BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Abdul-Rahman and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2022-026 (21 June 2022)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Ahmad Abdul-Rahman
Morning Report
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Radio New Zealand


[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that an item on RNZ National’s Morning Report on 14 January 2022 breached the discrimination and denigration standard by voicing-over comments made by international students. The complainant alleged this implied that foreign students and immigrants are not easily understood due to their accents, thereby reinforcing xenophobia. The Authority found ‘international students’ and ‘immigrants’ did not constitute relevant sections of the community for the purposes of the standard. In any event, the broadcast would not have reached the threshold required for finding a breach.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration

The broadcast

[1]  An item on RNZ National’s Morning Report on 14 January 2022 reported on the effect the suspension of visa processing for people outside the country was having on international university students. The host introduced the item as follows:

And international students stuck overseas are pleading for clarity about when they can come to New Zealand. They say the suspension of visa processing for people outside the country until at least August means some students will spend their entire time studying at Zoom University. An online petition has gathered hundreds of signatures.

[2]  The report included audio clips of comment from two students, from Pakistan and Thailand respectively. The Pakistani student commented:

If the situation doesn't get any worse, I'm expecting to be in New Zealand in 2023 just to submit my thesis.

So I was really frustrated with the situation and getting COVID and not able to be in the normal position to work and then go to New Zealand and having the normal training that every other PhD student should be getting in order to complete their research. So it has just affected my mental health on a very different level.

[3]  The Thai student said:

The expectation about experiencing something new, something outside my country is unable to be fulfilled. I hope to know about the exact date, the exact time when I can apply for my visa to enter the country.

[4]  In both cases, the students’ comments (spoken in English) were voiced-over by reporters, however the voices of the students could still be heard in the background.

The complaint

[5]  Ahmad Abdul-Rahman complained that this broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration standard, stating:

  • ‘During the broadcasted story, there were interviews with a Pakistani female student and a Thai male student. In both cases these interviews were re-voiced by a woman and a man with accents closer to what one might call a "New Zealand accent".
  • I did not hear any explanation during the broadcast about why the interviews were re-voiced - the original voices were audible faintly in the background and in both cases the interviewees were speaking in English.’
  • ‘As a New Zealand immigrant and citizen, I feel that doing this reinforces xenophobia by implying that foreign students/immigrants etc. are not easily understood due to their English accents.’
  • ‘I also note that occasionally RNZ will air broadcasts with poor audio quality without re-voicing. In such cases a presenter often apologises to the audience for the poor audio quality.’
  • ‘I believe that the omission of an explanation about why this happened leads to a situation that may imply that foreigners with accents are difficult to understand.’

The broadcaster’s response

[6]  Radio New Zealand Ltd did not uphold the complaint on the following grounds:

  • It advised ‘each of the foreign students is speaking from their respective countries via Skype, Zoom or whatever communications technology was available at short notice. The consequence of that is that the audience’s understanding of what was being said was significantly impaired by the quality of the “line” over which the calls were conducted.’
  • ‘Whatever the issue was that prompted it, an editorial decision was made to re-voice the excerpts in order that they should be more easily understood by the audience.’
  • ‘Such decisions are made daily in our newsroom and reflect good journalistic/broadcasting practice.’

The standard

[7]  The discrimination and denigration standard1 protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief. It protects sections of the community from verbal and other attacks, and fosters a community commitment to equality.

[8]  ‘Denigration’ is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community. ‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment.2 

Our analysis

[9]  We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[10]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.3

[11]  Where discrimination and denigration complaints are concerned, the importance of freedom of expression means that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will usually be necessary to find a breach of the standard.4

[12]  The first step in considering such complaints is to determine whether the complaint concerns a recognised section of the community to which the discrimination and denigration standard applies. This is consistent with the approach in section 21 of the Human Rights Act 1993 which prohibits discrimination based on specific grounds only.

[13]  We have previously found that international students do not constitute a recognised section of the community for the purposes of the standard, given they are not a homogenous group identifiable under one of the grounds listed in the standard.5 International students do not share a race, religion, political or cultural beliefs.

[14]  In this regard, we found that while ‘occupational status’ is a recognised ground for discrimination, this term is properly interpreted in a similar way to ‘employment status’ under s21 (Prohibited grounds of discrimination) of the Human Rights Act 1993. Under s21(1)(k) of that Act the ‘employment status’ ground only applies in respect of someone who is unemployed or receiving a Work and Income (Social Welfare) or Accident Compensation Corporation benefit.6 Being a student is not the equivalent of being unemployed. Many students work part-time. In addition, full-time students are not ‘available’ for full-time work, as is required by Stats NZ’s definition of unemployment.7

[15]  Similarly, we have also previously found that immigrants are not a recognised section of the community for the purposes of the standard, given they are a broad group of people who do not share colour, race, ethnicity or country of origin.8

[16]  In any event, as mentioned above, the standard generally requires a high level of condemnation to justify limiting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.[9] Even if international students or immigrants did constitute recognised sections of society for the purposes of the standard, we do not consider RNZ voicing over the students’ comments would meet the threshold for finding a breach.

[17]  RNZ used its editorial discretion to make the broadcast understandable to its listeners and we do not consider that this was done in a way that would amount to a high level of condemnation or that it would have the effect of reinforcing a stereotype that international students and students are not easily understood. We are satisfied that most listeners would not have inferred such a meaning.

[18]  While we appreciate the complainant’s concerns, we consider any restriction on the right to freedom of expression would be unjustified in this instance and the discrimination and denigration standard was not breached.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Susie Staley
21 June 2022



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

1  Ahmad Abdul-Rahman’s formal complaint to RNZ – 31 January 2022

2  RNZ’s response to complaint – 15 February 2022

3  Abdul-Rahman’s referral to the Authority – 9 March 2022

4  RNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 5 April 2022

1 Standard 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Guideline 6a
3 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
4 Guideline 6b
5 Soh and NZME Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2021-075
6 Human Rights Commission “Prohibited grounds of discrimination: Employment status” <>
7 Stats NZ “Employment and Unemployment” <>
8 Truijens and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2019-012
9 Guideline 6b