The ABC has apologised for the broadcast of a racially insensitive radio interview by veteran presenter Red Symons, in which he asked a podcast host of Taiwanese descent if she was “yellow”.
Beverley Wang appeared on Symons’ breakfast radio show on ABC Melbourne on Friday to talk about her new podcast It’s Not a Race, also broadcast on the ABC.
Symons opened the 20-minute exchange by telling Ms Wang he was “not happy” with her because he had a similar idea for a radio segment on “contemporary race issues in Australia”.
“Except my segment was called ‘What’s the deal with Asians?’,” he said.
“Well, let’s tackle that. What is the deal with Asians, Red?” Ms Wang replied.
“It’s just a useful general question about the nature of our culture, and how one should, can, might interact with people who might have a different cultural background,” he said.
“First question is, are they all the same?”
— beverley wang (@beverleywang) June 15, 2017
The controversial questioning from Symons went further when he asked Ms Wang, who was born in Canada: “Are you yellow?”
Referencing the people where she was from in China, Symons asked if “they” spoke Taiwanese or Mandarin.
“Who’s ‘they’?” Ms Wang questioned.
“The people in Taiwan!” Symons responded with a raised voice.
“They speak Taiwanese and they speak Mandarin. And in Canada where I’m from, they speak English and French,” she fired back.
“I knew that. You’re probably from the west coast of Canada,” he said.
“Why do you think that, Red?” she replied.
“Because it’s closer to Asia!” Symons said.
In a statement sent to The New Daily, the ABC also said “a review of the editorial processes regarding this content and its use is in progress”.
Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane was not impressed.
What's the deal with racism? https://t.co/iNDqLE3DqE
— Tim Soutphommasane (@timsout) June 16, 2017
Mr Soutphommasane was joined by several media presenters, who took to Twitter to criticise Symons for the interview.
— Julia Zemiro (@julia_zemiro) June 16, 2017
Chrissakes. When a leading ABC radio personality asks an Asian colleague "are you yellow?" we have a problem https://t.co/cS2ms3mxLb
— Marc Fennell (@MarcFennell) June 15, 2017
At first I was shocked. Now I'm feeling sick, thinking Red Symons must not be alone in his views. You can't create that stuff in a void 😞
— Kumi Taguchi | 田口久実 (@kumitaguchi) June 16, 2017
It’s not the first race-related controversy Symons has confronted.
While speaking with Ms Wang, the former Hey, Hey It’s Saturday star, also defended the popular show’s infamous 2009 “blackface” controversy.
The incident saw a group of Red Faces contestants performing a Jackson Five skit in blackface, to which Symons told Ms Wang: “And there is apparently a blanket caveat against that?”
“I remember thinking at the time that it had become uncomfortable because Harry Connick Jr felt most uncomfortable with someone wearing what is alleged to be blackface,” he said.
“Why is it alleged to be blackface?” Ms Wang replied.
“Well, because there was white face and there was brown face and there was black face. There was a variety of faces,” Symons retorted.
The interview has since been removed from ABC’s website.