The list below contains our recently published decisions, with the latest at the top.
During the breakfast programme on Radio i98FM on 22 September 1997, the hosts
conducted a competition to unravel the meaning of spoken Chinese phrases.
Mr Wing-Yau Yee telephoned the station to complain about what he regarded as
racially offensive jokes. In a letter following he wrote that he objected to the use of
the racially stereotyped Chinese accent which formed the basis of the competition. In
his view, he wrote, the dialogue implied that Chinese speakers were incapable of
The Operations Manager for Radio i98FM personally apologised to Mr Yee and
subsequently wrote to him, again apologising for any offence caused and advising that
the breakfast show hosts appreciated that what they did was wrong.
Dissatisfied that the complaint was not upheld in full, and with the action taken on
the aspect upheld, Mr Yee referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards
Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have read the correspondence (summarised in the
appendix). No tape of the exchange was available. On this occasion, the Authority
determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
Listeners to Radio i98FM's breakfast show on 22 September 1997 were invited to
participate in a competition to decipher a parody of a Chinese speaker's version of
Mr Wing-Yau Yee complained to the station, first by telephone, and then in writing,
that the broadcast was racially offensive. After his telephoned complaint, he received
a letter which acknowledged that the programme was not in good taste, an apology
from the station, and an assurance that the hosts meant no harm when parodying the
Chinese accent and that such material would not be broadcast again. The station
considered no public apology was necessary, since Mr Yee was the only complainant.
In a letter to the station, Mr Yee complained that the station's action was insufficient
because it did not reflect the gravity of the breach of broadcasting standards, nor did it
rectify the damage caused to the Chinese community. He considered that by
parodying the Chinese accent, the broadcaster had derided Chinese people and
encouraged anti-Asian sentiment. In his view, an on-air apology was the appropriate
The station's response was to repeat that it considered sufficient action had been
taken and that it considered the matter as closed.
When Mr Yee referred the complaint to the Authority, he repeated his request for an
apology and expressed concern that the station's manager regarded the matter as
closed. He also complained that the broadcaster did not advise him, in writing, of his
right to refer the complaint to the Authority should he be dissatisfied with the
After the complaint was referred to the Authority, a response was sought from The
Radio Network. It advised first that there was no tape of the programme. Secondly,
it reiterated that an apology had been offered to Mr Yee, and that its position was that
if Mr Yee was personally offended, then a personal apology was the appropriate
remedy. With respect to Mr Yee's claim that he was not advised that he could refer
the matter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, The Network responded that Mr
Yee was advised of this option when the station manager spoke to him on a second
In a more detailed letter to the Authority, Mr Yee took issue with aspects of the
station's response. First, regarding the lack of a tape of the programme, he reported
that at the time he lodged his complaint by telephone (on the day of the broadcast), it
was intimated that there was a tape, since the station manager stated that all radio
broadcasts were routinely taped. In fact the Authority is satisfied that there was no
tape, since this was not a programme which is subject to the requirement under
standard R35 that a tape be retained. That standard reads:
R35 For a period of 35 days after broadcast, radio stations shall hold a
recording of all talkback and open line programmes and a copy or tape of news
and current affairs items.
Mr Yee expressed concern that the lack of a tape would hinder the Authority's
investigation of the complaint and that no documentation or transcript had been
provided to the Authority.
Mr Yee complained that the broadcast breached standards R2 and R14 of the Radio
Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards require broadcasters:
R2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and
good taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in
which any language or behaviour occurs.
R14 To avoid portraying people in a manner that 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 is not intended to prevent the
broadcast of material which is
i) factual, or
ii) the expression of serious opinion, or
iii) in the legitimate use of humour or satire.
Mr Yee also noted that the Authority had the powers of a Commission of Inquiry
under s.12 of the Broadcasting Act 1989, and requested that it require The Radio
Network to produce papers, documents and other records related to the production of
Secondly, Mr Yee reiterated that in his view, the broadcast denigrated the Chinese
community because it ridiculed their ability to pronounce English words. He argued
that not only did the broadcast denigrate Chinese people, but it also conveyed the
notion that it was permissible to do so. He repeated that he was not advised of his
right to complain to the Authority.
In its response The Radio Network first dealt with the matter of there being no tapes
or records of the competition. The Network noted that since i98FM was a music and
entertainment station, there were no tapes available of the programme. Describing the
broadcast on 22 September as an entertainment piece in which a variety of accents
were "sent up", including American, Irish, Australian and Asian, The Network noted
that the station manager had apologised and expressed his concern about the
broadcast. To Mr Yee's contention that he was not advised of his right to refer the
matter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, The Network reported that the
station manager had assured it that he had told him by telephone of his right to do so.
It advised that it considered the whole broadcast as "all very harmless", and that a
personal apology to Mr Yee was the appropriate remedy. In later correspondence
The Network argued that Mr Yee was incorrect to assume that the station had
acknowledged that it breached standard R2 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting
Practice. It argued that the standard did not apply in this case.
At the outset the Authority states that its ability to determine this complaint has been
hampered by The Radio Network's inability to provide either a tape or a written
record of the breakfast show exchange. It acknowledges that it has the power, under
s.12 of the Broadcasting Act 1989 to request the production of documents. However,
it is of the view that there is no evidence to suggest that such documents exist, and in
fact, the only evidence is to the contrary. It therefore declines to make any order in
Turning to the initial correspondence between the parties, the Authority notes that
the station manager, in writing, acknowledged that the jokes were neither funny nor in
good taste, and advised that the presenters had been reprimanded. That tends to
support Mr Yee's submission that the station upheld the complaint that standard R2
was breached. His referral to the Authority therefore, was on the basis that he was
dissatisfied with the broadcaster's action first, in not upholding the standard R14
aspect of the complaint, and secondly in not broadcasting an apology. It therefore
deals with these two aspects, notwithstanding The Radio Network's later assertion
that Mr Yee was incorrect to assume that the station had accepted that standard R2
had been breached.
Mr Yee's complaint was that standard R14 was breached because the broadcast
denigrated people of Chinese descent by mocking their pronunciation of English. The
Authority is not persuaded that the necessary elements of denigration or
discrimination were present in this case. In particular, it is not persuaded that a
parody on the Chinese accent can necessarily be said to deride Chinese people or
encourage anti-Asian sentiment. It notes that the Chinese community is but one of
many sections of contemporary New Zealand society which may be singled out for
attention in this way from time to time. Standard R14 expressly provides that the
requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is in the
legitimate use of humour or satire. The Authority accepts that the element of humour
might well have been questionable. That said, it is not prepared to impute a sinister
motive to the broadcast, especially given that it is unable to listen to a recording of it
and ascertain its tone. It therefore declines to uphold the standard R14 complaint.
The Authority next turns to Mr Yee's complaint that the action taken by the
broadcaster, having upheld the complaint that standard R2 was breached, was
insufficient. It notes that in addition to acknowledging the breach, the station manager
advised that he had reprimanded the hosts, and had also given Mr Yee a personal
apology and an assurance that such an incident would not happen again. The
Authority considers that in the circumstances the broadcaster's action was
appropriate, and declines to uphold the complaint that the action taken was
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
29 January 1998
Following a telephone call on 22 September in which he complained about racially
offensive jokes broadcast during a competition on Radio i98FM's breakfast show, Mr
Yee of Auckland complained to the station in writing. He noted that he had received a
written response to his telephone call, in which the station manager apologised and
explained that no offence was meant. The station manager had assured Mr Yee that he
had pointed out to the show's hosts that that type of joking was neither funny nor
not in good taste, that he had reprimanded them and been assured it would not happen
again. With respect to Mr Yee's request for an on-air apology, the station manager
responded that in light of listener response to the programme and the fact that this
was the only complaint, he did not consider such an apology was necessary.
Mr Yee referred to the telephone discussion he had with the broadcaster on the day of
the broadcast and the broadcaster's subsequent letter of apology dated 22 September.
He stated that he considered the action taken by the broadcaster in response to his
complaint were insufficient.
Mr Yee contended that the personal apology did not reflect the gravity of Radio
i98FM's breach of the standards nor did it rectify any of the damage done to the
station's relationships with other racial communities. He explained that Radio i98FM
had broadcast, on more than one occasion, racially offensive jokes and that over a
period of time listeners were "taught" to speak Chinese by the announcers who then
distorted various English phrases into a mock stereotyped "Chinese language" which
was totally incomprehensible. This parody of the Chinese accent had formed the
basis of a competition and listeners were invited to unravel and interpret the meaning
of these so-called Chinese phrases.
In answer to Radio i98FM's statement that he was the only person who had
complained, Mr Yee suggested that this was probably a statistical reflection of the
composition of the listening audience. He believed that a majority of Chinese people
would have found the humour deeply offensive.
Mr Yee requested that the radio station re-evaluate its decision not to broadcast an on-
air apology to the Chinese community and explain why the "jokes" were considered
to be in poor taste and why they could create racial disharmony. The apology, he
considered, should be broadcast in the same timeslot and repeated for the same
number of times the competition was promoted. He further suggested that the
broadcaster write to the so-called "winners" of the competition with the same
explanation and request they return the prizes to the sponsors.
Mr Yee concluded by pointing out that the public had no knowledge that the breakfast
show had have been reprimanded for making the racist jokes. He commented:
Without an on-air apology, you might as well have "slapped their wrist with a
piece of cornflake!"
The Operations Manager for Radio i98FM responded to Mr Yee advising him that
while he appreciated Mr Yee's concerns, he believed that sufficient action had been
taken by the radio station when it reprimanded the announcers and personally
apologised to Mr Yee. He advised that as far as he was concerned, the matter was
Dissatisfied with the action taken, Mr Yee referred his complaint to the Authority.
Mr Yee considered that by broadcasting racist jokes on a breakfast show competition,
Radio i98FM had breached standards R2 and R14 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting
Practice. He was dissatisfied with the personal apology offered by the broadcaster
and believed that an apology to an individual did not absolve the broadcaster from the
responsibility of redressing the damage it had done to inter-racial relationships.
Mr Yee considered the station should apologise to the Chinese community. He also
expressed concern that the Radio Operations Manager had said in his letter of 28
September that he regarded the matter as closed. Mr Yee also noted that he had not
been advised that his complaint could be referred to the Authority on the grounds that
he was dissatisfied with the action taken.
Finally, Mr Yee commented that he had gained the impression that the Radio
Network, the parent organisation for Radio i98FM, did not have a formal procedure
for evaluating complaints. He wondered whether the five other major radio stations
which comprised the Radio Network in Auckland would process complaints in the
same arbitrary fashion as Radio i98FM.
The Radio Network, through its counsel Mr Brent Impey, responded to the
Authority on behalf of Radio i98FM. It reported that the matter had been discussed
with the Operations Manager of Radio i98FM, and advised that as the broadcaster
was an entertainment and music station, there were no tapes available of the
programme complained about.
The Network explained that in the Operations Manager's opinion a personal apology
was an appropriate remedy for Mr Yee's personal concerns and that the Network did
not believe that the broadcast was "racist" or that any further action by the
broadcaster was warranted.
With regard to Mr Yee's contention that the broadcaster had not advised him that he
could refer his complaint to the Authority, the Network contended that Mr Yee had
been advised during the course of a second telephone conversation with the
Operations Manager that the matter could be referred to the Authority, but accepted
that this advice was not included in Radio i98FM's written response to him.
The Network concluded:
Taking a broader view, from what I have been told of the broadcast as outlined in
this letter, it was all very harmless. There was no intention to denigrate, nor any
slur on any particular race. It was merely a "takeoff" of accents in a humorous
way. In support of this, the two hosts of i98FM do not indulge in racist
comments or issues of controversy; their total aim is to be entertaining without
reverting to serious subjects.
In his final comment, Mr Yee referred first to the absence of a tape of the programme.
It was his understanding, he said, that The Radio Network's radio broadcasts were
routinely taped. He expressed concern that the absence of a tape recording would
hinder the Authority's investigation of the complaint. He also noted that no
transcript or documentation relating to the programme had been provided to the
Authority by the Radio Network. Mr Yee wrote:
I understand that the Authority has the powers of a Commission of Inquiry
under section 12 of the Broadcasting Act 1989 (as stated in Comalco New
Zealand Ltd v Broadcasting Standards Authority 14/12/95 CA 18/95: CA
159/95). Therefore, I request the Authority to require Radio Network/Radio
i98FM to produce papers, documents or other records related to the production
of the breakfast show complained of and the technological back up procedures
Radio Network has set up for its radio stations.
Secondly, Mr Yee repeated that the broadcast denigrated the Chinese community. He
rejected the Radio Network's suggestion that other accents were "sent up" in that
same broadcast, and that it was an Asian accent, rather than a Chinese accent which
was being made fun of.
Mr Yee objected to the Network's suggestion that the show's hosts had "parodied an
Asian accent and translated the phrases into 'kiwi speak'". He wrote:
It is not the everyday practice of ordinary New Zealanders to speak English
with this fake accent. Radio i98FM's breakfast show hosts deliberately used
this so called accent to produce what they thought was a humorous piece.
. . .
Radio i98FM's breakfast show hosts must have known that these sort of put
downs (not "send ups" as Mr Impey wishes to put it) denigrated Chinese
people's ability to pronounce English words and the sound of the Chinese
Mr Yee noted that when he complained by telephone to the station, he was told that
the "jokes" about the Chinese accent were the first in a series of "jokes" about other
accents. He noted that he listened to the station the next day and discovered that the
competition was not about accents at all. It was about the meaning of various
Australian slang expressions and there was no attempt to mimic the accent. He did
not hear any "jokes" the following day. Mr Yee said that he therefore concluded that
the station had abandoned the "series".
Mr Yee then referred to the conversation he had with the station manager about his
complaint. He stated that there had been only one conversation, and that the station
manager had not, as the Radio Network suggested, referred him to the Broadcasting
Standards Authority. Mr Yee said he was prepared to swear an affidavit to that
Mr Yee disagreed with the Radio Network's assertion that "it was all very harmlessÉ
and was merely a take-off of accents in a humorous way". He added:
The fake accent, with its implicit suggestion that Chinese cannot pronounce
English words properly and the sound of Chinese was gobbledegook, is and
has been part of the "Asian golliwog" image (i.e. the wily old gentleman
(w.o.g.) with slanted eyes, glasses, buck tooth and pigtails) that Westerners
have perpetuated for years.
Finally, he wrote, unlike other accents when mimicked, the fake Chinese accent carried
with it connotations that Chinese were inferior to Anglo-Saxons and other Europeans.
He considered the fact that the hosts' aim was to be inane was irrelevant since some of
their inane comments could still be racist.
In a letter dated 18 November 1997, The Radio Network responded to Mr Yee. First,
it confirmed that there was no tape of the broadcast. It reminded the Authority that
there was no requirement for a tape of the programme to be made since it was an
"entertainment" programme. Further, there was no transcript available. The Network
noted that there appeared to be some confusion regarding the conversation the station
manager had with Mr Yee about whether there was a tape. The station manager had
observed toMr Yee that personalities sometimes recorded broadcasts for use in
promotions to be played during the day. The Network also clarified another point,
which was that there was no tape monitoring system in place at the station.
To Mr Yee's request that the Authority use its powers as a Commission of Inquiry,
The Network responded that should the Authority wish to seek further documents or
ask further questions, then it would accommodate those requests.
Regarding the substance of the complaint, The Network considered the relevant
standard was R14, relating to discrimination. It wrote:
The objective of the programme was to be humorous. i98FM is an easy
listening radio station whose format is aimed at an audience aged 30–49.
Outside of news bulletins, its talk content is entertainment based. The
breakfast programme contains competitions, humour and community
information. It is the antithesis of news and current affairs radio.
There was never any intention on this programme to be racist. The
broadcaster understands that Mr Yee has complained to the Race Relations
Office which has advised the broadcaster that as there was no intention or
hostility, they would not be taking the matter any further.
The Network then responded to other matters raised by Mr Yee. It advised that Mr
Yee was correct in stating that "other accents were not sent up in the same broadcast".
It was the day after that the hosts parodied an Australian accent, and the Irish had
been targeted the day before.
Regarding the information given about the complaints process, The Network repeated
that when Mr Yee telephoned his complaint, he was told that there would be no on-air
apology. When Mr Yee advised that he would take his complaint to the Race
Relations Office, he was told by the station manager of the right to complain under the
The Network also accepted that Mr Yee was correct when he stated that there was
only one conversation between him and the station manager. The second conversation
referred to a voice mail message left by the station manager on Mr Yee's telephone.
The Network maintained that no breach had occurred.
Mr Yee maintained that he was not confused about what he was told by the station
manager about the recording of broadcasts. He reiterated that he was told that it was
routine practice for The Radio Network stations to record all broadcasts.
Mr Yee expressed surprise that The Network maintained there was no document in
existence which was relevant to the complaint. He considered that it was apparent
that a script was being used. Further, he claimed that there must have been documents
generated when the "competition" was being planned by the station. He said that he
was unconvinced that none existed and that the whole programme was spontaneously
ad libbed by the breakfast show host.
Mr Yee asked The Network to provide a list of the fake Chinese phrases and their
interpretation to the Authority.
Next, he referred to his original letter of complaint, in which he complained that
standards R2 and R14 had been breached. He noted that The Network had not
responded to the R2 aspect of the complaint, even though the station manager had
admitted the jokes were not in good taste. He asked if he could therefore assume that
the station did not dispute that the broadcast was not in good taste.
Responding to other points made, Mr Yee suggested that the correspondence seemed
to imply that only serious programmes could be racist. He disagreed with that
Mr Yee confirmed that he had referred the complaint to the Race Relations Office. He
expressed surprise that it had made a decision so soon and noted that he had not been
informed of any decision. However, he argued, even if the Race Relations Office had
made a decision, it would have no bearing on the Authority's decision. He noted that
the Race Relations Office operated under different legislation than the Authority.
Mr Yee repeated that he was never advised by the station manager of his right to
The Network advised that there were no documents.
Referring to Mr Yee's assumption that the station had acknowledged a breach of the
good taste standard, The Network advised that was not the case. It maintained that
since standard R2 related to norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, and
that this complaint related to denigration, rather than to the actual words used.
However, if it were wrong on this, its position was that the language and behaviour
was not in breach of standard R2. It contended that it was still acceptable for jokes
and humour to be applied so long as there is no denigration or discrimination against
any section of the community. In declining to uphold the complaint, The Network
maintained that the context was also relevant and that the programme was a breakfast
show which aimed to be humorous.
With reference to the matter being before the Race Relations Office, The Network
reported that it had been advised that the complaint had not been upheld.
Finally it responded to Mr Yee's contention that the station did not advise him of his
right to refer the matter to the Authority. It repeated that the station manager made
that clear to Mr Yee.
Mr Yee enclosed a copy of a letter he had received from the Race Relations Office,
dated 28 November, in which it advised that no decision had been made as to whether
the content of the programme was in breach of the Human Rights Act. It advised that
a decision would be made by 3 December.
Mr Yee noted that this advise was contrary to the assertion made in The Network's
letter of 18 November.
Finally, Mr Yee repeated that the decision of the Race Relations Office should have
no bearing on the Authority's decision on whether the station breached broadcasting
Having been sent a copy of The Network's letter of 1 December, Mr Yee provided
First he reiterated that he was unconvinced that no documents existed which related to
the complaint. He suggested that besides the script and the documents planning the
broadcast, the station would have records of who the so called winners of the
competition were and a record of its actions since receiving Mr Yee's complaint. He
Only a naive person would believe that a radio station can operate and plan its
daily broadcasts without any documentation. Mr Impey [on behalf of The
Network] has not also given a satisfactory explanation of why there are no
With respect to The Network's contention that standard R2 did not apply, Mr Yee
responded that the standard should be interpreted in the way an ordinary person
would read it. It did not necessarily mean that swear words or improper language
must be used, he argued, and furthermore, standards R2 and R14 were not mutually
exclusive. He gave the following as examples of when the standard might be breached:
sexist language, homophobic comments and racist jokes.
He repeated that the outcome of his complaint to the Race Relations Office was
irrelevant to the Authority's consideration of the complaint. He advised that he had
not yet heard from the Office regarding his complaint.
Mr Yee maintained that the station manager had incorrectly recollected that he had
advised him of his right to go to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. In fact, he
advised, he only found out about that option after telephoning the Authority himself,
after which he was sent a copy of the Codes of Practice and the complaints
In another letter, dated 9 December, Mr Yee advised that he remained unconvinced
that no documents relating to the broadcast existed. He suggested that besides the
script and the documents planning the broadcast, the station would have a record of
who won the competition and a record of the actions it had taken since receiving his
complaint. He pointed out that in a civil proceeding these documents would be
relevant and discoverable. To The Network's contention that standard R2 had not
been upheld, and furthermore that it did not apply to the broadcast, Mr Yee
responded that he did not believe standards R2 and R14 were mutually exclusive, as
The Network had contended.
Mr Yee repeated that he was not advised by the station manager of his right to refer to
the Authority and suggested that the station manager had incorrectly recalled the
In a letter dated 11 December, The Network responded to the Authority's request to
provide some examples of the phrases used during the broadcast. It advised that the
hosts and management were able to recall three phrases:
"moon lan ding" A great achievement by American astronauts
"shai gai" A bashful person
"wai so dim" Are you trying to save electricity?
The Network added that the hosts also recollected that similar take-offs of the
Australian accent were made that morning.
On 15 December, Mr Yee responded that the phrases cited above were truncated
versions of the phrases used, and did not reflect tenor of the exchange or why it was
so offensive. He also noted that the hosts' recollection of the parody of Australian
accents that day was at odds with his own recollection, and with an earlier letter by
The Network, in which it acknowledged that Mr Yee's recollection of the broadcast
was correct ie that the parody of the Australian accents occurred the following day.
In Mr Yee's view, this was but another example of the inaccurate statements which
had come from the station. He therefore questioned seriously its credibility in
recalling the facts of the broadcast and subsequent matters.