Contributing to Islamophobia on New Zealand radio?

This afternoon I made a complaint about the quality of public broadcasting on Radio New Zealand’s ‘Afternoons with Jim Mora’ on Thursday 25th October 2011.

The broadcast can be heard at:

The offending comments can be heard here:
I’ve pasted my letter below:

To whom it may concern

I am a long-term fan of Radio New Zealand and the National Programme, having appeared as a guest on programmes such as the Asian report, Afternoons with Jim Mora and Saturdays with Kim Hill.

I write this as an academic who is actively involved in community affairs and committed to being part of an equitable, flourishing and humane society for all of its members. Consequently, I am committed to critiquing the institutions that purport to represent the needs and aspirations of their diverse constituents.  Hence this considered decision to make a formal complaint about the quality of public broadcasting on Radio NZ’s Afternoons with Jim Mora on Thursday 25th October 2011.

Around 4pm on the 25th, the host and a panellist were having a discussion about the release of the new Barbie doll – a collector’s edition being produced by toy company Mattel and in so doing made remarks about the Muslim community that I believe breach Broadcasting standards. During the discussion, John Bishop (a panellist) suggested that Mattel could market the doll to Muslims. However, he then added  ‘why can’t we have a Terrorist Barbie?’ The host Paul Brennan responded by saying ‘Suicide Bomber Barbie….she could come with a little belt.’ Meaning that the belt could be made of explosives. ‘Why not?’ said Mr Bishop, implying that a product like ‘Terrorist Barbie’ would sell well to Muslims and then names like “terrorist Barbie” and “suicide bomber Barbie” were suggested.

I believe that these comments made by a broadcaster who is viewed as authoritative and authentic, contributes to the portrayal and representation of Islam that are racist and anti-Islamic/Islamophobic and breach the following standards:

Standard 1: Good Taste and Decency: Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

1a Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. time of day, target audience.

Conflating the ‘Muslim world’ with ‘terrorists and suicide bombers’ reflects a lack of taste and decency toward the community that Radio New Zealand purports to be serving- including Muslims. While the Broadcasting Standards Authority has previously stated (e.g. Decision 2008-080 & 2008-087) that standards relating to good taste and decency are primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. The Authority has also said it ‘will consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress’. (Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (BSA, November 2006). Thus the comments made on the show offend and distress a significant number of viewers breaching Standard 1.

Standard 5: Accuracy

The suggestion that there may be a market for terrorist and suicide Barbies among Muslims overlooks the social, ethnic or cultural diversity of the global Islamic community and attribute to all Muslims the negative characteristics fundamental to Islamophobia. These include conflating the Muslim faith with terrorism and suicide bombers and inferring that Islam and Muslims are backward; inherently separate and ‘other’ to the West and Western values. The comments influence the beliefs and attitudes of listeners, which then has an influence on their behaviour and attitudes towards Muslims (which Muslim listeners might also internalise). In a recent UK report (Pointing the Finger) four common stereotypes about Muslims are invoked that are pertinent here. These are: all Muslims are the same, all Muslims are under the influence of religious teachings, all of them are lower than other people in moral, human, cultural and political terms and ‘all of them are considered a threat’.  It is disappointing that these racist anti-Islamic views, which could be expected from right-wingers, are present in our media.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

The comments made during the discussion denigrated Muslims as a group (in a very homogenous and one-dimensional stereotypical way that suggested that Islam is without any internal differentiation or opinion) and promoted and reinforced discrimination against them by conflating the Muslim faith with terrorism and suicide bombers.

I have recently completed research about Refugee mothers in New Zealand who were despairing about the Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism their children were experiencing-in the form of both verbal and physical abuse. They reported interpersonal racism that is “racism in interactions between individuals either within their institutional roles or as private individuals” (Ziersch, et al., 2011, p.1046).  They also reported more insidious Instititutional racism that is “practices, policies or processes that are experienced in everyday life, and maintain and reproduce avoidable and unfair inequalities across ethnic/racial groups” (Ziersch, et al., 2011, p.1046) specifically in terms of their access to employment.

Given that the wider community depend and receive their knowledge of visibly different ‘others’ through the media, often in the absence of direct experience with those ‘others’. I believe that a state broadcaster funded by Government and taxpayers needs to ensure that the media represent those communities who are already marginalised (in this case by the events of 9/11) are treated with care 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.

Conflating the Muslim faith with terrorism and suicide bombers does not assist understanding and co-existence. The statements and the inference behind them encouraged discrimination against Muslim New Zealanders with Islam and Muslims represented as being the ‘other’ to ‘New Zealanders’ thereby reinforcing the ‘them’ and ‘us’ dualism. The comments were neither funny nor satirical.

Standard 8: Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible.

It is not socially responsible to suggest, that a religious minority are killers on the basis of their faith. The broadcast did not provide balanced factual information and entertainment was made at the expense of an already vulnerable group. In New Zealand after 9/11 we had incidents of violence directed both toward Muslim women because they wore the hijab and toward places of worship.

I look forward to a response from Radio New Zealand on this matter.


Ruth DeSouza