We’ve had a lot of coverage of the issue of TVNZ’s bigoted host but I want to chip in with a few points: Paul Henry’s ‘apology’ is in fact a calculated dog whistle to bigots, the blame for Henry goes to a deeper rot in TVNZ, and we have seen proof positive of John Key’s complete inability to lead and stand up for what’s right.
First, let’s go through the text of Paul Henry’s ‘apology':
“I have something very important to say this morning.
“Yesterday a lot of people got very upset with the comment I made regarding the Governor-General when I was talking with the Prime Minister. You may have seen it. I would like you all to know that I have the greatest respect for Sir Anand Satyanand.
No. You said that he doesn’t look or sound like a New Zealander and we should have people that do in his role.
I don’t know him personally, but I understand his reputation is beyond reproach. He is highly respected in the judicial circle as a former judge and as the Queen’s representative here in New Zealand.
“He has done a very fine job as Governor-General and I am sincerely sorry if I seemed disrespectful to him.
These weasel words again. You didn’t ‘seem’ disrespectful. You were disrespectful. A genuine apology acknowledges wrongdoing, not just the perception of wrongdoing. The dogwhistle in those weasel words is that this is an overreaction by PC brigade.
“It was not what I intended and I certainly didn’t intend to sound racist. It was wrong for me to ask the questions that I did.
Now, it’s the pity angle. You didn’t mean to say it did you, Paul? You’re just an ordinary ‘real New Zealander’ and ‘real New Zealanders’ sometimes make racist comments three times in a row to the Prime Minister on live TV.
“Sir Anand was born in New Zealand, his lineage as far as I can ascertain is far more dignified than mine, which makes him a better candidate for Governor-General than me.
Again, the pity angle. A bait and switch is being set up here. Dogwhistle: ‘Real New Zealander’ Henry is just being put upon by the brown elite who really rule this country.
“Most people think I’m British but the truth is much worse than that. Like the Governor-General I was born in New Zealand. However, I’m at least half what they colloquially call in Europe a Gypo.
I see what you did there. You’re using an offensive term to describe your own ancestry. And if you can be offensive about your own ancestors’ ethnic group, then surely you should be allowed to be racist about others’ too.
“So let me make it quite clear, I will never apologise for causing outrage but I do and will apologise sincerely for causing real hurt and upset to anyone, no matter what their background, who works to make this country a better country.
“So in that spirit I apologise unreservedly to Sir Anand and his family. He is a very distinguished man. I am a Gypo television presenter.”
And the turn around is complete. The G-G is a brown bully beating up on a ‘real New Zealander’ who is (apparently) from an ethnic group who have a long history of being put upon by such high and mighties.
I’m not sure if this disgrace of an ‘apology’ was the final straw or if it was the flood of formal complaints but something changed radically for TVNZ between Monday, the day of Henry’s comments, and Tuesday.
The organisation’s first instinct was to support their ratings monkey. Their first line ‘come on, he’s just saying what you’re all thinking’ was at least as offensive as Henry’s comments and I’m surprised the spin doctor behind it still has their job. By Tuesday, things were so bad that they had to be seen to do something. So, they gave him the lightest punishment they could that wouldn’t be seen as a complete joke: two weeks off without pay. Considering they’re paying the guy nearly a thousand dollars per show, I’m sure it’s not going to break his bank.
TVNZ has failed to instigate an actual disciplinary process and the CEO has ruled out firing Henry. That just goes to show that the company has lost all respect for its role and its audience. They don’t really think Henry did anything wrong. They’ve just given him a slap with a soggy bus-ticket to try to placate the outrage.
Which brings us to Key’s handling of all this. When Henry made the racist comment three times, Key sat there and laughed.
When asked about Henry’s comments later, Key pretended to have not understood them and refused to label them racist. Not a word of support to the mass of offended people.
He declined to call for any punishment for Henry and committed to reappearing on his show. Yet, the next day, once Henry had been suspended, Key agreed that this was the correct punishment.
Funny how Key agrees that whatever the current situation is, that’s what Key thinks is good. Hardly leadership. Cowardly at every step.
Where to now?
Paul Henry needs to be sacked. No broadcaster with respect for itself and its audience can employ him now.
The TVNZ board needs to wake up and start a review of how TVNZ management mis-handled this affair. There is a corporate culture that led to this. The news and current affairs section has fallen to crap in the last decade – it needs to be completely revamped.
The public needs to look at Key, the little man who laughed along while his former National Party mate made racist jokes and realise that this is who Key is: a cowardly little man who can’t lead and just desperately wants to be liked so will go along with whatever anyone says.