AUCKLAND, N.Z.—Despite the fact that Section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act of 1990 guarantees to its citizens that "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form," state-owned Television New Zealand's Close Up show nonetheless got in trouble when it aired an interview with veteran adult actress Nina Hartley last August.
According to a report by New Zealand's 3news, the footage of Hartley performing that accompanied the interview, which aired Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. local time, revealed substantially more than the actress's social and political views.
"The item showed Hartley posing for photo shoots and acting in pornographic movies," 3news wrote, "including footage of her wearing only a push-up bra and a g-string, having her toes sucked by a man, dancing erotically, wearing a see-through gown and lingerie, with her bottom toward the face of a man sitting on a chair behind her, rubbing a man's groin with her foot as the man ran his hand up her leg, positioned on all fours, swaying her hips from side to side as a man buried his face in between her buttocks, rubbing her bottom against a man's face while wearing a garter-belt and no underwear, with her pubic hair visible and sitting next to a woman on a couch, and giving the woman a foot massage."
And apparently, to be on the safe side, the station aired the following warning just before the interview ran: "It might seem obvious, but our next story requires some viewer discretion. It’s about an adult film actress—in other words a porn star—who also claims to be a feminist, an advocate for a woman’s right to choose. What she chooses to do of course may not sit comfortably with everyone."
But that wasn't enough for apparent anti-porn activists Robyn and Bert Jackson of Hamilton (the country's tenth largest city), who complained to Television New Zealand (TVNZ) that the program contained "shocking indecent graphics," was in "utter poor taste" and appeared to be a "blatant promotion of the porn industry"—and that in their view, "the reported harm done by pornography to families and women should have been enough to have stopped this going to air especially at a time which is classed as family viewing time."
Although it's unclear how many complaints the station received about the show, TVNZ nonetheless apologized to the Jacksons "for any offence caused. It said that it had spoken to Close Up about the footage being included in the item and that Close Up acknowledged that it should not have been shown. TVNZ assured the complainants that their concerns had been taken seriously, and said that measures had been discussed with Close Up to prevent this sort of 'error' reoccurring." It also later noted that "it had received an 'unprecedented' number of responses to its decision, which in its view indicated that to the majority of complainants the action taken by it in this regard was sufficient."
Guess who wasn't satisfied with that?
"Mr and Mrs Jackson referred their complaint to the [Broadcasting Standards] Authority [BSA] under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainants reiterated their view that the images of 'a frontally-exposed woman engaged in sexual activity with a man' screened during family viewing time was 'far outside' current norms of good taste and decency. They maintained that such material was 'completely contrary' to what most parents would consider to be in the interests of child viewers."
The Jacksons were also "dissatisfied with the in-house measures taken to deal with the matter, and in their view, the broadcast demonstrated 'incompetence' and a 'complete disregard for public standards' on the part of TVNZ staff. They argued that the only 'adequate solution' was to replace them with 'more capable employees.’”
The result? The BSA found that TVNZ had violated two sections of the country's "Free-to-Air TV Code"— Standard 1, "Good Taste and Decency," and Standard 9, "Children's Interests"—and fined the station NZ$3,000. Also, citing a previous Close Up violation, the "Painter and Taylor" decision (where Close Up had aired "scenes from a film of the main characters kissing passionately and the male character putting his head up the female character’s skirt," the BSA issued an order "requiring TVNZ to broadcast a statement summarising the upheld aspects of our decision."
The Jacksons had requested that "TVNZ should be ordered to forego an amount of advertising revenue, or ordered to cease broadcasting for a period of time, to motivate it to make long-term changes in order to prevent future breaches of broadcasting standards," but the BSA decided that the NZ$3,000 fine was sufficient, noting, "On this occasion we are satisfied that the orders we have made are consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act’s requirement that limits on freedom of expression must be prescribed by law, be reasonable, and be demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society."
By comparison, if a similar show were to air in the U.S., the network broadcasting the show, as well as all of the network's affiliates, would each be subject to a fine of $325,000—even though the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights states that, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging freedom of speech, or of the press."
(Pictured: Nina Hartley with Woodhull Freedom Foundation CEO Ricci Levy.)