Morris and Television New Zealand Ltd -2022-051 (20 July 2022)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Aroha Beck
- Stephen Morris
ProgrammeTravel Guides Australia
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint that an episode of Travel Guides Australia breached the discrimination and denigration standard by featuring one of the show’s participants stating he grew hair quickly due to his ‘wog genetics’. The Authority noted the word ‘wog’ can have different meanings; typically referring to non-white people in British English and to people with Southern European ancestry in Australian English, and that these constituted recognised sections of the community for the purposes of the standard. While the Authority acknowledged the potential harm in the use of the word, in this particular context (being used by someone of Greek heritage to describe themselves), it did not reach the high threshold of condemnation necessary to find a breach of the standard.
Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration
 An episode of Travel Guides Australia, broadcast on 5 April 2022 at 7.30pm, followed different groups of Australian travellers on holiday in Seoul, South Korea, as they explored the city and partook in different cultural experiences.
 One of these groups was Kev, Dorian and Teng, who are described as a ‘trio of suburban millennials.’1 The episode follows them as they get ‘K-pop makeovers.’ The segment contained the following dialogue:
Narrator: But a super fan doesn’t just copy their fave K-pop star, they become them.
Makeup artist: I’m gonna be giving you guys K-pop makeovers.
Teng: Oh god, like the face, the hair?
Makeup artist: But before we get started, you need to shave (pointing at Dorian).
Dorian: Nooo. No, no, no.
Dorian: (Cut to confessional) I’ve got wog genetics, like my hair grows back every 10 minutes or so.
Kev: It does. I’ve seen it grow in real time. Sometimes when we’re bored on a plane we just watch it grow.
 Stephen Morris complained the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration standard, stating:
- ‘Wog is derogatory and racial slang for dark skinned people. “Wog” derives from golliwogs, a blackface minstrel doll. Calling a group of people “wog” is like calling Hispanics “spics”, or calling Italians “wops”, or calling Chinese “Chinks”. It is a racial slur.’
- ‘It may be the case that, in Sydney and Melbourne, Australians with southern European ethnicity use “wog” as a term of endearment or nickname. This would make “wog” comparable to calling New Zealanders “kiwis”, or calling Americans “yanks”, or calling the British “poms.” TVNZ pointed out that Dorian is of Greek ethnicity, and this would place him from southern Europe.’
- However, ‘In New Zealand, we take the British meaning of “wog”. That makes it a racist, offensive slur.’
- ‘As for TVNZ arguing that Dorian was not denigrating a group of people because he was talking about himself, people can be racist and derogatory about their own ethnicity. He was not saying his hair grows quicker as an individual. He implied it is because he has the genetic make-up of an ethnicity called “wog”… ‘TVNZ, by screening Dorian’s comment, may have caused viewers to infer the racist notion that ethnicity affects human hair growth.’
- ‘The comment was not [humorous] or a genuine opinion. It was lazily racist and put down whatever race or ethnicity the young man believes “wogs” are.’
- ‘TVNZ should not have screened that episode or at least deleted that scene.’
The broadcaster’s response
 Television New Zealand Ltd did not uphold the complaint on the following grounds:
- It did not agree that Dorian’s statement, about himself, would lead to the denigration or discrimination of any section of the community.
- Dorian is described as being ‘laidback, polite and studying to become a teacher,’ and as having Greek heritage.2
- The statement ‘is not intended to be derogatory or to infer that any group is inherently inferior. Dorian is simply stating of himself that his beard will grow back quickly due to his particular genetic make-up. Dorian’s comment about himself was a small part of the programme and there is no repeated or sustained condemnation of any group of people.’
 The discrimination and denigration standard3 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.
 ‘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.4
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 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.5
 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.6
 The standard only applies to recognised ‘sections of the community,’ which is consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993.7 As the complainant has alluded to, the word ‘wog’ can have different meanings; typically referring to non-white people in British English and to people with Southern European ancestry in Australian English.8 Either way, we are satisfied that groups of people to whom the word ‘wog’ can refer constitute recognised sections of the community for the purposes of this standard.
 We acknowledge the complainant’s concerns about the use of the word. The term may be considered a racial slur and can be harmful to the communities it is directed at. While ‘wog’ was not one of the words tested in our most recent Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research report,9 it was named by some respondents as another word (not included in the research) that they would personally find unacceptable if used in a broadcast.
 However, in the context of this broadcast, we find the use of the word did not reach the high threshold necessary for finding the broadcast encouraged discrimination and denigration in breach of the standard. In reaching this finding, we consider the following contextual factors are relevant:10
- Travel Guides Australia is a light-hearted, comedic travel show, where ordinary Australians take on the job of travel critics.
- The relevant segment, involving Kev, Dorian and Teng going to get K‑pop makeovers, was intended to be humorous.
- Dorian used the term ‘wog’ in relation to himself, a person of Greek heritage. The term was intended to describe his fast hair growth in a joking way.
- The term was not used as an invective against people of southern European ancestry in Australia and did not contain any element of condemnation or malice.
- The comment was very brief and Dorian’s companions did not engage with the comment any further.
 In our view, Dorian’s description of having ‘wog genetics’ was in fact used in a proud and positive sense. We also note that, in Australian English, the term ‘wog’ can be considered non-offensive depending on how it is used, due to its reclamation by the communities it is normally directed at.11 This is consistent with our Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research which found many believed a word was less offensive if used by someone from the relevant oppressed/marginalised group.12 Although the use of the term in this way may not be familiar to a New Zealand audience, the right to freedom of expression allows ethnic minorities to reclaim such terms for themselves.
 Taking into account the factors above, we do not consider the use of the term, in the context, was likely to ‘encourage’ discrimination or denigration as contemplated under the standard. We do note that, in another context, our decision may have been different.
 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 do not find a breach of the discrimination and denigration standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
20 July 2022
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Stephen Morris’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 6 April 2022
2 TVNZ’s response to complaint – 2 May 2022
3 Morris’s referral to the Authority – 14 May 2022
4 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 30 May 2022
1 Nine “Kev, Dorian and Teng” <www.nine.com.au>
2 Chanelle Mansour “Everything you need to know about the Travel Guides cast” New Idea Magazine (online ed, 28 May 2021)
3 Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Guideline 6a
5 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
6 Guideline 6b
7 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
8 Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries “Wog” <www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com>
9 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 17 February 2022), page 17
10 Guideline 6d
11 Andrew Clark “A bad word made good” The Guardian (online ed, 13 October 2005); see also: Bianca Farmakis “Kiss my fat wog ass” (10 May 2017) Honi Soit “as far as the status of the word in 2017 is concerned, leave the phrase to us”; Koraly Dimitriadis “Woman’s Facebook account restricted for using the word ‘wog’” News.com.au (17 June 2022) “Wog is a very complex word. It means different things to different people based on their own personal experience. Therefore, the power of its use sits personally with the individual – it’s their choice. Stripping that choice away triggers the discrimination and racism of the past.”
12 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 17 February 2022), page 13