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Dyson at Large – It's time to ban sex ads


Yeah, I know, not very nice is it? And not the sort of blurb that you particularly wanted to read when you decided to click onto a blog reviewing local newspapers.

But there’s a 90pc chance that this is the sort of advert that your daily and weekly newspapers carry in each edition.

The above was in The Chester Leader, on page 46 of its Friday 23 July edition. A mistake, maybe, a tiny, single classified that slipped through?

I’m afraid not. For a start it was a ‘display classified’ if that makes sense, in that it pictured a buxom blonde with eye-popping cleavage.

And it was no ‘single’ occurrence, for above it was an ad that left even less to the imagination: ’35p QUICKIE RELIEF. LIE BACK & RELAX’.

‘Nothing illegal in that, it’s just a bit of fun in a modern, cosmopolitan world,’ I can almost hear someone say.

Perhaps that’s right, but it starts to feel all the more sordid when it’s placed atop a ‘Personals’ column that includes the following:

  • ‘FANTASIA X 24/7 Best rates. Gorgeous fun within 1 hour’
  • ‘STUNNING BLONDE Available for hotel or home visits’
  • ‘5 star Ultimate Massage, £40 all inclusive. Gorgeous girls’
  • Before NWN Media, the Leader’s publishers, feel unfairly picked on, let’s flick through the back-end pages of a few more regionals I’ve picked up in recent days.

    On page 39 of the Archant-owned East London Advertiser dated 15 July:

  • ‘PARADISE MASSAGE EAST HAM, Lady for unhurried massage’
  • ‘AFTER DARK SECRETS, Beautiful bubbly ladies available 8pm – 6am, no rush’
  • As you can see here, nearly a page of this was carried by the Advertiser…

    Again, they’re only publishing what the majority of the regional and local press publish.

    But why, oh why, is the most family-orientated media in Britain sullying itself by accepting classified adverts for massage parlours that it at least suspects are in certain cases informal brothels?

    Do you think I exaggerate? Well, when editor of the Birmingham Mail I clearly remember the case of Cuddles massage parlour, which you can read about here.

    The link leads you to the story about a man jailed for two years when police raiders found scantily-clad women, a couple having sex and posters on the walls detailing charges for sexual services.

    As many as 19 women – six illegal immigrants – from ten countries, including Albania, Kosovo and Latvia, were found to be working as prostitutes and, in a linked case, police prosecuted a Hungarian couple suspected of human trafficking.

    What the story doesn’t say is that in the days before the raid, the Mail regularly carried adverts for Cuddles similar to those quoted above, obviously without knowing what the establishment was actually up to.

    The ad was removed, of course, but I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable when, five years on, I spotted this under the ‘ADULT MASSAGE’ section in the Mail on 29 July: ‘BUNNY’S SAUNA open 7 days till late, Formally Cuddles’.

    Now I’m sure the Mail has carried out checks, and that Bunny’s is nothing like the place that Cuddles was, but why say that in the advert? Is Bunny’s proud that it uses premises formerly occupied by a brothel?

    Before I get the usual comments stating ‘you’ve got something against Trinity Mirror’ let me point out that this is a near industry-wide phenomenon.

    As cited above, I’ve seen similar sex ads in Archant and NWN Media newspapers in the last two weeks.

    Indeed, to my knowledge, only Newsquest has made a decision to ban ‘adult services’ ads from all 300+ of its newspapers across the UK, although please post a comment if your group has too.

    I know from editing days on Teesside that even groups that do allow ‘adult’ ads are sensibly more discerning in certain high-risk areas.

    In Middlesbrough back in 2003, when prostitution and kerb-crawling were rife, the Trinity Mirror-owned Evening Gazette refused such ad revenues despite what would have been queues of young ladies with ready cash to pay for them.

    I hope that’s still the case up there, although I also hope that the red-light trade has been tackled.

    While any such local control is laudable, today I call for the newspaper industry itself to completely ban all blatant sex ads.

    Even if the majority describe legal services, they simply do not suit what should be the style of regional and local papers.

    Taste issues aside, deep down we also know that such adverts can support trades that we would not like to put our names to.

    Read Steve’s previous blog posts here

  • Steve Dyson worked in the regional press for 20 years, editing weekly, Sunday and daily newspapers in the North East and the Midlands from 2002 until the end of 2009. To contact him, email [email protected].

    Steve’s blog is available via an RSS feed. Click here to subscribe.


    davy gravy (04/08/2010 09:07:54)
    Brilliantly said, Steve. The newspaper industry is very good at holding others to account, but all too often less so at looking critically at itself. Here’s one example where it should do just that.

    James (04/08/2010 09:20:41)
    Interesting piece on classified sex ads. I’m in full agreement.
    The Ipswich Evening Star, the local rag that has sought to fend off its failing circulation by use of its “Somebody’s Daughter” campaign – following the prostitute murders around the town in 2007 – still regularly runs up to 65 of these ads in its classified section, along with its more reputable Archant Suffolk stable-mate, the East Anglian Daily Times. Their respective editors will tolerate no debate on the subject. Cynical hypocrisy at a grand level?
    Time for change? You don’t have to be a prude or a Daily Mail reader to agree with you on that!

    Barney Rubble (04/08/2010 09:31:21)
    Hyprocrisy indeed. Steve, why didn’t YOU ban these ads when you were in charge at the Mail. It’s hardly a secret they are all cover for brothels – and the Mail has been running them for many, many years. Advertising revenue anyone?
    And as for Quote: Now I’m sure the Mail has carried out checks! That is either tongue-in-cheek or the most naive comment you have ever come up with. Carried out checks my ****!

    Steve Dyson (04/08/2010 09:38:51)
    Like it or not, editors do not have the power to ban such adverts. They can (and do) edit the content, tone and taste, and I remember many such instances of removing inappropriate images and words. But because of the amount of revenues involved, any such ban would have to be approved, led and fully backed by the chief executives of the head offices involved. As per Newsquest.

    Lord Lucan (04/08/2010 09:55:32)
    They’re banned by JP…

    Oldhackandproud (04/08/2010 10:09:58)
    They’re not banned at our place! The only thing banned is giving reporters the price of a cup of tea as subsistence when they’re working away!!

    Watchin’ (04/08/2010 11:47:40)
    Maybe the new President of the Newspaper Society, Georgina Harvey, a woman, will back Dyson’s campaign to end the press’s part in exploiting women? As she’s MD of Trinity Mirror Region
    als, she could start with banning the ads in her own back yard. I’m sure she would be backed by Sly Bailey, the chief exec of Trinity Mirror, and another woman.

    faraz (04/08/2010 11:52:28)
    Excellent Mr D. I can only imagine that as an editor it must have been one of those sore realities that you spoke against to the powers that be, but to little or no avail. Business and moral fortitude have rarely walked hand in hand. Business and pressure however are lovers. If we, as a nation truly wanted to rid our local papers of content that promotes the debasement of our mothers, sisters, aunts, wives etc then we would have mounted seroius public pressure to do just that. Perhaps our silence shouts volumes about the guilt of its many consumers or the irrelevance of local papers to the masses… whatever it says. Its wrong and we should mount an intelligent and intentive campaign against it…

    Mr_Osato (04/08/2010 11:53:04)
    to their credit (not something you’ll hear me say often) both Newsquest and Johnston Press have banned these ads, at considerable cost

    xnewspaper (04/08/2010 12:33:37)
    it’s regional newspapers exploiting prostitution for profit.
    The Evening Argus stopped accepting ad’s of this nature twentyfive years ago due to the surge in Aids victims and violence towards women.

    Denise Eaton (04/08/2010 12:34:42)
    The KM Group does not permit such personal services ads in any of its titles. Recently many titles, including The Gravesend & Dartford Messenger Series, actively campaigned against them. It took our reporter less than five minutes to uncover eight brothels masquerading as ‘massage parlours’ in a rival publication. We uncovered evidence of exploitation and human trafficking, but it seems even that’s not enough to jolt the moral conscience of those who continue to publish such ads.

    Hengist Pod (04/08/2010 13:03:29)
    And in other news today from Hold the Front Page – it has been announced that “Glenn Miller is still missing!”. Just as prostitution is described as the oldest profession, this sort of thing has been going on for donkeys’ years and I’m sure it will continue for many more. There’s always been a level of almost laughable hypocrisy in newspapers doing exposes on brothels a la ‘our reporter made his excuses and left,’ or covering their closure yet happily sharing in the profits (technically a criminal offence). It is significant that it’s more sordid than ever these days with probably 95 per cent or more of sex workers being trafficked women or heroin addicts. Great debating subject though.

    Interested party (04/08/2010 13:15:46)
    I totally agree with Steve, it is something I have raised with bosses many times although with little response.
    Also, I am sat with a copy of a Johnston Press title in front of me, today’s edition, with a very full ‘Personal Services’ section, detailing the services of Jodie, Shelly, Sophia, etc.

    Innocent until proven guilty (04/08/2010 13:33:04)
    …and the loss of revenue/profit will equal more job losses for journo’s….great idea.
    Innocent until proven guilty

    RT (04/08/2010 14:13:14)
    There is some real buck-passing going on at the top of the companies which still run these adverts. If you read the terms and conditions in most titles, it states the editor is responsible for the tone and content of all adverts. Indeed, the managing director of one large group happily wrote to anti-trafficking campaigners claiming the decision to run such adverts was made locally. This was a bare-faced lie – any editor who tries to remove them from the paper will soon find out just how much influence they really have. It may take a prosecution to stir people into action, although you can bet your bottom dollar it would be the editor in court, not the commercial bosses.

    Stephen P (04/08/2010 14:28:39)
    As sex work, known to MPs and other elderly as prostitution, has existed in all societies throughout recorded history irrespective of the regime laid down by the powers that be (including newspapers), it would make great sense to accept it as a part of the human condition and a social phenomenon, however regrettable, and concentrate on a rights-based, harm minimisation approach rather than continuing with the extremely expensive, forlorn and indeed dangerous attempts to eliminate it so beloved of that latrine of HM Government known as the Home Office.
    Very largely through the actions of the media, sex workers have become a highly marginalised, stigmatised group of persons, generally terrified to speak out in the society of which they are a part.
    It is not the advertising departments of newspapers that are responsible for this, but the responsibility of their editorial staff cannot be discounted.
    Innumerable surveys of sex workers show that they are safest indoor in numbers, and least safe on the streets. Working indoors together, however, they constitute a brothel, and anyone paying the rent, fuel bills or council tax can be imprisoned for seven years, have all their takings from the enterprise seized under Proceeds of Crime (and distributed between the police, CPS and Inland Revenue), and the premises can be closed for three months.
    So the police raid the brothel, arrest those managing it, close the place, and what becomes of the sex workers (who, incidentally, have committed no crime)? They are left, of course, on the streets, for the next Peter Sutcliffe or Steve Wright to happen upon. It was the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 that popularised the banning of brothels, setting the scene for the Jack the Ripper killings three years later.
    It is high time the Steve Dysons of this world left newspapers, having slept through this story on innumerable occasions when they may have covered it properly and put some pressure on to do something about it, rather than blaming the department next door for shedding at least some, albeit distorted, light on an aspect of the local industry and paying his wages.

    ajinexile (04/08/2010 14:38:49)
    Interesting that the ad in the Chesty Leader reads ‘fun within 1 hour’, while those in the East End papers talk of ‘unhurried’ massages with ‘no rush’. It’s a wonder that some bean counting publisher has not seen the music waiting to be made by buying up all those unused phone boxes around the country. Not that I agree with sex ads, mind you. To paraphrase Duncan Webb’s great line: “I make my excuses and leave.”

    suffolkhack (04/08/2010 17:20:39)
    The Ipswich Evening Star’s hypocrisy in running brothel adverts is breathtaking. Most of the prostitutes killed by Steve Wright started off working in Ipswich massage parlours, before being forced to leave and work on the streets either because their drug habits made them unemployable or they needed more money to support their habits by working for themselves. It is possible that some of these girls might be alive today if it were not for these parlour brothels giving them the opportunity to start in the sex trade. Yet these same brothels have been supported for years by the Star and its sister paper, the East Anglian Daily Times, providing them with advertising space. At the same time the Star has been running its cynical Somebody’s Daughter campaign to help vulnerable women quit drugs and the sex trade – hypocrisy at it worst from the paper which in effect is Ipswich’s biggest pimping organisation, coining in thousands of pounds from three columns of brothel ads every day. The editor of the EADT even had the cheek to criticise The Sun for giving the impression that Ipswich was flooded with prostitues when he wrote a piece reacting to The Sun’s front page about the fattest man in the world living in Ipswich. The Sun does not carry brothel ads and never mentioned prostitution in the story – yet in the same issue the EADT carried its usual 60 or so ads for brothels. The Star and EADT seem to think that they can get round the problem by publishing messages alongside the ads, saying that details of advertisers will be made available to the cops and for anyone with suspicions of criminal behaviour to call police. In recent ye
    ars there have been several cases of owners of such brothels being taken to court for employing people-trafficed women – all cases reported by the local papers without a hint of irony

    Gaga (04/08/2010 17:25:26)
    Here’s an idea for all those complaining their newspapers feature these ads – expose them for what they are. If your paper then won’t print the story, then report it to the police. That’s the way to solve it.

    Sack the Panda (05/08/2010 12:11:42)
    Ban sex ads! Are you mad?
    In a perfect world maybe, you know where people only want to read good news and advertisers are lining up to take out full page ads.
    In the real world, where advertising is falling faster than Juicy Lucy’s pants and readers are finding less reasons to buy their staff shedding regionals the sex ads provide regular vital income.
    And dare I say it readers, i bet many a paper has been bought for the sole reason of procuring the hop.
    Where will it all stop what about the dating classifieds Steve? Would someone be combing them for any sexual references.

    Neil Hodge (05/08/2010 12:22:16)
    Sex ads are about the only content worth reading in most local newspapers. The last time I read a local paper an ex-footballer buying a fish and chip shop was the lead story in the business section. These newspapers might as well get their revenues from somewhere, as they are unlikely to recoup them from their dwindling readerships who are faced with the regular crop of dire stories and substandard pictures that fill most of these rags’ pages most of the time.

    Jack Thompson (05/08/2010 15:29:25)
    Newspapers struggling, advertising on the slide, future bleak, so lets do something to limit our revenue raising potential. Great idea Dyson. How many more journos will be sacked if these ads disappear?

    Steve Dyson (05/08/2010 16:45:25)
    Interesting perspectives from the last couple of posters, but I guess it takes all sorts. Thanks to all for an interesting debate this week. More on this subject will come at the end of August.

    Julian (12/08/2010 11:14:07)
    Reference the Evening Star and East Anglian Daily Times. The discussions on this matter are extensive, but the revenue issue tends to be secondary. The true benefit surrounds the relationship we have with Suffolk Constabulary and the exchange of information which has enabled us to pass on evidence. The policies in place to check “adult services” advertisers means that we check passorts and driving licenses, collect data, no cash payments are excepted which allows us to pass on banking details, when requested, essential for gaining further evidence. Having served as a police officer in the Suffolk Constabulary I know that the process we have in place provides greater intelligence that would be lost if it were driven underground. It is a seedy and unpleasant section of our titles and in an ideal world would not exist. But in reality regional press can help the local police, most readers do not know, and can not know the information exchange with police which frequently leaves us unable to balance the arguement for this section.

    Arthur Foxache (24/08/2010 15:13:08)
    Steve, anybody who is anybody in Birmingham will tell you that the only difference between Cuddles and Bunnys (no apostrophe on the frontage) is the name. Many of the same girls.
    I’m told.