Trash TV clean-up after sex scandal

CANBERRA - The sexual romp on Big Brother that outraged sensitivities is likely to lead to new legal clamps on "reality" television shows.

It has also spurred the Government's determination to bring the internet to heel, with new laws being written to enforce censorship on new web and mobile phone services.

Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan announced the moves yesterday after receiving a report on the "turkey slap" that saw two male housemates evicted from Channel Ten's Big Brother House.

Michael Cox, 20, known as Ashley on the show, and Michael Bric, 21, were thrown off the set after Cox appeared to rub his crotch into the face of 22-year-old Camilla Halliwell, who was lying in Bric's arms.

Halliwell, 22, later said the incident had been a joke and that she had not been offended.

It was not broadcast by Channel Ten, but the scene was streamed live on the internet and picked up by other websites - most of which later withdrew the segment at Coonan's request.

Prime Minister John Howard, supported by Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and other prominent politicians, condemned the incident and called for the axing of the show.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward also said that Halliwell may be able to sue Channel Ten for sex harassment if she later felt she had been humiliated or intimidated.

"Putting your groin in someone's face is, I think, pretty close to sexual harassment," Melbourne's Herald-Sun reported Goward as saying.

She said the broadcast could make Halliwell's case stronger.

But the families of Cox and Bric are considering legal action of their own, complaining that the "turkey slap" had been discussed in advance but that Ten had not taken action to prevent it.

Cox and Bric also hit back yesterday, denying that force had been used to restrain Halliwell as the media had reported and claiming that the incident had been blown out of proportion.

"It's not nice to be classed as sexual predators," Cox said.

Bric added: "I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried what other people thought of me.

"My reputation is my life and I am extremely shocked to see allegations of Ash and I being sexual assaulters or that we disrespect women.

Australia's TV watchdog yesterday reported to Coonan that free-to-air standards did not apply to the incident because it had not been broadcast.

It also said existing online content regulations did not apply because the incident had been streamed live rather than stored for multiple viewings.

Coonan ordered the television watchdog to review the existing free-to-air television code of practice to determine if it provided "appropriate community standards" in regard to "reality" shows.

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