BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wilkinson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-117

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Marie Wilkinson

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Distraction – British comedy quiz show in which the utmost is done to distract contestants from the task at hand – contestants were required to crawl face up between the legs of several elderly nudists and then dress them in underwear – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An episode of Distraction, a British comedy quiz programme in which the utmost is done to distract contestants from the task at hand, was broadcast on TV2 at 9.30pm on 9 September 2005. During one task, contestants were required to crawl, face up, between the legs of several elderly nudists and then dress them in underwear.


[2] Marie Wilkinson complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme breached standards of good taste and decency. Referring to the item as “pornography”, Ms Wilkinson wrote that she had been shocked and disgusted by its content. The complainant also argued that many adolescents and children were awake at 9.30pm in the evening.


[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and guidelines 1a and 1b 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.


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. 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

[4] In response to the complainant, TVNZ acknowledged that the programme may not have been to the taste of all viewers. However, it argued that TVNZ had an obligation to reflect in its programmes the wide range of interests and tastes that existed in the community. The fact that some viewers did not like a programme did not, in TVNZ’s view, mean that it was in breach of programme standards.

[5] Referring to guideline 1a of Standard 1 (good taste and decency), TVNZ noted that it was required to take into consideration the context in which any language or behaviour had occurred. The broadcaster considered that, in this case, the context included the time of the broadcast, the classification of the programme, the presence of a warning, and the nature of the programme.

[6] TVNZ observed that Distraction did not start until an hour after the adults only watershed at 8.30pm. This was verging on late-night viewing by New Zealand standards, it said. The programme was also classified AO (adults only) with the AO symbol displayed at the beginning of the programme and after each commercial break. TVNZ noted that AO material is defined in the Television Code as:

Programmes containing adult themes and directed primarily at mature audiences.

[7] TVNZ observed that the programme was preceded by a warning which was delivered both visually and verbally. It stated:

This programme on TV2, Distraction, is rated adults only. It contains nudity and language that may offend some people.

[8] In assessing the nature of the programme, the broadcaster referred again to its “free-and-easy humour”, the light-hearted interchanges between the host and the contestants, and the good-natured environment in which the quiz show was acted out. With reference to the nudists, TVNZ wrote:

…the [complaints] committee acknowledged that the images of the elderly people may have caused some revulsion – the host of the programme acknowledged that with unconcealed glee – but they were hardly prurient or sexy. Nudism is a widely recognised lifestyle and this was by no means the first time that nudists have featured on television – often at an hour much earlier in the evening than this.

[9] Responding to the complainant’s concern about children and adolescents, the broadcaster noted again that Distraction was clearly classified AO, preceded by a warning and started a full hour after the 8.30pm watershed. It doubted whether many “innocent” children would have been up at 9.30pm, and argued that the programme could provide as much amusement for older youngsters as it might for an adult audience.

Referral to the Authority

[10] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Wilkinson referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainant did not have a problem with the naked body or nudists in their holiday camps, she said, but she found the activities on the programme to be offensive.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[11] TVNZ wrote that while it had nothing of substance to add, it wanted to put the sequence complained about into context. It observed that the contestants had suddenly been confronted by a group of elderly nudists, who willingly took part in the programme and appeared to rejoice in the fact that they were not in the least pleasing to the eye. The broadcaster submitted that most viewers would have seen the material as humorous, rather than obscene.

[12] TVNZ also noted that the elderly nudists had appeared in approximately three earlier episodes of Distraction, and once more in a subsequent episode. They had participated in games such as wheelbarrow, piggy-back and leapfrog.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[13] In her final submission, Ms Wilkinson disputed TVNZ’s claim that “most viewers would see this material as humorous, rather than obscene”. She believed that most New Zealanders would be offended by that type of material which she described as “blatant obscenity”. Ms Wilkinson suggested that it might be in the public interest for the Authority to view the other episodes of Distraction referred to by TVNZ.

[14] The complainant was unimpressed with TVNZ’s statement that the programme could provide amusement for adolescent viewers. She also argued that the AO classification did not give the broadcaster the “right to open slather”.

Authority's Determination

[15] 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.

[16] 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 time of the broadcast, at 9.30pm
  • the AO classification of the programme
  • the visual and verbal warning given prior to the programme
  • the light-hearted and humorous nature of the programme.

[17] The Authority has previously held that non-sexual nudity in the context of an AO programme at 9.30pm did not breach Standard 1 (see Decision No. 2003-118). While the Authority acknowledges that the content of Distraction would not have appealed to all viewers, it sees no reason to depart from that position in the present case.


For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
28 November 2005


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

  1. Marie Wilkinson’s formal complaint – 12 September 2005
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 22 September 2005
  3. Ms Wilkinson’s referral to the Authority – 23 September 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 4 October 2005
  5. Ms Wilkinson’s final comment – 16 October 2005