Māori Language Week's 'English sucks' ad ruled okay

An advert for Te Wiki o te Reo Māori which featured a man saying "English sucks" didn't breach standards because English doesn't need protection from ridicule, according to a new ruling.

The advert, which screened on TVNZ channels, Māori TV and on social media, featured three comedians - one Māori, one Filipino and one Iranian-Pakistani - trying and failing to make a commercial to promote September's Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week).

According to a new Advertising Standards Authority ruling, the advert contains a scene where one of the comedians starts celebrating his English skills and says, "Speaking English better than you, speaking English really fluently."

But on being reminded they're supposed to be promoting Māori, he reverses his position and tells the audience, "English sucks".

The ASA says it received several complaints about the advert.

"I feel the ad was offensive, degrading and racist when it said 'English sucks' and the three guys laughed like it was a big joke," said one complainant.

"There is no problem with this apart from the fact there is an Asian, pakeha? & perhaps a middle eastern guy singing & dancing in maori [sic]," wrote another. "The end part is ,,, ENGLISH SUCKS. I find this very offensive, considering we are supposed to be one country etc & my grandchildren are part Maori."

Another said it wouldn't be acceptable to say "Chinese sucks" or " Māori sucks", and another said we "should be better than that" since the "vast majority of us are descendants of both Maori and European".

The Māori Language Commission, which made the advert, said its intention was "break down any sense of excessive 'reverence' about te reo Māori" and encourage everyone to have a go. The commission says it had zero negative feedback on the ad.

"Humorous and satirical treatment of people and groups of people is acceptable, provided that, taking into account generally prevailing community standards, the portrayal is not likely to cause serious or widespread offence, hostility, contempt, abuse or ridicule," a spokesperson said.

The ASA said mocking English was fine, as opposed to Chinese or Māori for example, because "English is the dominant language, it doesn't need protecting and therefore the Complaints Board agreed this level of teasing was acceptable".

It said there was "no possibility" anyone would be put off using English just because a comedian joked it "sucks" in a commercial, and ruled not to uphold the complaints.