A talkback host on a small Auckland Punjabi radio station has been ticked off for calling for "collective violent action" against members of a Sikh sect in India.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has upheld a complaint that the comments, made by host Harnek Singh on Radio Virsa on July 27 last year, breached broadcasting standards on violence, law and order and good taste and decency.

The Papatoetoe station describes itself as "a project of a group of New Zealand based Sikhs" who believe that "creations of mediocre or even dubious artistic merit are being imposed on the Sikhs all over the world".

Although the station has a tiny following in New Zealand, Harnek Singh boasts of having 350,000 YouTube subscribers - many likely to be in India.

Advertisement

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has heard eight complaints against the station and in 2017 upheld a complaint about "offensive comments about named individuals" and "comments about women [which] were unacceptable in New Zealand society".

In the latest case, the complaint involved comments Singh made in Punjabi language to a caller about the Sikh sect Damdami Taksaal in response to recent violent incidents in India.

A translation quoted Harnek Singh as saying: "It is a request to Orthodox Sikhs, actually it is a threat but I would call it a request. Wait for a year friends. The day when we resolve to have a direct fight, the day we prepare our team by organising 500 people in Punjab …we know the Police officials, the people with sticks also know us, the rogues also know us, the goons also know us.

"They know how to infiltrate the houses and they also know how to (forcibly) pick-up people from their houses, if one day we resolve to fight and start to thrust ourselves by preparing 500-goons' brigade in Punjab, life would be difficult. Be careful."

Complainant Gurpreet Singh alleged that the comments "threatened to harm people and used violent words" and "threatened to form a 'goon brigade' to terrorise people of the Sikh sect Damdami Taksaal".

Radio Virsa submitted that Harnek Singh "did not threaten anyone but he used the word 'we' which was on behalf of all the innocent people and gave them a warning message".

His comments were intended to provide "moral and physical support on behalf of every innocent resident of Punjab to police in order to stop their [Damdami Taksaal] hooliganism," the station submitted.

It said Harnek Singh "condemned the violence and encouraged the people to team up to help police and local authorities morally and physically to curb violence/law and order and discrimination".

Advertisement

However the authority found that Harnek Singh's comments "called for collective violent action from his community in response to recent events".

"We find these comments, considering their specific and serious nature and the context in which they were made, were likely to incite or encourage violence or brutality and that Mr Singh and Radio Virsa did not exercise caution by broadcasting them," the authority found.

"We find the comments amounted to a 'direct incitement to break the law' with a 'real likelihood that the audience will act on them'. Mr Singh urged his listeners (and their associates in India) to take action.

"Therefore, we consider the broadcast actively undermined and promoted disrespect for the law and find the potential for harm outweighed Radio Virsa's right to freedom of expression on this occasion."

The authority also found that the comments "undermined widely shared community standards in New Zealand" and "went beyond what is acceptable to broadcast in New Zealand's radio talkback environment".

It has ordered Radio Virsa to broadcast a comprehensive summary of the decision at the same time of the week that the original broadcast was made.

Subscribe to Premium