BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Zohrab, on behalf of the New Zealand Equality Party, and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-097

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • Peter Zohrab of Wainuiomata, on behalf
Number
2002-097
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
One News – pronunciation of "Waikato" – denigration of New Zealand English and its speakers

Findings
Section 11(b) – no issue of broadcasting standards raised by this complaint – decline to determine

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The pronunciation of "Waikato" during One News, broadcast on TV One at 6.00pm on 29 March 2002, was the subject of a complaint.

[2] Peter Zohrab, on behalf of the New Zealand Equality Party, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the pronunciation was incorrect. He considered the manner of pronunciation was "racist" and encouraged the denigration of New Zealand English and its speakers.

[3] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It did not consider that its pronunciation of "Waikato" in any way denigrated New Zealand English.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Zohrab referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given, the Authority declines to determine this complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the part of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The Complaint

[6] The pronunciation of "Waikato" during One News, broadcast on TV One at 6.00pm on 29 March 2002, was the subject of a complaint.

[7] Peter Zohrab, on behalf of the New Zealand Equality Party, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the pronunciation was incorrect. In his view, the pronunciation was:

approximately midway between the original Maori pronunciation and its current pronunciation in New Zealand English which, I must point out, is a language with its own rules and its own right to linguistic equality.

[8] Mr Zohrab considered that TVNZ’s "racist double standard" encouraged the denigration of New Zealand English. In his view, speakers of "New Zealand English" were portrayed as being:

a group of people who are dependent on the approval of Maoris for the way they speak their own native language, while only Maoris are permitted to speak their own language in a (rightfully) autonomous and dignified manner.

[9] Mr Zohrab commented that the "Maorification" of English words, such as the use of the word "kooti" for "court", was a routine and normal practice. He considered that this was a "racist double standard".

The Standards

[10] TVNZ assessed Mr Zohrab’s complaint against Standard 6 and Guideline 6g of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guidelines

6g  Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[11] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It wrote:

Waikato is a Maori word, and there seemed no reason at all to the [TVNZ Complaints] committee why it should be given an anglicised pronunciation.

The pronunciation employed in the news item might not have seemed perfect in everyone’s ears – but in no language is there full consensus on how words are to be spoken; it depends on factors such as dialect, local usage and tribal differences. Suffice to say that TVNZ takes the matter of pronunciation very seriously. It has an in-house language expert who works with staff whose voices are regularly heard on air. In addition TVNZ has its own Maori Programmes Department (headed by a prominent Maori lexicographer) which provides regular and ongoing advice about the pronunciation of Maori words. Pronunciation, both of English and Maori, is an integral part of training courses for journalists aspiring to work in radio and television.

The committee did not find that the pronunciation of "Waikato" in any way represented a denigration of New Zealand English and so concluded that standard 6 (Guideline 6g) had not been infringed.

The Complainant’s Referral to the Authority

[12] As he was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Zohrab referred the complaint to the Authority. In his referral, he said that "Waikato" has its own traditional pronunciation in New Zealand English, and referred to a 1973 textbook which he said stated that the usual English practice was to anglicise the pronunciation of loan words which had been in the language long enough to become familiar.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[13] In its response to the Authority, TVNZ submitted that the text which Mr Zohrab cited did not refer to:

a cultural context in which two languages have equal status before the law - as is the case of Maori and English in this country.

[14] TVNZ suggested that in New Zealand, when Maori words are used:

attempts should be made by English-speakers to reflect the status of Maori by pronouncing it as near to correctly as possible.

[15] TVNZ also noted that it understood that the BBC had a policy of pronouncing Welsh place names without anglicising them when they appeared within English text.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[16] In the complainant’s final comment, he took issue with the way TVNZ dealt with his complaint by focussing solely on the matter of the pronunciation of "Waikato". Mr Zohrab said that his original complaint referred to two specific broadcasts and to TVNZ’s "racist double standard" on loan words between Maori and English. (Mr Zohrab had referred to an English word assimilated into Maori, which was pronounced as a Maori word in another TVNZ broadcast.)

[17] Mr Zohrab also maintained that TVNZ’s point about the pronunciation of Welsh names was irrelevant, commenting that:

racism is no more appropriate in the BBC (if it exists there) than in TVNZ.

The Broadcaster’s Further Correspondence

[18] In a further letter to the Authority, TVNZ said it had referred the complainant’s argument to its Head of Maori Programmes (Mr Whai Ngata), who it described as an "esteemed lexicographer". Mr Ngata’s response was attached to the letter. Mr Ngata noted that Maori words of English derivation were being "phased out of the language" and he considered that the preference with pronunciation was for "proper Maori pronunciation". TVNZ said it did not see any parallel between the use of Maori words which come from English roots, and the pronunciation of "Waikato", which it said was not an English word and "does not have an English pronunciation".

The Complainant’s Further Correspondence

[19] The complainant disagreed with Mr Ngata’s comments and said that the substance of his complaint was not affected by TVNZ’s further correspondence.

The Authority’s Determination

[20] In his complaint, Mr Zohrab asserted that the broadcaster had pronounced the word "Waikato" in a racist and incorrect manner which encouraged the denigration of New Zealand English and its speakers.

[21] Section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act allows the Authority to decline to determine a complaint if it considers:

That, in all the circumstances of the complaint, it should not be determined by the Authority.

[22] The Authority does not consider that the complainant has raised any issue of broadcasting standards on this occasion. Although it may be that there are circumstances where an apparent mispronunciation of words may give rise to complaints about broadcasting standards, on this occasion it does not. The non-anglicised pronunciation of the word "Waikato", a Maori place name, can in no way be considered incorrect or in breach of the discrimination standard. Having considered all the circumstances of this complaint, the Authority exercises its discretion under s.11(b) and declines to determine the complaint.

Bill of Rights

[23] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act and applies it in a manner which it considers is consistent with the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to determine this complaint under s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
8 August 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Peter Zohrab’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 8 April 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 1 May 2002
  3. Mr Zohrab’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 17 May 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority (plus attachment) – 23 May 2002
  5. Mr Zohrab’s Final Comment – 6 June 2002
  6. TVNZ’s Further Letter – 11 June 2002
  7. Mr Zohrab’s Further Letter – 16 June 2002