BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Vather and NZME Radio Ltd - 2022-056 (2 August 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
Dated
Complainant
  • Sunil Vather
Number
2022-056
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB # 2

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint under the discrimination and denigration standard in relation to a segment on Jack Tame on Saturday Morning. The complaint alleged several comments made by a guest on the programme were racist, including that numerous Chinese and Indian climbers attempted to summit Mt Everest for kudos, and that many Nepalese tour companies had to compete for the bottom of the tourism market, by providing cheap tours and cutting corners. The Authority acknowledged the comments had the potential to cause offence, but found they did not meet the high threshold required for a breach of the standard.  

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration


The broadcast

[1]  During the 23 April 2022 episode of the Jack Tame on Saturday Morning show, the host, Jack Tame, interviewed Guy Cotter (owner and operator of Adventure Consultants) about his experiences mountaineering, and the possibility of Adventure Consultants restarting expeditions to the Himalayas:

Tame:             I know that in the last few years, the over-tourism of Everest has been the subject of headlines and concern and there was that infamous photo of the queues up to the summit of Mt Everest. So, in your opinion, what is the best way to make sure it’s a sustainable industry?

Cotter:            No, it’s a very good question and it’s very valid and that photo kind of exemplified over-tourism. And I’ve been trying to encourage different manners of practices on Everest for many years, but it’s not my country, you know I can’t go in there and tell them how to do things. You have to be very sensitive to the fact that, you know, they’re self-determining their future. And to a lot of Nepalese that photo depicts success, because it shows that they’re all busy, and they’ve all, you know, got jobs. So, it’s very different from a Western mindset about what that means. And, you know, I think our approach has always been, small groups, quality first. Whereas for a lot of the Nepalese operators who are out there now who are bringing in lots and lots of people, cos they’re offering really cheap pricing and there’s numerous Indian and Chinese climbers who want to go and do Everest because it gives them kudos.

Tame:             Yeah, right.

Cotter:            Not because they’re mountaineers. So there’s definitely a different mindset. And that’s just basically a different approach to life between people from the East and the West. We might think that our way is the only way but there is actually another mindset out there that’s actually the majority of the world’s population who think differently about it than us. So, all I can do is try to use my own approach as an example, which we’ve always done over in Nepal, and I think a lot of the operations over there have used us as the benchmark by which to compare themselves. And there is a difficulty for us though, is that a lot of those operators are fighting for the bottom of the market, they’ll just go cheaper than everybody else. So, what they end up having to do is cut corners, and then when things go wrong, they’re proven, you know, woefully inadequate with being able to deal to issues. So, our approach is like gently, gently, just doing our thing, and hopefully that will help encourage other people to improve the way they approach things as well.

The complaint

[2]  Sunil Vather complained that the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The complaint is summarised below:

  • The comment that Chinese and Indian climbers only attempt Everest for ‘kudos’ was racist, and ‘in one quick comment [Cotter] has relegated the majority 2.8 billion people on planet Earth as braggarts. [Cotter] implies that "West" people do not climb Mount Everest "for kudos".’
  • The guest’s comments ‘differentiates solely on race and implies strongly that one racial group ("West") is superior to the other racial groups (Nepalese, Indian and Chinese). In no uncertain terms he strongly implies that the "West" has superior values… the sentiment was Nepalese go for the cheapest, they do not respect the environment like us etc.’
  • ‘Each of these innuendos separately are minor but the whole interview reeks of superiority.’
  • ‘At no point did the interviewer intervene, in fact he encouraged further comment.’
  • The complainant stated that Asians make 15 percent of New Zealand’s population, and the community has received a lot of unsavoury and demeaning comments, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, and recently, with comments made about Nadia Lim. The complainant stated the generalisations and comments in the broadcast complained about were hurtful, and reinforced negative stereotypes.

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  NZME Radio Ltd did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • ‘The comments complained of here stand in sharp contrast to those considered by the Authority in the recent decision [McAulay] and Mediaworks Radio Ltd – 2021-015). In this decision the Authority found that comments by a caller (and endorsed by the host) amounts to ‘hate speech’ and denigrated Māori.’
  • ‘While we recognise that the complainant was offended by the interviewee’s comments during this broadcast…speech which offends is not determinative of a breach of this standard.’
  • The lack of coarse or strong language, the moderate tone of the interviewee, and that the comments were not gratuitous or calculated to offend, were relevant factors in assessing the segment under the discrimination and denigration standard.

Comment on Indian and Chinese climbers attempting Everest for ‘Kudos’

  • While Indian and Chinese communities are sections of the community under the standard, however, ‘the interviewee referred to “numerous” Indian and Chinese climbers rather than all Indian and Chinese climbers, or indeed those of Indian and Chinese descent generally.’
  • The statement complained about did not contain the required level of invective or malice to constitute a breach of the standard. ‘Rather the interviewee was commenting on the perceived motivations of certain climbers from China and India for climbing Everest, based on his own experience.’ In addition, there have been several reported controversies involving Indian climbers who had been accused of falsely claiming to have summited Everest.1
  • Unlike the comments considered by the Authority in Waxman2 and Cant3, the comment referenced ‘did not evoke prejudicial ideas about a particular community or involve the use of a derogatory term capable of embedding existing negative stereotypes.’
  • However, NZME recognised the host could have challenged the interviewee on this comment, as it could be viewed as implying that climbers from other countries do not seek to climb Everest ‘for kudos’.

Comments on Nepalese tour operators

  • ‘Mr Cotter’s comment regarding Nepalese Everest guiding companies did not discriminate against or denigrate those of Nepalese descent. Mr Cotter took care to note that it was not his place to dictate to or pass judgment on the operational practices of Nepalese guiding operators. His point was that climbing Everest is a highly dangerous endeavour, where the margins for error are slim and that cutting costs may impact on the safety of those being guided to the summit, with potentially fatal results. In any event, Mr Cotter’s comments regarding Nepalese operators did not reach the high threshold to constitute a breach of this standard.’

The standard

[4]  The discrimination and denigration standard4 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.5

Our analysis

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

[6]  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.6 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 be necessary to find a breach of the standard.7

[7]  The discrimination and denigration standard does not apply to individuals but to recognised ‘sections of the community’ which are consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993. We are satisfied that Chinese, Indian, and Nepalese people are recognised sections of the community, even if the first two are only referenced in relation to climbers from those communities.

[8]  We acknowledge the complainant found many of the comments in the segment offensive, however, the Codebook recognises that comments will not breach the discrimination and denigration standard simply because they are critical of another group, because they offend people, or because they are rude.8

[9]  We note that context is important in analysing complaints of this nature, and the following contextual factors were taken into account in coming to our decision:

  • The comments were made by the guest, not the host.
  • Prior to the commentary included above, Guy Cotter spoke warmly about his long-term working relationships and friendships in Nepal, as well as speaking at length in a positive light, about the resilience of the Sherpa communities, and the hardships they have faced in recent years with earthquakes, floods, and Covid-19 impacting their livelihoods. It was within the context of discussing those hardships that Cotter spoke of how a Western view of a photograph showing a line of climbers waiting to summit Everest might be seen as ‘over-tourism’, but that for the local communities, it was more likely seen as an image of success. It was also within this context of recent hardship that Cotter began speaking about Nepalese tour groups taking larger, and cheaper tour groups.
  • Mr Cotter’s statements were clearly a genuine expression of his own analysis or opinion of the mountaineering industry in Nepal (an area in which he has significant experience and observer knowledge) and Mr Cotter qualified his comments more than once, with acknowledgements that his approach, or a more ‘Western’ approach to mountaineering, was not the only approach, or even the majority approach. Guideline 6c of the standard explicitly recognises it is not intended to prevent the broadcast of a genuine expression of analysis or opinion.9
  • The language used, and the tone of the broadcast was moderate, and did not contain a high level of malice or nastiness. Further, the comments did not appear to be gratuitous or calculated to offend.

[10]  We acknowledge that some may have found the statement about the motivation of Chinese and Indian climbers, and the comments about the Nepalese tour operators offensive. However, due to the contextual factors above, we consider the comments did not carry sufficient invective or malice to encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Chinese, Indian, or Nepalese people, as sections of the community. Therefore, in the circumstances, any harm caused did not reach a threshold outweighing the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Susie Staley
Chair
2 August 2022

 

 

Appendix

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

1  Sunil Vather’s formal complaint – 23 April 2022

2  NZME’s response to the complaint – 30 May 2022

3  Vather’s referral to the Authority – 31 May 2022

4  NZME’s further comment – 13 June 2022

5  Vather’s further comment – 16 June 2022

6  NZME’s response to Vather’s further comment – 27 June 2022


1 Peter Beaumont “Nepal bans three Indian climbers accused of faking Everest summit” The Guardian (online ed, 21 February 2021)
2 Waxman and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2020-042
3 Cant and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No 2020-071
4 Standard 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
5 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
6 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
7 Guideline 6b
8 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
9 Guideline 6c