Pornography is not a private issue

What we do in the privacy of our room defines character, argues Bob McCoskrie. Further, the media should show the same level of indignation towards their promotion of the pornography industry as they have towards Shane Jones.

In response to the viewing choices of Labour MP Shane Jones in his hotel room, both Labour leader Phil Goff and deputy leader Annette King said that what their MPs did in the privacy of their room was none of their business.

While we always hope that our private attitudes and actions do not receive the same scrutiny as our public and outward appearance and words, they can not be separated, because they define character. What we do in private manifests itself in the quality of our integrity, morality and leadership in the public domain.

Watching a movie containing bestiality or necrophilia, having an extra-marital affair, getting drunk and passing out, or purchasing the services of a prostitute can also happen in the privacy of our room and are completely legal. But are they right?

It is significant that while National MP Tim Groser has maintained his current status in parliament despite raiding the mini bar - in the privacy of his room - there has been a furore over Mr Jones' purchase of porn in his room.

It's ironic, because the media have attacked the issue of porn viewing while turning a blind eye to the fact that they themselves have marketed, broadcast, promoted, and peddled the pornography industry for years. Broadcasting standards is an oxymoron in this country.

The indignation being shown towards Mr Jones needs to be redirected towards the increased availability and exposure of pornography not just in hotel rooms but on free-to-air television, radio, billboards, in print, and when and where children can be exposed to it.

It's everywhere, and that must change. And the media should show the same level of indignation towards their promotion of the pornography industry as they have towards Mr Jones.

The public's uneasiness with a politician purchasing blue movies is part of an overriding public stigma - and a healthy one at that - against pornography.

In a recent poll of 1000 New Zealanders, commissioned by Family First, respondents were asked, "Are you concerned about the type of language used, or the level of violence and sex shown on TV before 8.30pm, when children are likely to be watching?", concern was expressed by 65% of respondents. Women and over-60-year-olds were most concerned.

A Family First investigation of 15 programmes on four free-to-air channels between 6pm and 8.30pm in 2008 found a saturation of foul language, sexual innuendo, and promotion of adult-only programmes.

Also of concern was the number of programmes which are rated for adult viewing being promoted between 6pm and 8.30pm. An example included promos during TV One News at 6pm for Virgin School screened at 9.30pm.

It's time that we acknowledged the harm that pornography does to families, men and marriages.

Pornography has a damaging effect on intimacy, love, and respect and at its worst, leads to sex role stereotyping, viewing persons as sexual objects, and family breakdown.

Research at Australia's La Trobe University recently concluded "This is not about couples going to the porn store to spice up their sex lives. Men in growing numbers are using porn in ways that are secret, shameful and damaging. It is having a damaging impact on intimacy and sexuality."

Research has also shown that children who are exposed to pornography develop skewed ideas about sex and sexuality, which lead to negative stereotypes of women, sexual activity at a young age, and increased aggression in boys.

This is not the time to point the finger at Shane Jones because he has fronted up and admitted he was wrong - although it is important to reassure ourselves that "red blooded males" don't need pornography.

But it is the time to point the finger at the pornography industry which has had free rein up until now to pollute our minds and harm our families.

And when politicians are given the mantle of leadership to vote on important moral issues, we have the right to know their strength - or weakness - of character.

Phil Goff said he expected his MPs to maintain high standards. What they do in the privacy of their own home - or hotel room - determines our judgement of whether they meet the standard expected of our leaders.


- Bob McCoskrie is national director Family First NZ.

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