Watts and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-029
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Diane Musgrave
- Tapu Misa
- Paul France
- Alexander Watts
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News item – visit to Wellington by Prince Charles – two topless women protesters shown – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – context – not upheld
Standard 9 (children’s interests) – item not harmful to children – context – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An item on One News broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 8 March 2005 reported on the visit to Wellington by Prince Charles. The item included a public function which had been disrupted by two women protesters, both of whom were topless.
 Alexander Watts complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item had not maintained standards consistent with the observance of good taste and decency or children’s interests. He argued that the time of the broadcast was within children’s viewing hours, and that the images were not expected on One News.
 Mr Watts thanked TVNZ for warning viewers prior to the item by having the newsreader mention the subject matter. However, he contended that the images were just as distasteful to adult viewers as it would have been to those adults that witnessed the live event. The complainant asked that TVNZ blur out breasts and other “inappropriate body parts”.
 While conceding that there was a valid reason for showing the protest, Mr Watts believed that TVNZ needed to improve the way in which it handled such issues. He asked that “some form of decency guidelines” be formulated to ensure compliance with broadcasting standards, and suggested that any current guidelines needed to be tightened up “dramatically”.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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.
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
 In its response to Mr Watts, TVNZ noted first that there was nothing inherently offensive in nudity or semi-nudity. Rather, it contended that the potential for offensiveness arose when nudity was used in a sexual context. The women were making a political statement, it said, and the sequence was devoid of any sexual element.
 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.
 Emphasising that the news was unclassified, TVNZ wondered why “a non-prurient image” of topless women 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.
 TVNZ found that the item had not breached Standard 1 or Standard 9 of the Code.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Watts referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainant reiterated his view that showing topless women on the news was inconsistent with standards of public decency. He felt very strongly that the women’s breasts should have been pixelated.
 Mr Watts also contended that children “almost always watch the news with their parents” and that it was offensive to have them watching such content. If the women had to be shown during the broadcast, the complainant said, the footage needed to be treated with more restraint – “minimized and the inappropriate parts blurred out”.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority
 TVNZ added nothing further to its original reply to the complainant.
 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.
 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
- the introduction that two women “took off their tops” warned viewers as to the likely content of the item.
 Taking into account all the relevant contextual factors, the Authority is of the view that Standard 1 was not breached on this occasion.
 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
3 June 2005
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Alexander Watts’ formal complaint – 9 March 2005
- TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 23 March 2005
- Mr Watts’ referral to referral to the Authority – 6 April 2005
- TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 20 April 2005