BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Lee and UPFM - 2010-011

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Amanda Lee

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Toast Breakfast Show – host commented on Telecom’s outsourcing of call centre work overseas – made reference to “stupid Filipino operators” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration

Standard 7 (denigration and discrimination) – host’s remark lacked the necessary invective to reach threshold for encouraging discrimination or denigration – not upheld

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – host’s comment was an expression of frustration with Telecom and a throw-away line – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   During The Toast Breakfast Show, broadcast on UPFM on the morning of 14 December 2009, one of the hosts commented on Telecom’s outsourcing of call centre work for its 018 directory service. He stated:

I don’t know about you, but I like to read the paper every single day without fail... Over the last couple of months Telecom have been in a bit of poos with the public, for generally just being idiots really, when they out-sourced all their 018 service. And they’ve had tonnes of complaints. I’ve had personal experiences where I’ve dealt with those stupid Filipino operators – they’re absolutely hopeless...

[2]   At 9.15am on 15 January 2010, the host broadcast the following apology:

But, ah, something important I need to get out of the way definitely. On Monday the 14th of December on this show I made a comment that I wish to apologise for. While discussing how unhappy we were with the outsourcing of Telecom’s call centre, we referred to the call centre workers by ethnicity. This was accidental and we were merely trying to express how disappointed I was with the new service. This comment was contrary to UPFM’s on-air policies and I wish to apologise for any offence my comments may have caused.


[3]   Amanda Lee made a formal complaint to UPFM, the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s reference to “stupid Filipino operators” breached standards of good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration.

[4]   The complainant contended that the host could have “simply expressed his outrage at the poor service without referencing the operators’ race”.


[5]   UPFM assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   UPFM argued that, while the host’s remark did contravene its own “internal company standards”, it had not breached Standard 1 or 7.

[7]   The broadcaster contended that the discrimination and denigration standard had a high threshold. It considered the host’s remark was a “one-off line” and that, while the word “stupid” was used in combination with the overseas call centre workers’ ethnicity, the remark had not reached the required threshold to constitute discrimination.

[8]   The broadcaster said that the hosts involved were given a verbal warning for their behaviour, which went on their written record, and that the host who had made the comment had apologised formally on air. It offered to provide a copy of the apology to the complainant.

[9]   UPFM went on to say that it had “conducted a full briefing regarding our expectations of announcers around these issues to ensure this sort of thing does not happen again”.

[10]   The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the programme had breached Standards 1 or 7.

Referral to the Authority

[11]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Lee referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. While the complainant recognised the broadcaster’s efforts in addressing the incident based on its internal policies and standards, she did not consider that the broadcaster had fully acknowledged the core issue that the host knowingly made a discriminatory comment.

[12]   The complainant maintained her argument that the host’s reference to “stupid Filipino operators” had breached broadcasting standards.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[13]   Ms Lee stated that, after receiving UPFM’s response to her complaint, she had asked it to explain how it had arrived at the decision that it did, but was “not given a clear and comprehensive reply”, including her ability to refer the matter to the Authority for review.

Authority's Determination

[14]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Procedural Matter

[15]   We note that the broadcaster failed to advise Ms Lee about her right to refer the matter to the Authority for review. We remind UPFM to ensure that it complies with its statutory obligations under the Broadcasting Act in this respect.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[16]   For many years, the Authority has defined the term discrimination as encouraging the different treatment of members of a particular group, to their detriment (see Teoh and TVNZ1). The term “denigration” has consistently been defined as meaning the blackening of the reputation of a class of people (see, for example, Petros and The Radio Network Ltd2).

[17]   It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages discrimination or denigration in contravention of the standard (see, for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network3).

[18]   We understand Ms Lee's concern at the host's reference to the ethnicity of the call centre workers. We agree that broadcasters should take care when highlighting ethnicity, or unnecessarily referencing ethnic minority groups in a negative context.  However, while we find that the comment was thoughtless and unnecessary, we note that the context for the remark was a discussion about Telecom's decision to outsource its 018 service, which had led to complaints about overseas operators and their lack of local knowledge. In our view, the host's remark "stupid Filipino operators" was an expression of his frustration with overseas operators, rather than a comment on Filipino people. It was clearly not intended to denigrate Filipino people on the basis of their ethnicity or some other perceived group characteristic.  Nor could it be said to have encouraged the different treatment of Filipino people to their detriment. 

[19]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the host’s comment breached Standard 7.

[20]   We note that, even though the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of broadcasting standards, it nevertheless ordered the host to make an on-air apology and gave both breakfast show hosts a verbal warning. In our view, the broadcaster handled Ms Lee’s complaint in a professional and appropriate manner.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[21]   While the host’s reference to people of a specific ethinicity was thoughtless, we consider that it was clearly a throw-away comment as he expressed frustration with Telecom’s decision to outsource its 018 service. The host’s tone was good-natured and it was clear that his comment was not intended to offend or be taken seriously.

[22]   We find that the comment “stupid Filipino operators” did not stray beyond the bounds of good taste and decency, taking into account the lack of invective and the context in which it was said.

[23]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 1.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
27 April 2010


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

1.            Amanda Lee’s formal complaint – 15 December 2009
2.           UPFM’s response to the formal complaint – 22 December 2009
3.           Ms Lee’s referral to the Authority – 20 January 2010
4.           Ms Lee’s final comment – 25 January 2010
5.           UPFM’s response to the Authority – 26 January 2010

1Decision No. 2008-091

2Decision No. 2009-040

3Decision No. 2002-152