BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Cox and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-150

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • W H Cox
Balls of Steel
TVWorks Ltd

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Balls of Steel – skit called “Meet the Fuckers” showed couple simulating sexual intercourse in public places – man’s buttocks and woman’s breasts visible – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – skit broadcast well after AO watershed on channel targeted at adults – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   An episode of Balls of Steel, a hidden-camera prank show, was broadcast on C4 at 8.50pm on Friday 8 October 2010. One of the segments, called “Meet the Fuckers”, showed two actors pretending to have sex in public places with the intention of shocking or amusing unsuspecting observers. The segment screened at 9.25pm and some footage was also shown briefly in the teaser at the start of the programme.

[2]   The footage was preceded by a cartoon image of a man with an erect penis standing behind a woman, thrusting toward her in a sexual motion.  

[3]   The first scene showed the couple pretending to have sex in an elevator as the doors opened to people waiting in a foyer. The man had his pants around his knees and was facing toward the woman who was pushed up against the mirrored walls. The woman ran her hands over the man’s naked bottom and under his shirt. An elevator scene broadcast later in the segment showed the man removing the woman’s top, briefly revealing her breasts.

[4]   The second scene was shot in night-vision in a movie theatre. The man got out of his seat and moved on top of the woman, kissing her passionately as they removed each other’s clothing. This was followed by footage of the couple pretending to have sex in a public toilet, as an unsuspecting observer opened the electric doors. Simulating sexual intercourse, the man moved back and forth toward the woman who was pushed up against the wall with her leg around his waist. He had his pants around his ankles, with his bottom clearly visible.

[5]   The programme was preceded by the following written and verbal warning:

This programme is rated Adults Only and is recommended for a mature audience. It contains sexual material and language that may offend some people.


[6]   W H Cox made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the segment breached broadcasting standards.

[7]   The complainant said that they were “shocked” that the footage had been filmed and screened in New Zealand and argued that, whether “genuine” or not, the sex scenes and nudity left nothing to the imagination and were “unacceptable” for broadcast at such an “early hour”.


[8]  TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   TVWorks did not consider the footage was “unduly challenging within the context of an adult-targeted hidden-camera prank show”. It said that the episode of Balls of Steel was rated Adults Only, restricted to screening after 8.30pm and preceded by a clear warning informing viewers of the type of content on the show.

[10]   The broadcaster noted that the first sex scene screened at 9.25pm, well after the Adults Only watershed. It said that the sexual acts were simulated rather than “explicit”, with the intended purpose of generating “humour rather than titillation”. TVWorks considered that, while the sketch may not have been to everyone’s tastes, “juvenile and vulgar behaviour” was Balls of Steel’s “modus operandi and would not have surprised most viewers”, particularly because the programme was now in its second season on C4.

[11]   TVWorks provided the following comment from C4’s head of programming:

This series is a format made up of a variety of hidden camera situations/scenarios designed to push the boundaries of public acceptance in an entertaining fashion. By its very nature and inherent in its title it has elements that are risqué, however it is scheduled in an AO timeslot and is directly preceded with an appropriate warning message.

[12]   The broadcaster “regretted” the complainant was offended by the scenes, but maintained that the programme was correctly scheduled, had an appropriate warning and would not have upset regular viewers. Accordingly, TVWorks declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[13]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, W H Cox referred the complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

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

[15]   When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the episode of Balls of Steel was rated AO
  • the programme was preceded by a written and verbal warning for sexual material that may offend
  • the programme was broadcast at 8.50pm on a Friday night
  • the skit was broadcast at 9.25pm
  • the sex scenes were simulated
  • the target audience
  • audience expectations.

[16]   We consider that although the man’s bottom was visible throughout the skit, and there was a brief shot of the woman’s breasts, the nudity was intended to be humorous rather than titillating. While repeated and somewhat prolonged, the skit subject to complaint did not screen until well after the AO watershed and was part of a programme premised on generating humour through departing from what is considered normal social etiquette.

[17]   Taking into account the above contextual factors, in particular the programme’s AO classification, its adult target audience, and the pre-broadcast warning, we decline to uphold the complaint that the segment breached Standard 1.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
22 February 2011


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

  1.   W H Cox’s formal complaint – 10 October 2010
  2.   TVWorks Ltd’s response to the complainant – 20 October 2010
  3.   W H Cox’s referral to the Authority – 25 October 2010
  4.   TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 14 December 2010