Paul Henry, TVNZ & Apologies As Apologia

It’d be remiss of me to go without saying anything about Paul Henry’s latest ratings ploy and TVNZ’s bizarre attempt at damage control. But on this occasion maybe it’d be better to let the players speak for themselves.

Paul Henry to John Key on the country’s next Governor-General: “Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time … Are we going to go for someone who is more like a New Zealander this time?”

Paul Henry yesterday: “The comments that I made were perfectly clear, and I have no particular interest in discussing them any further….some people are very easily offended.”
Paul Henry today: “I am sincerely sorry if I seemed disrespectful to him (Sir Anand), that was not what I intended and I certainly didn’t intend to sound racist.”

TVNZ yesterday: “The audience tell us over and over again that one of the things they love about Paul Henry is that he’s prepared to say the things we quietly think but are scared to say out loud…. The question of John Key is the same, we want the answer but are too scared to ask.
Paul Henry’s statement today (no doubt prepared by TVNZ): “It was wrong for me to ask the questions that I did.”

The reaction to Henry’s comments typically devolves into two debates: whether (a) he really means the things he says, and (b) whether TVNZ tacitly endorses them for the sake of ratings. The first one is and always has been immaterial but TVNZ really tipped its hand yesterday with their publicist’s stunning assertion that “it’s what we’re all thinking”.

When I first read that I was convinced that Danyl at the Dim-Post was trying to pull a fast one, because it was inconceivable that such a blatantly offensive statement could be issued on behalf of a state broadcaster. I say offensive not just because it explicitly endorsed Henry’s comments, but also because it blithely assumed “we” the viewing public are all as white, upper-middle-class and heteronormative as Henry. Presumably everyone else has switched over to Prime, then.

It’s good to see that Henry has been suspended for the time being, but TVNZ CEO Rick Ellis’ statement on the matter is no mea culpa: there’s no mention of their own role in fostering Henry’s behaviour and it only slightly retreats from yesterday’s astonishing apologia:

“We give Paul a lot of freedom with the Breakfast programme and he does a magnificent job. But as we have said before, with that freedom comes responsibility.
“He is a provocative host who speaks his mind and that is what many New Zealanders like about him.”

I’d be very surprised and not a little disappointed if that’s enough to satisfy the public. As Stuff’s nifty little interactive timeline shows, this has been a long time coming and TVNZ really needs to issue its own earnest apology for endorsing Henry’s behaviour over the years. This isn’t about sackcloth and ashes and claiming our pound of flesh, mind you; this is about a renewed commitment to the values that befit a state broadcaster.

8 Comments on “Paul Henry, TVNZ & Apologies As Apologia”

  1. Peter Bonisch says:

    And while I am here . . .

    I only learned of this this morning our time (BST). This is disgraceful at multiple levels and makes the country, in front of anyone who would choose to notice, a complete laughing stock.

    To make such comments of the Governor General is a direct affront to the office and an insult to the Monarch, whom he represents. That TVNZ, a state-owned broadcaster, has allowed a man who is clearly a sloppy journalist (Satyanand is a NZer by birth) and a bigot air-time is concerning enough. That he has garnered support from over a third of respondents in a (probably not very well constructed) opinion poll is an affront to the liberal values his supporters proclaim (freedom of speech?). But that Rick Ellis, CEO of TVNZ, has neither the wit nor the spine to sack the man summarily is indefensible. And to replace him, in one of his upcoming shows with a man who insulted the UN Secretary General with a racist slur is tasteless, stupid and unforgiveable.

    Goings-on like these are why I choose no longer to live in New Zealand.

    • G Pirani says:

      Has this country gone so PC, Henry is humour and why can’t dark people take a joke or have a sense of humour. We don’t jump up and down over a all maori football team. The Indians are just trying to take the heat off the mess they have made of the games, a white herring! cuse the punt! Lol
      Minto should ve been exported years ago, perhaps to Indian and the united Union only looking to lift their profile

  2. paikea says:

    Excellent article. Ever since I heard about this, I’ve been stewing – more so because some(many more than I would care to think) New Zealanders have been using the “lighten up” approach. These New Zealanders, like Paul Henry (and possibly the PTB over at TVNZ) obviously have yet to come to terms with the fact that New Zealand is becoming increasingly multi-cultural – and that only enriches New Zealand, rather than beggars it. What I gleaned from this, is that it came down to the fact that the GG is brown, with a name that Paul Henry couldn’t pronounce. I’ve been on the message boards. I got chastised for even deigning to speak about this because I came over here from the US in 2002. I am a citizen, and I consider myself a New Zealander – albeit a new one – an American-Kiwi, if you will. (I much prefer to consider myself a citizen of the world.) However, this seemed enough to justify slinging all manner of insults at me – that I am also of Indian descent made it all the worse. Apparently, I have no right to speak up about this at all. I do not belong here. I am not “one of us”. I am not white, or a New Zealander – I am a parasite, living off the back of of the labour of the ancestors of these “real” New Zealanders. (Yes, somebody called me a parasite. My husband is an Economist who does work mainly concerning New Zealand, and for the benefit of New Zealanders. I used to tutor kids here in reading, maths and writing, before I quit to concentrate on my own writing. We are obviously the epitome of parasites.) I wrote this letter this morning to TVNZ. Their conduct in this matter has been less than satisfactory, to say the least. They have fed into this and legitimized Paul Henry and his view by failing to effectively penalize him. And, by failing to uphold their charter, TVNZ has shown that they basically share his views. I expect them to ignore my letter entirely, but at least I said my peace – as a New Zealander, living in a country I love as much as the country I grew up in.

    Dear TVNZ,

    I am appalled that you have let Paul Henry off so lightly with what’s tantamount to a slap on the wrist. By doing this, you have supported him and his racist, bigoted views. Just because some of your like-minded Powers-That-Be feel that he “says what a lot of New Zealanders think” is not an excuse for keeping this sad specimen of a presenter on the air – on government-funded television, no less Have you forgotten the TVNZ charter, part of which states that TVNZ aims to “promote understanding of the diversity of cultures making up the New Zealand population“. How is supporting the racist, bigoted, and frankly misleading and untrue (as SIR Satyanand is a Kiwi, born and raised) statements of a bigoted blowhard supporting the TVNZ charter?

    Paul Henry is not sorry. I read his pathetic apology. He’s sorry for “asking” the question, but not for the thinking behind the question. That’s not an apology; that’s a “sorry this caused such a kerfluffle” statement. And, clearly, you don’t give a damn. You’re just glad your getting the ratings – evinced by the fact that you’re welcoming him back with open arms in a week’s time.

    In case you haven’t noticed, New Zealand is made up of NEW ZEALANDERS of many nationalities – and they come in all colors. If you haven’t woken up to this fact, you haven’t joined the 21st century.

    Supporting the repeated verbal offenses of Paul Henry by keeping him hired speaks volumes about how you value your viewers, whatever ethnicity they may be. You may agree with those self-described “real” New Zealanders, but that doesn’t mean you can write us off so easily.

    Find some integrity. Until you do, I am tuning out of your stations, and encouraging my friends to do the same.

    • jack daniels says:

      this is complete bull crap. for fuck sake chill out the fact is those people arent new zealanders if u go back to it what do they write on there passport. for I no im new zealand – european im pretty sure theres would say chink or wog etc. this is just another way for these minorities to try get one up on us. we invite them into our country give the dairys and fish and chip shops and in return they got nothing better to do that pick apart a comment that they no to be true.

  3. Peter, Paikea: Thankyou to each of you for your comments.

    Jack: I’m leaving your comment up for two reasons:

    (1) I do believe in freedom of speech – even hateful speech – so long as it’s not state-sponsored.

    (2) Your defence is actually a perfect transcription of the thought process behind this veiled bullshit about “real New Zealanders”. Also, a friendly reminder that when you say “we” with the implicit meaning of “white people who are obviously the only audience I would think of addressing”, guess what? That’s racist.

  4. paikea says:

    Hi Rory: I don’t understand all this ire against Asians. Upon moving to NZ, it was palpable everywhere – to a ridiculous level. Yes, people apparently need scapegoats to blame for whatever has gone wrong in their lives, and clearly Asians/Indians are the flavor of the times in NZ. It’s so typical and it just really got me this month. It’s bad enough I have to hear about this coming out of the Tea Baggers and their followers the US, but to be living in the midst of it here deeply saddens me. Not that I’d been thinking NZ was somehow an oasis away from ignorant thought, but I’ve been really happy here. I don’t even know what to think now, seeing such mass response in support of Henry – for one, these people the loudest, that’s for sure.

    I read recently, of the comments Michael Laws made on Radio
    Live, not long after Henry’s about the GG.

    “I mean, we don’t all expect Indians to be begging on the streets of New Delhi,” says Laws. “But it’s like Anand discovered the buffet table at, like, 20 and he’s never really left it.”

    Let NZ radio stations and tv that isn’t state-run pay Paul Henry the hundreds of thousands of dollars that TVNZ is paying him through our wallets. Clearly, Radio Live is where Henry belongs, not on TVNZ.

  5. G Pirani says:

    The Govt General said on TV that he was a really New Zealander cos he was born in Ponsonby, I was born in Napier, what does that make me?

  6. paikea says:

    He resigned.

    “I do not want to continue to be used as a lightning rod for racial disharmony in this country.” — PH

    Conclusions: Paul Henry will never ever take responsibility for his comments. TVNZ will never need admit to culpability.

    Now PH can do his own talk show and rant on and on about
    “foreigners”, “immigrants”, and “non-New Zealanders”, unhindered by common decency or the facts – just like a normal shock jock.

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