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All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Sargeant and The Radio Network Ltd - 2013-015

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mike Sargeant

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
ZM Morning Crew – game called “Racial Profiling” in which hosts and contestant were asked to decide whether individuals who had committed certain offences in the United States were “black, white or Asian” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming standards

Standard 1 (good taste and decency), Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration), Standard 8 (responsible programming) – segment was an attempt at humour and satire – the outcome as broadcast demonstrated flaws in stereotyping – broadcast would not have offended most listeners in context, was not socially irresponsible, and did not reach high threshold required for encouraging denigration of, or discrimination against, any of the groups referred to as sections of the community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  During the ZM Morning Crew, the hosts ran a competition called “Racial Profiling”, in which one of the hosts read news reports on strange offences committed in the United States, and the other two hosts, and the contestant who had phoned in, were asked to guess whether the perpetrators were “black, white or Asian”. In relation to an offence where a woman was found with 645 Oxycodone pills inside her “various body cavities”, one of the hosts remarked, “I’m sorry, I’m just generalising here, but I don’t think most Asian women would have enough room to put 645…” Later, one of the hosts guessed that a woman who divorced her husband because the size of his genitalia meant he “was not satisfying her” was Asian, and his co-host commented, “Really, you’re going to go with Asian?” The host was correct in guessing the couple was Asian, and the contestant was commended for “not generalizing” and guessing the couple was white. The segment was broadcast on ZM at about 6.45am on Thursday 21 March 2013.

[2]  Mike Sargeant made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), alleging that the broadcast was “in very bad taste” and encouraged and desensitised racism and racial stereotyping. In addition, he argued that the hosts’ comments relating to “the size of Asians’ genitalia” were distasteful.

[3]  The issue is whether the segment breached standards relating to good taste and decency (Standard 1), discrimination and denigration (Standard 7), and responsible programming (Standard 8) as outlined in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the segment breach broadcasting standards?

[5]  The Authority recently considered a similar complaint about the ZM Morning Crew’s “Racial Profiling” segment, where the alleged harm was said to be the perpetuation and encouragement of racial stereotyping.1 In that decision, we acknowledged that, on the face of it, the game was framed in a way that seemed to perpetuate racial stereotypes, and that this would cause discomfort and would be considered offensive by some listeners. However, we declined to uphold the complaint on the following bases:

  • the primary purpose of the segment was “shock humour” and entertainment
  • humour and satire are important forms of speech, on which society places value2
  • many forms of discourse, and particularly comedy, use racism and/or stereotyping as a basis for humour; they are clearly not intended to be taken seriously, and there was an evident lack of invective in that particular instance
  • the segment was consistent with audience expectations of the ZM Morning Crew, who are known to push boundaries for comedic effect
  • the outcome of the game as broadcast demonstrated the flaws in racial stereotypes because the participants were mostly incorrect when guessing the ethnicities of the perpetrators of the offences described.

[6]  The same reasoning applies to Mr Sargeant’s complaint that the segment encouraged racial stereotypes and desensitised attitudes to racism. The Authority recognises that comments will not breach broadcasting standards, and in particular the prohibition against denigration and discrimination, simply because they are critical of a particular group, because they offend people, or because they are rude; it adheres to the principle that allowing the free and frank expression of a wide range of views is a necessary part of living in a democracy.3

[7]  Similarly, in relation to the hosts’ remarks about Asian people’s genitalia, we are satisfied that, on balance, and taking into account the importance of the right to freedom of expression,4 the comments were permissible in context. While we accept that the comments were crude, and would be considered offensive by some listeners, they were clearly an attempt at “shock humour” and entertainment, and were not intended as a serious commentary or an attack against all Asian people.

[8]  For these reasons, we are satisfied that the broadcast did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency when taken in context, and with particular regard for audience expectations of the ZM Morning Crew (Standard 1), the segment was not socially irresponsible (Standard 8), and it did not reach the high threshold necessary to encourage discrimination or denigration against Asian people as a section of the community (Standard 7). Upholding the complaint would unreasonably restrict the broadcaster’s, the hosts’ and the audience’s right to freedom of expression, and we therefore decline to uphold the complaint.


[9]  In considering the impacts that come from the use of racial distinctions, real or imagined, in humour or in attempts at humour, context is all important. There are nuances, shadings and subtleties which are easily lost when spoken words are lifted onto paper and are isolated from context. There are rich veins of legitimate and pointed humour that involve racial distinctions. A succession of entertainers both in New Zealand and beyond has used material of this kind, and comes from what might be seen to be the target groups. They have embraced humour which uses their own racial stereotypes, and they have done this delicately in a way that drives towards the erosion of divisions. Some of the material in this programme was challenging but having considered it carefully we are of the view that it was acceptable in context.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
11 June 2013


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

1           Mike Sargeant’s formal complaint – 21 March 2013

2          TRN’s response to the complaint – 25 March 2013

3          Mr Sargeant’s referral to the Authority – 2 April 2013

4          TRN’s response to the Authority (including attachments) – 19 April 2013

1Carpenter and The Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2012-081

2See, for example, Swift and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2012-017, guideline 6a to Standard 6 (fairness), and guideline 7a to Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) of the Free-to-Air Television Code.

3Practice Note: Discrimination and Denigration (Broadcasting Standards Authority, December 2006)

4As guaranteed by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.