BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Marmont and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-020

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Gail Marmont
Ultimate Force
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Ultimate force – British drama about elite SAS unit – showed mock interrogation of woman prisoner – woman at different times shown naked, hooded, and being hit – allegedly in breach of violence standard

Standard 10 (violence) – low-level violence – violence in context, not gratuitous – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Ultimate force, a British drama centred around the elite British SAS Red Troop unit, was broadcast on TV One at 8:30pm on 18 January 2005. A central storyline of the episode concerned a soldier’s efforts to become the first female member of the SAS. The soldier was shown undergoing mock interrogation as part of her training and assessment; at different times she was shown being verbally abused, naked, and being hit.

[2] The item was preceded by a visual and verbal warning that read:

This programme is rated Adults Only and contains violence that may disturb, and language and nudity which may offend some people.


[3] Gail Marmont complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the portrayal of the beating and humiliation of the female soldier was gratuitous. Ms Marmont observed that as the storyline unfolded, no sense emerged that this type of treatment was unacceptable, and to the contrary, the violence was portrayed as a necessary part of the Red Troop culture.

[4] Ms Marmont observed that New Zealand has a high rate of domestic violence, despite other advances for women, and stated that evidence suggests a “vicious backlash in explicit violence being shown towards women in film and video”. Ms Marmont concluded that many men and young people who watch such violence may feel justified in treating women in a similar manner.


[5] The following standard from the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to the complaint:

Standard 10 Violence

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.


10a  Broadcasters should ensure that any violence shown is not gratuitous and is justified by the context.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It noted the following points:

  • the reason for the violence was because the recruit was being put through a training programme designed to enable her to resist interrogation techniques if captured
  • the story was based on the activities of the SAS which has a reputation for the rigour of its training methods
  • the complainant’s concerns about the portrayal of the SAS culture were not able to be addressed by the storyteller, who was simply reflecting the public perception of the SAS training programme

[7] TVNZ did not accept that the violence was gratuitous, submitting that it was integral to the central theme of the female soldier’s struggle for acceptance in what was historically an all-male environment. It argued that the scene would have lost an element of reality if the viewer had been asked to believe that the woman was being treated with the same level of harshness as male recruits, without the violence and humiliation being shown. Similarly, it would have been incongruous to have shown her being treated more gently than male recruits. TVNZ noted that the woman was shown coming through the training programme in what was “clearly presented as a triumph for her gender in an all-male environment”.

[8] TVNZ concluded that TV One had exercised “care and discretion” in dealing with the violence, as the standard requires. It noted that the programme had an AO classification, and was shown after the 8:30pm watershed, in AO time. Furthermore, TVNZ noted, it was preceded by a warning.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Ms Marmont was dissatisfied with this response and referred her complaint to the Authority. In her referral she made a number of points:

  • the combination of nudity and violence aggravated the objectionable effect of the violence
  • she did not accept that “being brutalised is a triumph for women”; the character in question was a token woman, included only to give some illusion of equality to the story
  • the overall effect was to glamorise the violence, as well as to demean the woman concerned
  • it was particularly objectionable to see the woman in a position where she was unable to defend herself. The inference to be drawn was that “those who endured the beating and abuse without cracking up and fighting back were superior people” and this was a potentially dangerous notion for many women watching
  • the public was now aware, as a result of recent events, that the British military routinely engaged in torture and humiliation, and Ultimate Force glamorised this violence
  • 8:30pm was very early for violent programmes as many children, whose parents do not monitor their viewing, would likely be watching.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[10] TVNZ added nothing further in its response to the referral.

Authority's Determination

[11] 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.

[12] The Authority considers that in the context of the programme, the broadcaster took sufficient care in dealing with the portrayal of the violence against the female soldier. There are a number of contextual factors that the Authority has taken into account in coming to this decision:

  • The programme was shown at 8:30pm, and was preceded by a verbal and visual warning referring specifically to violence;
  • The programme is well-known and is recognised as containing material more appropriate for adult viewers;
  • The programme was clearly fictional;
  • The relatively low-level violence against the female soldier – striking with the hand – was in context in light of the particular storyline. The scenes were intended to portray the rigorous training needed to prepare recruits for the treatment they might face if they fell into enemy hands;
  • The programme did not glamorise the violence; the scenes were instead stark and bleak.

[13] While in some scenes the female soldier was naked – which could potentially aggravate the nature of the violence against her – the Authority considers this was appropriate in the context of the storyline. The nudity was non-sexual and, in the Authority’s view, the scene was intended to convey the extent to which a senior officer was prepared to go to subject the female recruit to the harsh realities of enemy interrogation.

[14] In these circumstances, the Authority considers that TVNZ’s actions demonstrated sufficient care and discretion in dealing with the violence in the programme, and concludes that Standard 10 was not breached.


For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
4 May 2005


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

  1. Gail Marmont’s formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 31 January 2005
  2. TVNZ’s response to formal complaint – 17 February 2005
  3. Ms Marmont’s referral of complaint to the Authority – 10 March 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 30 March 2005