sought an apology and an assurance that the video would not be played again on

Max TV.

Max TV's Response to the Formal Complaint  12 June 1997

In a brief response, Max TV wrote that it considered it had acted responsibly when it

showed the video, noting that prior to the screening, the presenter warned that it could

offend some viewers. In addition, it was played at 10.55pm in the Adults Only

classification time.

Max TV advised that the clip was not on a rotate and if played again would only

appear in Station Distortion (1011pm on a Tuesday night).

Max TV did not uphold the complaint.

WAP's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority  27 June 1997

Dissatisfied with Max TV's decision not to uphold the complaint, WAP referred it to

the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

WAP referred to its original letter of complaint which, it stated, explained why the

screening of the video was in breach of standards G2 and G13 of the Television Code

of Broadcasting Practice.

Max TV's Response to the Authority  23 July 1997

In a brief response, Max TV advised that it stood by its response to WAP in its 12

June letter. It added that with music videos, there were many directors and artists

who wanted to explore the visual medium and push the envelope and that Max TV

also believed in promoting creativity and, where appropriate, would push the

envelope itself.

However, Max TV regarded itself as responsible as to when and how such clips were

shown on the channel.

WAP's Final Comment  29 July 1997

Elizabeth Paton-Simpson, on behalf of WAP, provided a brief final comment. She

explained that when she originally telephoned Max TV advising that she intended to

make a complaint, she was assured that the video would not be played again. She

added that she gained the impression from subsequent correspondence that Max did

want to show it again, or at least be free to do so.

Ms Paton-Simpson wondered if the verbal assurances were given cynically in an

attempt to deter her from pursuing a complaint. Hoping that was not the case, she

considered that verbal assurances in response to telephone complaints should not be

given lightly. She concluded:

If broadcasters give definite verbal assurances that specific items will not be

repeated, but do not abide by these assurances, people will be misled and

deterred from making formal complaints, and the complaints procedure will be

undermined.