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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