BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Cotterall and The RadioWorks Ltd - 2000-015

  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • J Withers
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • Stephen Cotterall
Radio Pacific (RadioWorks)


According to the complainant, a Radio Pacific talkback host said "Maori is not a culture" between 6.00 and 8.00am on 1 September 1999.

Stephen Cotterall said that he complained to Radio Pacific, a division of The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the comment made by the announcer was racially derogatory and insulting to the tangata whenua.

As the broadcaster failed to respond to Mr Cotterall’s complaint, he referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

When the matter was referred to The RadioWorks, it advised that it had not received Mr Cotterall’s letter of complaint. Nevertheless, it then proceeded to deal with the complaint. The broadcaster advised that the announcer’s comment was a genuine expression of opinion, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


The members of the Authority have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. No tape of the item was provided. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

According to the complainant, whose version was not disputed by the broadcaster, a talkback host (John Banks) on Radio Pacific said "Maori is not a culture" between 6.00 and 8.00am on 1 September 1999.

Stephen Cotterall said he made a formal complaint to the broadcaster about the comment, which he described as "derogatory and insulting to the tangata whenua and will lead to further trouble for Mr Banks and others".

Mr Cotterall referred the complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act when he did not receive a response from the broadcaster in the statutory time frame.

In its report to the Authority, the broadcaster said that it had no record of receiving Mr Cotterall’s complaint. Nevertheless, it then responded to the complaint. It advised that the complaint had been assessed under guideline 7a to Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide as follows:

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.


7a  Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual; or

ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion; or

iii) by way of legitimate humour or satire.

The broadcaster declined to uphold Mr Cotterall’s complaint, explaining that:

However much Mr Cotterall may disagree with it, Mr Banks’ comment falls within the description of a "genuine expression of opinion" and is not, we believe, in breach of the Code.

The Authority’s Findings

The Authority notes that Mr Cotterall was unable to provide the Authority or The RadioWorks with a copy of his original complaint. The RadioWorks agreed to consider the complaint notwithstanding this and it is on this basis that the Authority considers this referral.

The Authority’s task is to determine whether the broadcast of the comment transgressed Principle 7 of the Code or any other broadcasting standard.

The Authority is unclear about what was meant by the host’s comment. It notes that the phrase "Maori is not a culture" is, in isolation, different from an assertion that "Maori has no culture". Due to the passage of over two months between the broadcast and the time The RadioWorks became aware of the complaint, no tape was available and the Authority was unable to ascertain the context in which the comment was made. In any event, even if the comment was discriminatory, the Authority considers that the host’s comment was his own opinion and, as such, Principle 7 was not transgressed. It concludes that no broadcasting standard was breached on this occasion.


For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Sam Maling
14 February 2000


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

1.    Stephen Cotterall’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority –
      2 November 1999

2.   The RadioWorks’ Response to Authority – 22 November 1999