Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the Paul Henry saga

October 8th, 2010

So far, the penalties levied on Paul Henry’s have gone no further than a two week suspension for his on air querying of whether Kiwis of Indian descent look like New Zealanders, talk like New Zealanders or really are New Zealanders. Yet until the Indian government complained about the racism and bigotry involved, Henry had gotten away scot free with ridiculing the name of Indian politician Sheila Dikshit – Dick, Shit get it ? – and then adding that ‘the name is so appropriate because she’s Indian.’ Indians = shit, get it?

To cap it off, Henry’s apology to the Governor-General included this : “Most people think I’m British but the truth is much, much worse than that…I am a gypo television presenter.” However you parse ‘gypo” the general consensus is that it means somewhere between grasping Egyptians, thieving Romany people, or blacks. Blacks, gypsies and Egyptians = even worse than Poms, get it? Coming in the context of what was supposed to be apology for racism, this was an incredible statement.

Should Henry be yellow carded, or red carded? Three strikes of racism of in one week would normally mean the state broadcasting employee in question was out the door. Some people are calling for Henry to be sacked, and an even larger number of people seem to be rallying to his support. At the least, TVNZ now has to put Henry on formal warning that any future racist comments by him will end in dismissal. Unless that step is taken by TVNZ CEO Rick Ellis, the whole structure of programme standards at state broadcasting – ie, all those rules and guidelines about pronunciation, diction, political neutrality, screening of adult material etc etc – is being brought into disrepute. Because at the moment, state broadcasting seems to operating with one set of standards for everyone else, and different rules for Paul Henry. Maybe the Broadcasting Standards Authority legislation needs to be amended, to make it clear that any offenders who attract a certain level of ad revenue fall outside its ambit.

So far, the best analysis of Henry’s style and personality would still be Linley Boniface’s brilliant column from last year:

should further staff redundancies be necessary, [TVNZ] could seamlessly replace its current Breakfast host with a freshly captured gibbon without significantly lowering the quality of its journalism. Indeed, watching a jungle creature let loose on the set of Breakfast would give viewers roughly the same frisson of appalled fascination that many of us already experience while watching Paul Henry in action. Will the set be trashed? Will there be humping of the furniture? Will guests have their hair lovingly combed through for nits, or be spat at?

There are certain groups that are pretty much assured a hostile reception on our state broadcaster’s flagship morning news show. Retards, for example. Henry doesn’t much like them. They look funny, and deserve to be laughed at. Apparently, some of them object to being called retards: this is outrageous, and an infringement of Henry’s right to free speech. And the right to free speech is so much more important than the right of vulnerable people not to be treated with contempt.

Women. There’s another group of people Henry has little respect for. They can’t drive boats, for a start. They have “no grasp of technology”. And some of them grow moustaches, which automatically disqualifies them from the right to express a view on something serious, even if they have in fact been invited on the show to express a view on something serious. In future, perhaps, women should be required to submit a photo to the Breakfast producers to prove they’re sufficiently attractive to be permitted to have an opinion.

Poor people. They’re rubbish as well. Especially poor people who have so many children that, when one dies, they just say, “Don’t worry about that; we’ve got six others out the back”. Because everyone knows that poor people don’t love their children like rich white guys love their children,,,Etc etc.

So no-one can say that they didn’t see this coming. The Indian government may find it hard to grasp how the term “state broadcaster” means that the state in question can do absolutely nothing about this ongoing situation., Reportedly, Foreign Minister Murray McCully has been arguing that
Henry’s comments – while ‘gratuitous’ and ‘insulting’ – are those of one broadcaster exercising his freedom of speech, and any disciplinary steps against him were operational matters that rested with TVNZ. That will be news to the Broadcasting Standards Authority and to most New Zealanders. who might have thought that there were some broadcasting programme standards in place in this country that do govern freedom of speech for broadcasting in general, and state broadcasting in particular. Surely, the government could say it expected those standards to be upheld?

Still, there is a silver lining here. McCully’s comments to the Indians must mean that he now sincerely repents his past political collusion against the alleged political bias at RNZ:

In early 1993, (see NBR, 8 April 1993) the Broadcasting Minister of the day Warren Cooper called in RNZ’s then CEO Nigel Milan and confronted him with a handful of complaints against Morning Report and Good Morning New Zealand ( now Nine to Noon) by various political colleagues. Namely : Wyatt Creech, Simon Upton, Tony Ryall, Roger Sowry, Jenny Shipley, Murray McCully and the Prime Minister’s then press secretary, Michael Wall. To NBR these complaints – which were compiled in the wake of a message from a Beehive researcher trawling for grievances – were to be seen as the “first stage of the government’s election year offensive against the broadcasting media.”

Clearly, somewhere along the line, McCully has had a road to Damascus conversion. Because if he was willing to violate RNZ’s operational independence and the freedom of speech rights of its staff when it came to an alleged left wing bias that were seen as doing damage to his government… well, surely, he and his colleagues (where are you, Broadcasting Minister, Jonathan Coleman?) could be a more energetic about racist broadcasts that are doing damage to the entire country.

Ironically, is Henry were not a New Zealander, he might be facing charges under our security legislation. Security being defined – for instance in our Immigration Act 2009 – as including:

…capabilities, intentions, or activities in or relating to New Zealand that affect adversely New Zealand’s international well-being, reputation, or economic well-being:

Only migrants and asylum seekers though, tend to suffer negative consequences for allegedly ‘adversely affecting New Zealand’s international well-being, reputation or economic wellbeing.’ When Paul Henry does it, he is largely protected by dint of being a New Zealander. Perhaps it is time he started talking like one.


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    1. 25 Responses to “On the Paul Henry saga”

    2. By donna on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      And let’s not overlook this gem from Steven Joyce, as reported by The Herald:
      Senior Cabinet Minister Steven Joyce said Henry was becoming a liability.
      Mr Joyce said he knew from his own radio career that while the best breakfast shock jocks “walked the line”, they did not last if they crossed it too often “because it’s not worth the hassle”.
      “So I think the difficulty for Paul Henry is the frequency in going over the line is becoming a problem for him and his employer,” Mr Joyce told NewstalkZB.

      So the problem, it seems, is not that Mr Henry is a racist, it’s that he steps over the line a bit frequently and that, well, it’s just a hassle.
      It’s like we’ve collectively fallen through a wormhole and come out in the 1950s.

    3. By Rosalind on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Excellent commentary Gordon, and great quotes from Linley Boniface, although I think she was rather hard on gibbons. I would much rather watch and listen to a gibbon than watch and listen to Paul Henry.

    4. By Sean on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Good catch on Murray McCully Gordon, but he is just one in a long line of people who claims that Paul Henry has freedom of expression. Sure Henry does, in his own time. When he is being paid by TVNZ to do his job, Henry should try to keep his statements professional.

      I can only hope that Linley Boniface’s highly workable suggestion is taken up. Henry continously fails at talking in public, which is oddly the job he is employed to do.

      Let’s compare.

      Dougal Stevenson – years on the telly, no international incidents caused.
      Judy Bailey – on TV for quite some time, no international incidents caused.
      Simon Barnett – on TV in more than one role, no international incident caused.
      ‘Handy Andy’ – appeared on TVNZ programmes regularly, fails to register in the arena of international politics.
      Jason Gunn – a long time broadcaster, who never at any stage soured New Zealand’s international reputation.
      Thingee – Jason Gunn’s loyal sidekick, despite being a brainless puppet, Thingee never enraged the people of India, or New Zealanders in general.

      The numbers don’t lie: Paul Henry is less reliable than a sock puppet. Paul, it’s time to go Bro.

      And TVNZ, time to rethink your ‘Celibrate’ culture.

    5. By richarquis on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Rather than yellow-carded, or red-carded, I say he should be plain old dis-carded. I’ve never been able to stomach his demeanour, and he seems to be getting worse all the time. I agree with Sean too, good catch out on M&M.

    6. By spooc on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Lest we forget that Henry’s relationship with Dianne Foreman puts him closer than your average political relationship to the National Party leadership and thus TVNZ’s board and management.

      As long as they fail to act decisively against him the longer they are seen to agree with his sentiments.

      This issue is wider than just Paul Henry. There must have been a good number of people behind the cameras who failed to stop the actionable content from going to air. Again we should assume, in the face of the lack of charges under the new hate speech legislation, that this reflects TVNZ’s culture and managerial direction and that of the National Party leadership.

      The highest penalty on the books for failing to stop is death.

    7. By Shirish Paranjape on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Great analysis.

      As a society, we have “learnt” to be bystanders while bad things happen in front of us. This is another example. The Minister of Broadcasting is “helpless” because he has no say in “operational matters” of TVNZ – even if such actions bring disrepute to the whole nation.

      Going by media coverage – if anything were to happen, it will, not because the sentiments of Indians (and others) are hurt, but because New Zealand’s trade interest with India may be affected.

      What else can we expect of a society which addresses repeat offenders as “Mr. xyz”, but does nothing when honourable persons’ (Governor General. Chief Minister) names can be part of a breakfast joke! We are more careful about “name suppressions for hardened criminal” than about the sentiments of a fifth of humanity.

      After all, they are “only” Indians……

      Shirish Paranjape
      (a sad Indian Kiwi)

    8. By ashok pai on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      there’s a video on youtube where there’s an active discussion on Paul Henry’s insensitive remarks. most of the New Zealand blokes are actively trolling pissed off Indians. there is zero attempt being made to understand why its so offensive for Indians. most of them opine that it’s just a joke. its sad that a whole country’s reputation can quickly be torn to tatters with one man’s offensive words.

    9. By Colin on Oct 9, 2010 | Reply

      My family are 5 years permenant residents in New Zealnd, coming here from the UK in 2005. My young sons were labelled as ‘non-New Zealanders’ by a local council representative after they volunteered to read out the names of fallen NZ heros at a ceremony replacing a local war memorial. They were asked to help out by the local school, who seemingly had difficuly getting other school children to help out with early the morning ceremony. My boys consider themselves New Zealanders and are All Blacks fanatics. We would like to apologise profusely to Mr Henry if our accents were not good enough for him, or for the local councillor, or for the apparently large portion of the New Zealand population who think Mr Henry speaks what they think.

    10. By Elyse on Oct 9, 2010 | Reply

      “Mr Joyce said he knew from his own radio career that while the best breakfast shock jocks “walked the line”, they did not last if they crossed it too often because it’s not worth the hassle”

      Surely the point here is that Henry’s show is on TVNZ, not a private radio station? I’m trying to imagine a presenter on BBC or PBS acting like Henry. It’s more the domain of Fox News which is probably from whence come his ideas and whose ratings TVNZ are no doubt chasing.
      Henry should be sacked. There is no place for him on TVNZ.

    11. By J Wood on Oct 10, 2010 | Reply

      That Paul Henry’s ongoing personal and racist comments are tolerated by his employers, and it seems the public at large, appear a reflection of the low standards the media has set itself.

    12. By Joe Blow on Oct 10, 2010 | Reply

      They should fire him if they can. It would be such a pleasure to see his smug little smile gone from television forever. I relish the day.

    13. By New Immigrant on Oct 10, 2010 | Reply

      Thank you for a very comprehensive article and analysis. As a new immigrant into NZ I have been amazed and horrified by this rude, arrogant and incredibly stupid man’s airtime on TV and the way he has, until now, been tolerated in his bigotry and prejudices. Sacking is long overdue. As part of bi-cultural and multicultural NZ I can clearly state that he has never said anything on my behalf that I was either thinking or afraid to say – so when will they also sack the person at TVNZ who decided it was ok to make that statement too……

    14. By Whosit on Oct 11, 2010 | Reply

      Where did the vote about whether Paul Henry should stay come from? Watchers of the Breakfast Show?

      Paul Henry is a representative of an ugly minority in New Zealand who think they are superior to other people and the laws of this country, and that it is ok for them to be offensive racist and sexist bigots.

      Obviously he has been there because of the support of other like minded bigots in our national broadcaster who think this is ok, and they should to go too.

      I, like many other educated european New Zealanders, have not watched the Breakfast Show for the seven years he has been on it, since having watched him with disgust and disbelief that views like that could be a daily event on our country’s main national breakfast show.

      I have found neither him nor the simpering vacuous co-hosts funny or entertaining, in the way that some late night shows, such as Hyundai Sports Cafe, have been.

      Hopefully now we will get some pleasantness, enlightenment and journalism on the Breakfast Show instead of the filth that people in this country have been exposed to, and it will have a healthy effect on our inter-cultural relations.

      Now the suggestion is that he should host talkback on a private broadcaster! No!

      Paul Henry should be prosecuted for his appalling remarks. They breed and condone hatred and discrimination.

    15. By Gordon Barry on Oct 11, 2010 | Reply

      I thought you would have retained a little more credibility in your opening paragraph; the reference was not “Indian=Shit”, it was intended that Indians have such poor sanitary infrastructure, that you would be in fact be walking around in shit, so with the first name being Dik this would therefore = Dik-In-Shit. Haha Haha Haha ohhh, funny!

      Stop turning this into “Paul Henry the racist” It was humor, much like that we all (you included, I am sure) have laughed at on many comedy shows, be they Live or on TV.

      Funny though how the Herald is so appalled, yet happy to continue airing the best of Paul Henry’s famous quotes on their website, must be for the ratings!!

    16. By Joe Blow on Oct 11, 2010 | Reply

      @ Gordon Barry

      This particular side of Henry’s ‘humour’ has obviously over stepped the line into a place where not everyone is silently thinking the same way and having the same giggle. This has gone beyond getting good ratings and become seriously unfunny to the CEOs at TVNZ not to mention the government. Hence the seriousness of the situation and his resignation, which was probably the choice given to him instead of being fired…

      I say good riddance! Never liked him him much anyway.

    17. By Chris on Oct 12, 2010 | Reply

      What are New Zealanders any way? Have you any idea who you are? What is your identity ? How strong is it?

      As an immigrant here my culture is somewhat different to yours, and so is my loyalty. My home country will always take president over my host country when in times of crisis.

      I admire you giving me a vote to effect the outcome of your elections within the first week of arriving. It is very generous to be given the same say as someone whom has been born and bread here. My say counts as much as anyone else’s here and when my extended family arrives, they too will count. Some can barely read English, but I can always fill in their postal vote for them.

      Some comments here have been racist to my minority status. Which I don’t like. I shall be complaining via my consulate service to my government, as I have my rights as an immigrant here to be considered to be a New Zealander as this is where my I live presently.

    18. By lyndon on Oct 12, 2010 | Reply

      Hi Chris

      I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb and assume you’re attempting an obvious parody of something rather than a ham-fisted deception.

      I was going to suggest you try for something with more connection to reality.

      But as it happens – and this is actually kind of the point – this isn’t actually about immigrants. So you can save your energy for trying to follow the topic.

    19. By Chris on Oct 12, 2010 | Reply

      Furthermore, its great that New Zealanders put special grant funds aside for my children to celebrate their culture and their festivals when they are so far away from home. New Zealand children don’t seem to get any equivalent spending, so my children have not yet been to a Kiwi equivalent.

      There is no deception in my comments Lydon. Any parody is a natural concomitant to a real truthful situation. Just one you as a New Zealander (I presume) must not have considered.

      The heart Paul Henry topic is deeper than you think.

    20. By ChrisisRetarded on Oct 12, 2010 | Reply

      I’m not a New Zealander, tho I am of Indian descent.
      I thnk that his comments about Shelia were misguided, meant to be funny but ultimately idiotic. That said, i don’t care about that.
      i DO care about his comments about the Governor General, who was BORN IN NEW ZEALAND, and also about his comments about gay people who he believed to be “unnatural.”
      Its fine if you think homosexuality is a sin, but to say its unnatural is idiotic as even a cursory search on the internet reveals tons of animals engaged in homosexual behaviour. This guy is a fucking tool and while massively entertaining, seems to be New Zealand’s equivalent of FOX news, albeit not an unwitting one…

    21. By Joe Blow on Oct 12, 2010 | Reply

      @ Chris

      Anand Satyanand was not only born and breed in Auckland, New Zealand, but has a distinguished carrier as a lawyer who worked for Crown Law before being appointed as a district court judge in 1982. He then later became an ombudsman. Hell if anyone is a New Zealander it’s Anand Satyanand.

      Hell the fact that you don’t know that makes me think you really aren’t from round these parts.

    22. By Marc on Oct 13, 2010 | Reply

      Good article.

      Unfortunately the Paul Henry case even made the tabloid papers here in Denmark today.”Appalled fascination” having no boundaries on the Internet:

    23. By Peter on Oct 16, 2010 | Reply

      When I arrived as an immigrant a decade ago, it was Paul Holmes who shocked me, as much with his hopelessly gibbering style as much as his so-called gaffes ( “cheeky little darky” for the Secretary General of the United Nations not being sufficient to see him fired). Then it was Michael Laws, whose appalling views on just about any matter seemed to be accepted by most of the readers of the Sunday paper (if not, why is he still there) as well as the voters of a largish town. Then Henry, an untalented big mouth who appears to ensure hardly anyone watches the national station’s breakfast offering. What they have in common are masters who have lost touch with their ethical responsibilities, including politicians who seem incapable of giving a proper opinion on – in this case at least – a matter of national reputation. The only saving grace is that the vast majority of Indian people will not have noticed this odious creep’s remarks and will continue the task of gradually raising the world’s largest democracy into super power status.

    24. By mike on Oct 16, 2010 | Reply

      New Zealand has a deep racial under current these comments and the outrage by Henry supporters at his vilification only prove this.The root of this is we were the colonial superiors socoldly many moons ago but now we are just the alsorands we have to make our living in the real world no longer able to count on our colonial masters the last thing we need to do is offend the fastest growing economy in the world. That should be understood by a right wing nutter like Paul Henry more than any body. Given that John Key is his Idol and that Henry has been publicising Key at every opportunity Key should also apologise too

    25. By Louis on Jan 22, 2011 | Reply

      I don’t get it. This guy is like the Jerry Springer of radio!… I work on night shift and a friend got me into listening to talk radio. The Randy Savage show is pretty good but this Henry guy, who does 80% of his show from the telephone, interviewing someone different everynight, is actually the same person,using a different name and title. One day he’s a congressmans assistant, the next a worker in the hospital cafeteria. And he’s always trying to start trouble just so the show can get participants to call in. WAKE UP you guys, this dude is not for real….!

    26. By lyndon on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

      Hi Louis.

      It sounds like we are not thinking of the same person.

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