The commission ruled the use of the word in the radio station’s morning show was not derogatory, but offensive to children, it said in a statement on Monday.
However, the use of the word was grossly offensive in terms of the children’s clause of the broadcasting code of conduct.
Mabena used the word during a morning breakfast show on February 22. In the introduction of the show Mabena asked newsreader Mpho Raphata what she was doing. She responded she was “writing something for Kuli”, referring to Roberts.
Mabena responded with: “Are you writing for a Kuli?”
The discussion immediately turned to what Roberts had been wearing the previous day and on that day — traditional Indian outfits. The interaction centred around whether it was a sari or a punjabi.
Listener Mondre Bremner lodged a complaint with the BCCSA, arguing such names “were used to describe people of Indian descent, and [a] complete mockery was made of their attire in cultural aspects”.
“The word was used as a pun, a form of wordplay, on Kuli, which is the name of the co-host. In the present case, this fact could remove the sting from the word, and also mitigate against a finding that the use of the word amounted to the advocacy of hatred,” the commission said.
However, since it was likely that a large number of children comprised the early-morning audience, the code was contravened.
It was likely that a substantial number of children would have heard the presenter use the word “coolie” in regard to his colleague and would not have understood the value of the corrective measures taken, the commission said.
The complaint was upheld and a fine of R5000 was imposed.