OKC's Original 'John TV'

(last updated 5/31/2016)

Naming and shaming prostitution offenders in Oklahoma City was originally an effort initiated by the Oklahoma City Council - JohnTV.com takes a look back.

On March 3, 1999 Oklahoma City debuted "John TV", a weekly public access cable television program that sought to discourage prostitution activities by way of embarrassment. The program was modeled after a similar effort started in Kansas City, MO.

Every Wednesday at 11 a.m. and 7:35 p.m. Cox Cable ch20 (City Vue) aired the mugshots, names and offenses of those who had most recently been arrested and charged with acts related to prostitution in Oklahoma City.

The show, which was estimated to cost nearly $500 a week to produce, ran for four years - from March 1999 to March 2003.

John TV was cancelled by a vote of the Oklahoma City Council at the urging of then Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphries. Humphries claimed that while the effort showed the community, "See, we're trying to do what we can" it also did not present a good image of the city.

In reality, OKC's official version of John TV was doomed from almost the start. 

For starters, the show only aired on public access cable television - a luxury not easily afforded by the very citizens living in low income neighborhoods the program was supposed to help. Additionally, when local news media surveyed citizens on the street, most had never even heard of the program - even though at that time it had been up and running for a few years.

In reality, John TV had already been off-the-air for months prior to its official demise. The original ordinance regarding John TV allowed only for the airing of defendants who were charged in city court - where, at the time, 99% of prostitutes and 'Johns' were prosecuted.

However, in the early 2000's, then Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane, who often referred to himself as "the Minister of Justice," had effectively taken prosecutorial authority away from the city and was instead prosecuting offenders under his jurisdiction in state court.

While some City Council members expressed a desire to revamp John TV to include state defendants and limit publication to only those who have been convicted, the majority voted to pull the plug on a program that was already barely on life-support.

Within days of John TV's cancellation, Brian Bates, aka the Video Vigilante, picked up where the city left off and began incorporating all arrested offenders on his one-year-old existing website by the same name - JohnTV.com. At that point, Bates already had a six year reputation in OKC and beyond as an individual who targeted prostitution offenders and outed them in the local news media and online. However, at that point, Bates mostly limited his coverage to individuals he actually caught on camera.

Bates, who was often outspoken against the city's own version of John TV, said this effort was best left to citizens and private groups. "While I'm in support of spotlighting prostitution offenders, I don't think it's something our government should be doing with tax dollars. If they want to name and shame then they should do it across the board and simply publish the identities of everyone arrested for every crime and let the public make of the information what they will," Bates said.

Bates was also critical of the fact there was no way for city officials to gauge the effectiveness of John TV. "The Mayor said the program didn't work, while I have read quotes from the city saying it does work," said Bates. "The reality is they never considered how to measure John TV's success or failure. They simply relied on arrest numbers. If police choose not to conduct stings then I guess the city council will take that lack of arrests as proof John TV is a huge success. If police concentrate more on prostitution crimes and conduct more stings, then I guess the surge in arrests would 'prove' John TV is not a deterrent."

Bates has successfully been spotlighting prostitution offenders ever since.

"I took what the city made a half-hearted attempt at and turned it into a brand and a public service that does more than name and shame," said Bates. "While I post the identities of accused offenders, I also take a much closer look at who these people are, what impact their actions have on our community, how our local government and law enforcement fit into the equation and I provide follow-up. I follow each and every case to its conclusion. If a person is found guilty, you'll know about it. But the same can be said if you're found not guilty. And, more importantly, I show where the city drops the ball. I concentrate on the pimps and human traffickers and my coverage often shows that our Oklahoma County District Attorney's office often pets these horrific offenders go with just a slap on the wrist," said Bates.

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