BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Haden and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2001-226

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
  • Grace Haden

Inside New Zealand: "Piercing – The Hole Story" – documentary – pierced genitalia displayed – offensive – inappropriate for children

Standard G2 – piercing for body suspension – images beyond community standards – uphold; piercing of genitalia – majority – matter of fact – minority – gratuitous – no uphold; other aspects – context – no uphold

Standard G12 – body suspension segment at start of programme – waterfall after 8.30pm – uphold

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] "Piercing – The Hole Story" was the title of a documentary broadcast on the Inside New Zealand series on TV3 at 8.30pm on 1 August 2001. It examined the practice of piercing navels and tongues among youth, and showed some more unusual piercings, including genital piercing and suspending by hooks through the flesh.

[2] Grace Haden complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the portrayal of genitalia piercing, and the suspension of bodies from hooks breached accepted norms of decency. Moreover, it was unsuitable for teenagers.

[3] In response, TV3 said that programme was rated AO, screened at 8.30pm, and preceded with a verbal and written warning. The programme was a frank discussion of piercing, TV3 continued, and there was nothing sexual or salacious. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TV3’s response, Ms Haden referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds one aspect of the complaint.


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

The Programme

[6] "Piercing – The Hole Story" was the title of the documentary broadcast on TV3 on 1 August as part of the Inside New Zealand series. Many different types of piercing were shown throughout the programme, including piercing of the ear, navel, tongue, and breasts. Footage of genital piercing was included, as was footage of a man who liked to be suspended from his piercings.

The Complaint

[7] Grace Haden complained to TV3 that the programme was unsuitable for teenagers who were still watching television at 8.30pm, and that footage of male and female genitalia "was nothing more than pornographic". Such programmes, she wrote, added to the confusion in society about attitudes to children and sexuality.

The Standards

[8] TV3 assessed the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They require broadcasters in the preparation and presentation of programmes:

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

G12  To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] Dealing first with the standard G2 aspect of the complaint, TV3 said it was necessary to take into account the context in which the programme was screened. On this occasion, it explained, the programme was rated AO, was broadcast at 8.30pm and preceded by a verbal and written warning. Moreover, the section on genital piercing began at 9.18pm and was preceded by a specific warning which said: "Piercing – The Hole Story" contains nudity and images of genital piercing".

[10] TV3 explained the range of piercing examined in the programme and, in regard to the genital piercing, stated:

There was nothing sexual or salacious about the images shown. Rather they were clinical and matter of fact, somewhat like looking at a medical textbook. The Committee believes that by this point in the programme viewers would not have found these images surprising or out of context in a frank discussion about the wide variety of body piercings, particularly given the explicit warning preceding this segment.

[11] Further, TV3 explained, the promotional material for the programme which had appeared in various print publications made it clear that genital piercing was part of the programme.

[12] In regard to standard G12, TV3 repeated the contextual factors noted above and declined to uphold either aspect of the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[13] When she referred her complaint to the Authority, Ms Haden maintained that the footage of both male and female genitalia, and the suspension of a body by hooks, "is not what I could call a ‘norm’". It was, she added, genital mutilation, and she did not consider it similar to a medical text book.

[14] Ms Haden described as unrealistic TV3’s assumption that 18 year-olds were in bed by 8.30pm. She wrote:

I believe that the programme breached the accepted terms of decency. If this programme did not then we may as well do away with standards altogether as there is nothing else left to show. The interpretation hinges very much on the context, I do not believe that it was necessary to show the genitals at all especially mutilated ones.

If they believed that the programme was not complete in their way of thinking without the segment of close up shots then the programme should have been shown after 11pm when those of us with a bit of decency would not be exposed to it and all those under the age of 18, teenagers at least would be tucked up in their beds.

[15] The programme, she concluded, was perverse.

TV3’s Response to the Authority

[16] In its response to the Authority, TV3 advised that the programme attracted approximately 257,900 viewers aged 18 and over, and there were two formal complaints. A documentary about the penis which had screened two months earlier had also included footage of penis piercing. It had attracted some 542,300 viewers aged 18 and over and one formal complaint was received. TV3 argued:

This would suggest to the Standards Committee that significant numbers of New Zealand viewers did not find the subject or the content of the programmes to be offensive or inappropriate.

[17] In conclusion, TV3 wrote:

TV3 is proud of Inside New Zealand, and its reputation as a premium documentary series. We consider that, as a reflection of New Zealand people and society, there is an expectation that documentaries within the series will be true to the audience and accurately reflect New Zealand issues and experiences. TV3 believes the Inside New Zealand: Piercing – The Hole Story programme accurately reflected the piercing phenomenon in New Zealand.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[18] In her final comment, Ms Haden said that she had spoken to a number of people who found the programme offensive and the statistics cited by TV3, she added, were irrelevant. She wrote:

I believe that showing genitals on the television is akin to porn. It cannot be compared to normal adult content and it should certainly not be shown at a time when children are still likely to be up.

[19] Pointing to a difference between nakedness and genital display, she expressed the view that genital mutilation was offensive "yet TV3 seeks to glorify it". In conclusion, she observed:

Being the only person to complain does not make the programme right, it just means that I was the only one who made time for the complaint.

The Authority’s Determination

[20] The documentary "Piercing – The Hole Story" discussed three types of piercing. First, "piercers and piercees" explained themselves and their jewellery; second, it dealt with mainstream navel and tongue piercing through to the more exotic genital piercing; and third, it covered piercing involving suspension. The Authority’s findings are different in respect of these three themes of the programme.

[21] The Authority also notes that its task in assessing the complaint under Standard G2 is to determine whether the images complained about breached currently accepted norms of good taste and decency in the context in which it occurred. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether the programme breached standards of good taste and decency.

[22] On this occasion, the Authority takes into account that the programme was classified as AO, and preceded with a warning. The warning stated:

"Piercing – The Hole Story" is recommended for adult viewers. It contains coarse language, and nudity and images of genital piercings which may offend some viewers

[23] Moreover, the segment on genital piercing which began at about 9.15pm, was preceded with a further warning. As an additional contextual factor, the Authority agrees with TV3 that the item was matter of fact in its approach, rather than salacious, and included educational information about hygiene, for example, as well as being entertainment.

[24] The documentary dealt with piercing as a matter of adornment, and commented on a range of attitudes – especially inter-generational – to this type of body decoration.

[25] However, in the Authority’s view, the aspect of the programme which explored body suspension moved beyond body decoration. Neither the warning nor the studio introduction advised viewers of the extreme nature of the opening sequence.

[26] The programme began and finished with segments in which a person’s body was pierced with large hooks from which he was suspended. In the Authority’s opinion these segments dealt with an extreme practice. The person who was suspended by body piercings – the same person on each occasion – acknowledged that he was looking for new experiences and that, for some people, those experiences included a sexual component.

[26] In the Authority’s opinion, these images of an extreme practice fell outside accepted community standards and were in breach of standard G2.

[27] As noted, the programme began with a suspension segment – in which a person was suspended by a wire attached to hooks placed in his back. Not only does the Authority find this to be a breach of standard G2, it also upholds this aspect as a breach of standard G12. While the AO classified time band begins at 8.30pm, the Authority has, on a number of occasions, explained that the 8.30pm watershed is not a waterfall. The screening of this segment so soon after 8.30pm amounts, the Authority considers, to a breach of standard G12.

[28] The Authority then examined the section which dealt with genital piercing, noting that this segment did not begin until about 9.15pm and was preceded with a further warning.

[29] The Authority is not unanimous in its determination as to whether this segment breached standard G2.

[30] The majority (Peter Cartwright and Rodney Bryant) considers that the material, which included an educational aspect, was presented in a matter-of-fact, almost clinical, tone late in the programme, and dealt with piercing as a form of adornment. While it acknowledges that such piercing can be described as sexual adornment, the majority notes that there was no depiction of any sexual activity. In its view, none of the images was gratuitous. The majority also viewed the freedom of expression provision to be relevant to its decision.

[31] The minority (Judy McGregor and Bronwyn Hayward) considers the images of vaginal adornment, and penile piercing and adornment, breach community standards regardless of the warning. They pointed to what they considered to be the prolonged, and indeed gratuitous, visuals of the "Prince Albert" adornment attached to a penis. They also believe that the shots of the vagina, including the pulling apart of the labia to show the adornments, were unacceptable. In addition, the minority concludes that the visual footage of the actual piercing process of the penis was gratuitous. In the minority’s opinion, this clearly breached currently accepted norms of decency and taste.

[32] The Authority was unanimous in its decision that the other aspects of the programme which dealt with piercing were not in breach of either standard G2 or G12.

[33] In reaching this decision to uphold an aspect of the complaint, the Authority records that it has considered whether the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, as contained in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, is unjustifiably infringed. The Authority is satisfied that its decision to uphold the standards G2 and G12 complaint in regard to the body suspension is made under its empowering legislation. The Authority is also satisfied that the exercise of its power on this occasion does not unduly restrict the broadcaster’s right to express itself freely. Indeed, it considers that, while still giving effect to the intention of the Broadcasting Act, the upholding of this aspect of the complaint is reasonable and demonstrably justified owing to the broadcast so soon after 8.30pm of images with minimal relevance to adornment. In coming to this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account all the circumstances of this complaint, including the potential impact of the order.

[34] Finally, a majority of the Authority in regard to genital piercing, and the entire Authority in regard to the balance of the programme, observe that to find a breach would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to place too great a limit on the broadcaster’s statutory freedom of expression in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and prefers to adopt an interpretation which is consistent with the Bill of Rights.


For the reasons given above, the Authority upholds the complaint that aspects of the programme, "Piercing – The Hole Story", broadcast by TV3 Network Services Ltd at 8.30pm on 1 August 2001, breached standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[35] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Taking into account that the item’s tone was not salacious, and that the item included elements of education, the Authority decides not to impose a penalty on this occasion.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Cartwright
17 December 2001


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

1. Grace Haden’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 2 August 2001
2. TV3’s Response to the Complainant – 23 August 2001
3. Ms Haden’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 28 August 2001
4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 18 September 2001
5. Ms Haden’s Final Comment – 10 October 2000