BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Watts and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-041

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Alexander Watts
One News
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News item – street march through Auckland – topless protester shown – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – context – no warning required – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – item not harmful to children – context – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An item on One News broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 5 March 2005 showed a street march through Auckland that day in support of “family values”. A topless woman was among those shown protesting against the views expressed by the marchers.


[2] Alexander Watts complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item had breached standards of good taste and decency and children’s interests. He alleged that there had been no attempt to warn viewers about the content of the item, and felt that the incident was “definitely outside the programme’s classification”.

[3] Mr Watts contended that the item was inappropriate and disturbing for children, adding that it was screened at a time when children were almost certain to be watching.

[4] In terms of Standard 1 (good taste and decency), the complainant alleged that the shot of the topless woman did not add anything to the story. Further, he maintained that the images should have been blurred and cut in length. Mr Watts asked that such images not be broadcast in prime time family viewing space.


[5] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 9 and Guidelines 1a and 1b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.


1a   Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification. The examples are not exhaustive.

1b   Broadcasters should consider – and if appropriate require – the use of on-air visual and verbal warnings when programmes contain violent material, material of a sexual nature, coarse language or other content likely to disturb children or offend a significant number of adult viewers. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times, broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6] In its response to Mr Watts, TVNZ noted first that there was nothing inherently offensive in nudity or semi-nudity. It contended that the potential for offensiveness arose when nudity was used in a sexual context, noting that many art galleries and books contain nude images. The woman was making a political statement, it said, and the sequence was devoid of any sexual element.

[7] While the method of protest may have been unconventional, TVNZ argued, unconventional behaviour regularly attracted public interest. Furthermore, the broadcaster noted that topless women had been seen on a number of occasions on One News. TVNZ suggested that to blur the images would have implied that it was taking an editorial stance on the method of protest chosen by these women. Further, to exclude it “would be to mislead and deceive” One News viewers.

[8] Emphasising that the news was unclassified, TVNZ wondered why “a non-prurient image” of a topless woman should cause harm to children, when news programmes regularly told of things such as war, abuse and natural disasters. TVNZ said:

It was as if you were telling us that you expect us to show the most awful terrorist atrocities (the attack on the twin towers, blood in the streets of Baghdad), the most awful crimes (school shootings, murder and rape) and introduce children to repellent concepts such as racism and intolerance – but ask us to shy away from the reality of a harmless topless protester taking part in a peaceful demonstration.

[9] Referring to Guideline 1b (warnings), TVNZ was of the view that including a warning for imagery of a topless woman would set the bar far too low. If brief shots of a topless protester at a peaceful demonstration required a warning, it said, the value of warnings would rapidly degrade. TVNZ contended that warnings should be reserved for subjects which were really distressing.

[10] Noting Mr Watts’ emphasis on the duration of the shot, TVNZ advised that it had lasted only six seconds. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[11] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Watts referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Addressing TVNZ’s point that nudity cannot be inherently offensive, Mr Watts argued that it depended on the context of the nudity. Artists primarily included nudity in their paintings to show the beauty of the human body, he said, but if he were to arrive at work nude it would certainly be found offensive.

[12] The complainant contended that naked protesting was offensive and inappropriate. If not, he asked why the police arrest such people. Mr Watts asserted that the protester knew that her nudity would offend people, otherwise there would be no point in using it as part of a protest.

[13] Mr Watts also noted that TVNZ had not shown the consequences of the woman’s actions, so it was promoting nudity as an acceptable form of protest. He agreed that nudity was mild compared to other things that are shown on the news, but that did not mean it was appropriate for young children. The complainant maintained that children should not be introduced to nudity in this way. They needed to be taught that nudity in certain circumstances was entirely inappropriate, he said.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] Contrary to the complainant’s assertion that artists put nudity in their paintings to show the beauty of the human body, TVNZ noted that there are many paintings which display nudity in a violent or unpleasant context. It agreed that many protests have been conducted without nudity, but asked why TVNZ should not cover a demonstration where protesters chose partial nudity to emphasise their message. It added:

Are we to say that because partial nudity was the chosen method of protest it is somehow less worthy of news media coverage than another method of protest? Do the freedom of information provisions in the Bill of Rights Act cease to apply because the protester chooses this method to promote her views?

[15] Stating that TVNZ did not endorse nudity, the broadcaster argued that acknowledging that nudity had occurred at a public event did not amount to endorsing it. It was a simple matter of reporting that it had occurred. To pretend that the woman was not a central figure of protest would be to mislead the viewing public, TVNZ contended. Further, it would demean the woman’s viewpoint by excluding it from the description of the event.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[16] In his final submission, Mr Watts reiterated his view that the nudity was indecent and in breach of Standard 1. He contended that the protester’s message was unclear, and questioned TVNZ’s assertion that the nudity added anything of value to the protest. It was not worthy of a six second shot, he said.

[17] Mr Watts maintained that the broadcaster had failed to consider the impact of the item on child viewers, and he observed that the consequences of the woman’s actions had not been shown.  The complainant voiced his concern that children should not be exposed to nudity in that context.

Authority's Determination

[18] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[19] When the Authority considers a complaint which alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, relevant contextual factors include:

  • the news is unclassified and targeted at an adult audience
  • the images were brief
  • the nudity was non-sexual and not intended to titillate
  • the nudity was relevant to the news item.

[20] The Authority notes the complainant’s argument that a warning should have preceded the item. Taking into account all the relevant contextual factors, the Authority agrees with TVNZ that a warning was not required. The Authority finds that Standard 1 was not breached on this occasion.

[21] Turning to Standard 9 (children’s interests), the Authority notes again the contextual factors listed above. Further, the Authority considers that there is nothing inherently harmful to children in seeing non-sexual nudity in a news and current affairs programme. The Authority concludes that Standard 9 was not breached.


For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
24 June 2005


The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

  1. Alexander Watts’ formal complaint – 8 March 2005
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 23 March 2005
  3. Mr Watts’ referral to the Authority – 7 April 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 18 May 2005
  5. Mr Watts’ final comment – 29 May 2005