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Humour Acceptable in Context

The Maori Language Commission television advertisement for Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) showed three well-known comedians talking about Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, using both English and Māori. One of the men gets confused and says: “Speaking English better than you, speaking English really fluently”. When one of the others interrupts and says: ”But this is actually about te reo Māori” the first man indicates he is embarrassed about making a mistake and reacts by saying “English sucks”. They all laugh.

The Complainants said they found the advertisement offensive because of the use of the phrase “English sucks”. One of the complainants said the Māori language did not need to be promoted by insulting English. Another complainant said they found the advertisement degrading and racist.

The Advertiser said the intention of the advertisement was to break down any sense of excessive ‘reverence’ about te reo Māori and the idea that it should be spoken only by fully fluent experts who are themselves part of the Māori community. The advertisement is intentionally over-the-top and presented exaggerated scenarios. The Advertiser said the joke in the advertisement is based on the idea that although it is Māori Language Week one actor got confused and started promoting the English language.

The Complaints Board acknowledged the use of humour in the advertisement as a means of getting the message across and said that even if some viewers didn’t understand the joke they would still have realised the advertisement was meant to be funny. The Complaints Board agreed that while some viewers may have taken offence at the use of the phrase “English sucks” it was a throwaway line, used in jest, and it was acceptable in the overall context of the advertisement. Accordingly, the complaint was ruled Not Upheld.


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