A Radio New Zealand host's reference to a "suicide bomber Barbie" doll for the Muslim market has been labelled hateful and divisive.

The comment was made by host Paul Brennan while standing in on Jim Mora's regular afternoon show last Thursday.

Brennan had been discussing niche Barbie doll products for adult collectors when panelist John Bishop said there was "a huge market in the Muslim world" and asked why there couldn't be "a terrorist Barbie".

Brennan then suggested a "suicide bomber Barbie" that came with a little belt.

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Radio New Zealand has cautioned the presenters about inappropriate remarks after receiving 13 formal complaints over the exchange.

One complainant, Gisborne councillor Manu Caddie, said he was surprised to hear such stereotypes on the national broadcaster and had to check he wasn't listening to talkback radio.

"I thought it was pretty hateful kind of comments and not particularly helpful or the kind of thing we want to be promoting in New Zealand," he said.

"I think we've done well to create a fairly tolerant, multicultural society and those kind of comments aren't going to help promote that kind of openness and diversity."

Mr Caddie said people were free to air their opinions but he expected higher standards from Radio New Zealand.

International Muslim Association of New Zealand president Asif Koya said he had only just learned of the comments and did not want to say anything before hearing them, but added: "If comments like that have been made, then I would be disappointed with Radio New Zealand and the panelists concerned."

A Radio New Zealand spokesman said the complaints cited different broadcasting standards and were being reviewed against both the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice the broadcaster's own standards.

"The comments were made as an ill-judged attempt at humour, they were in poor taste and are regretted by Radio New Zealand.

"The presenters involved have been informed of listener reaction and cautioned about any such inappropriate comments in the future."

Radio New Zealand took all complaints seriously and would work to deal with the complaints within the statutory time period.

A Human Rights Commission spokesman said it deplored anything targeting a particular group and did not condone language or terms offensive to groups within society.

However, comments in the media fell outside the commission's scope and should be dealt with through complaints directly to broadcasters and later the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

A BSA spokeswoman said it had not yet received any complaints.