BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McElroy and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-013

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

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Ultimate Force – British drama series about SAS unit – showed two women topless – later in episode man’s penis also visible – allegedly in breach of standards of good taste and decency

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – no breach in light of contextual factors – 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. The episode contained two main storylines; first, the efforts of a female soldier to become the first woman admitted to the SAS, and secondly, a hijack of an aeroplane by a group seeking political change in Tibet.

[2] During a sequence in which Red Troop was establishing a base at the hijacked airport, a squad-member was discovered in the sauna with two female flight crew, both of whom were shown wearing only towels wrapped around their waists.

[3] Near the end of the programme, squad-members, including the female soldier, were shown naked in a communal shower. Only one instance of frontal nudity, of a male character, was shown.


[4] Rosemary McElroy complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that she was offended by the bare breasts of the two female flight crew, whom she referred to as “porn star women”. She stated that she was also offended by the “fairly prolonged scene in which the male penis was on show”.

[5] Ms McElroy stated that in her view, TVNZ was pushing the boundaries by including “pornographic content” without license from the New Zealand public. She noted that pixellation had been used on previous occasions.

[6] The complainant also noted that a newspaper gave no AO classification for the programme and she did not recall a warning.


[7] Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice states:

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 (see Appendix 1). 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint, pointing out the following matters:

  • the programme began after the 8:30pm watershed, in Adults Only time
  • the programme was classified AO. While TVNZ accepted that the classification was not listed in the newspaper referred to by the complainant, it stated that it could establish that the AO classification was included in the material distributed by TVNZ to the various publications that list television programmes
  • although the complainant missed it, the programme did commence with a visual and verbal warning.

[9] Further, in relation to the scene involving the two topless women, TVNZ noted that the scene was there “to provide a moment of light relief in what otherwise was a tense and somewhat unrelenting drama”. It noted that the inclusion of a moment of levity to ease tension is a device widely used in theatre, film and television.

[10] TVNZ also noted that the scene appeared to be intended to “poke fun at the stereotypical image of the over-endowed female flight attendant”.

[11] In relation to the other part of the complaint, TVNZ noted that the shower scene was relevant as it established that the woman had successfully endured her training programme and had been accepted as at least an equal by the male squad-members. It pointed out that the man’s penis was seen when he fell to the ground after being punched by the woman.

[12] TVNZ noted that community attitudes to nudity change over time and that it did not consider nudity in adult television drama to be inherently offensive. It would have been an “irritating distraction”, it said, to have pixellated in the present case.

[13] Finally, TVNZ noted that previous episodes of Ultimate Force would have set audience expectations, as they also contained similar “stark” imagery, and the nature of the drama series was well-known.

[14] In light of all the above contextual factors, TVNZ considered that the material complained of fell within accepted boundaries of good taste and decency.

Referral to the Authority

[15] Ms McElroy was dissatisfied with the response from TVNZ and referred the matter to the Authority. In her referral, she noted the following points:

  • it was ludicrous to suggest that the appearance of the topless women brought light relief to the programme, as it was apparent they were there simply to attract viewers for future episodes. TVNZ’s response about mocking the flight attendants, she said, was “just a nonsense” as it was not clear who the women were supposed to be or why they appeared
  • the idea of the female soldier having proved herself and having been accepted by the men as an equal – as evidenced in the shower scene – was degrading to women
  • the scene in which the man’s penis was visible was not brief, as contended by TVNZ, and it appeared that the whole point of the scene was “to display the penis”
  • baring one’s genitals in public constitutes a criminal offence
  • she disagreed with TVNZ’s assessment that nudity in adult television was not inherently offensive, and asked on what grounds this assumption was made
  • regarding the time of the broadcast, not all young teenagers are in bed by 8:30pm and in fact would find a programme of this nature “irresistible”

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[16] TVNZ offered no further comments in response to the referral.

Authority's Determination

[17] 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.

[18] The Authority concurs with the points made by TVNZ.

[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. In the present case there are a number of contextual factors that operate in favour of the broadcast:

  • The scenes complained of were shown a considerable time after the 8:30pm watershed; the first scene was shown about 30 minutes into the programme and the second in the closing minutes;
  • The programme was classified AO;
  • The programme is well known as a hard-hitting drama containing material more suitable for adults;
  • The programme was preceded by a verbal and visual warning referring specifically to nudity.

[20] Furthermore, in relation to the part of the complaint relating to the topless women, the Authority agrees with TVNZ that the scene was intended to add a comic and satirical element to an otherwise gritty drama. It notes that the solider involved had already been established as the flippant member of the troop and, contrary to the complainant’s assertion, the women were clearly identified as flight crew.

[21] In relation to the shower scene at the end of the programme during which a soldier’s penis was visible, the Authority notes that the scene was entirely in context with the programme’s storyline, and that the shots in which genitalia were visible were brief. The scene of the troop members showering together provided a final emphasis to the programme’s theme of acceptance by the troop of the female soldier.

[22] The Authority also notes that the shower scene nudity was not sexual, and records its agreement with TVNZ’s view that nudity in an adult drama is not inherently a breach of the good taste and decency standard.

[23] Taking into account the above factors, the Authority concludes that the broadcast did not breach Standard 1.


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. Rosemary McElroy’s formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 20 January 2005
  2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 7 February 2005
  3. Ms McElroy’s referral to the Authority – 23 February 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 15 March 2005