BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Robinson and The Radio Network Ltd - 2005-030

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Peter Robinson
Classic Hits

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Classic Hits – Bunty’s Big Drive Home – anecdote about white South African’s racist views towards black South African – complainant alleged anecdote was offensive to South Africans as it portrayed them as racists – complaint upheld by broadcaster as a breach of Guideline 7a (denigration) – complainant dissatisfied as believed no apology was made

Principle 7 (denigration) – apology sufficient – further action unnecessary – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Mental Berocca, broadcast on Classic Hits at around 5.30pm on 15 February 2005, contained an anecdote about a white South African woman who was upset to be sitting next to a black South African man on a plane.  In the anecdote, the woman referred to the man as a “kaffir”.


[2] Peter Robinson complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, that the anecdote was deliberately crafted to portray white South Africans as racist and intolerant, and was offensive to South Africans living in New Zealand.

[3] Mr Robinson noted that a perception existed that many South Africans were racists, and that the story was designed to perpetuate this view.  He concluded that the story was “an insult to the many people of all races who resisted apartheid and ended up jailed or worse for their efforts”.

Standards or Principles

[4] TRN assessed the complained under Standard 7 and Guideline 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.  These provide:

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.

Guideline 7a           

Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i)    factual; or

ii)   a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or

iii)  by way of legitimate humour or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] TRN upheld the complaint.  It noted that while the host believed the story to be true, this could not be proved, and it accepted the material should have been treated with some scepticism.  It noted that the host accepted the broadcast could be seen to be enforcing stereotypes that were now largely extinguished, and that this was particularly true regarding the use of the word “kaffir”.

[6] TRN noted that even if the story were true, it required editing to make it acceptable, and that this did not happen.

[7] TRN noted that it had counselled the host to ensure there was no repeat of this type of broadcast. 

Referral to the Authority

[8] Mr Robinson was dissatisfied with the action taken by the broadcaster, and referred the matter to the Authority.  He noted that while the broadcaster had upheld the complaint, there was “no hint of an apology” and given the degree of offence caused, he expected better.

[9] The complainant considered that TRN’s letter suggested that the matter had not been taken seriously.  He noted that the host showed no remorse.

[10] Mr Robinson concluded that he expected an apology from management, and would like the host to broadcast an apology.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[11] TRN added nothing further in response to the referral.  It did however provide an audio copy of comments made by the host on the same programme, two days later, in which he acknowledged that many South Africans had been offended by his comments and had called him to express their concern.  The host spoke on air to a South African woman who explained that she felt that the anecdote branded white South Africans as racist, and that this was unfair.  After some discussion about the situation in South Africa, the host concluded with an apology for any offence caused.

Further correspondence

[12] In his final correspondence to the Authority, the complainant – who had previously been unaware of the subsequent broadcast relating to this matter – submitted that the discussion and apology was insufficient to fulfil TRN’s responsibility for the broadcast.  He noted that:

He considered the apology was not a general apology, but was instead made to the specific woman in question.

The matter remained on the station’s website for a number of days after the broadcast, which demonstrated a lack of intent to offer a general apology for the story.

[13] In response, TRN submitted that:

  • It took the matter extremely seriously by upholding the complaint.
  • The host was counselled on the matter.
  • The host made a genuine apology on air.
  • The continuation of the item on the web site was a genuine oversight.

[14] TRN concluded that it had acted fairly and with responsibility.

Authority's Determination

[15] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority has also listened to a tape of the subsequent broadcast by the host discussed above.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[16] This is a complaint, not about the programme itself, but instead about the action taken by the broadcaster, which upheld the complaint in the first instance.

[17] While the Authority can understand why the complainant took offence at the broadcast, it nevertheless considers that the broadcaster’s actions were sufficient and appropriate in the circumstances.  The broadcaster noted that it had counselled the host, and provided the Authority with audio of the subsequent apology made by the host.

[18] The complainant submitted that the apology in the subsequent broadcast was not a general apology, but was instead made only to the woman to whom the host was speaking.  The Authority does not agree with this interpretation.  The intent of the subsequent broadcast was clearly to acknowledge that the story had caused unintended but widespread offence.  In this context, the Authority is of the view that the apology to the woman concerned should properly be interpreted as a general apology to others who may have felt the same offence.

[19] In these circumstances, where the host has been counselled by the broadcaster, and an apology made, the Authority considers that further action was unnecessary.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
3 June 2005


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

  1. Peter Robinson’s formal complaint to The Radio Network – 18 February 2005
  2. TRN’s response to the formal complaint – 23 March 2005
  3. Mr Robinson’s referral to the Authority – 8 April 2005
  4. TRN’s response to the referral – 14 April 2005
  5. Further correspondence from Mr Robinson – 23 May 2005
  6. Further correspondence from TRN – 27 May 2005