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BSA research reveals different attitudes to discrimination and denigration on TV/radio

Attitudes towards discrimination and denigration on TV and radio appear to be changing with younger New Zealanders showing a lower tolerance for it than older generations, according to new research from the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA).

The research found that younger people are significantly more likely to agree with BSA decisions that uphold complaints of discrimination and denigration in broadcast content, and less likely to agree with decisions that do not.

Overall, an average of 78% of participants agreed with five BSA decisions tested by the research.

These findings form part of ‘litmus testing’ research exploring the public’s attitudes towards discrimination and denigration on TV and radio and views on recent BSA decisions on complaints relating to this standard.

Discrimination and denigration is one of 11 broadcasting standards overseen by the BSA, whose role it is to determine complaints.

Other key findings from the research include:

  • Many of those surveyed from different ethnic groups report experiencing discrimination and denigration regularly.
  • Nearly half of New Zealanders (46%) think requiring ‘a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice’ for a finding of discrimination/denigration is appropriate. However, a quarter do not.
  • The public’s attitude to such content is influenced by ‘who is saying these things’. For example, it may be considered worse when coming from those in positions of power or privilege. It is also influenced by how they are said, with comments suggesting people are more forgiving where no harm is intended or if the comment is light-hearted, or a joke.
  • Viewers or listeners are more forgiving of discriminatory/denigratory content in less serious programmes, such as comedy shows.
  • A number of participants’ comments reflect a concern about TV and radio’s capacity to ‘normalise’ behaviours and language – particularly where this impacts children.

BSA Chief Executive Glen Scanlon said: “This report underlines just how challenging this area is – with some very divergent views among participants over what constitutes discrimination and denigration.

“However, the results provide some comfort that the community considers the Authority’s decisions in this area are well written and generally reflect community standards.”

Scanlon said the results would be assessed together with the outcomes of the BSA’s stakeholder survey and other inputs to the current review of the Broadcasting Codes.

The full report is available at: Litmus Testing 2021



Decision tested                                                     % rating the decision as                                                                                                                  acceptable/good/very good

Newshub TV – Use of the term ‘Paddy-wagons’                                           91%

Mike Hosking Breakfast Show – Item about immigration                           85%

Kickoff TV (Sky Sport) – Item referring to a person as a Jew                     77%

Magic Talk Radio – Item about iwi roadblocks                                              74%

1 News – Use of the term ‘gypsy’                                                                     65%


The BSA conducts litmus testing research annually to explore public attitudes to a given standard. The research was carried out for the BSA by Colmar Brunton. It included qualitative and quantitative methodologies with a spread of ethnicities, age, gender, income and household type. Colmar Brunton spoke to 582 people online. Fieldwork was completed during April and May 2021.


The BSA is an independent Crown entity that oversees the broadcasting standards regime in New Zealand. The BSA determines complaints that broadcasts have breached standards, undertakes research and oversees the development of broadcasting standards in consultation with broadcasters.

The Authority members are Judge Bill Hastings (Chair), Paula Rose QSO, Susie Staley MNZM and Leigh Pearson. The Chief Executive of the BSA is Glen Scanlon.

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