Paul Henry has been suspended by TVNZ for comments he made yesterday about the Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand.
Henry asked Prime Minister John Key during his morning Breakfast show, “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?”
In a statement today TVNZ CEO Rick Ellis said Henry’s remarks were inappropriate for anyone in the company to make.
“I have met with Paul and told him that while his apologies were the right thing to do and that I believe he is sincere in his regret, I still consider his remarks unacceptable for any employee of TVNZ to make,” Mr Ellis said.
“TVNZ is a multi-cultural company that is representative of modern New Zealand’s rich ethnic diversity.
“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.
“Paul is one of New Zealand’s best broadcasters. He is a provocative host who speaks his mind and that is what many New Zealanders like about him. He often pushes the boundaries and that’s important in a country that values freedom of speech. But I consider his latest remarks to have well and truly crossed that line.
“When Sir Anand returns from the Commonwealth Games I will be personally apologising to him.”
Henry has been suspended effective immediately without pay until October 18.
TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards said TVOne presenter Rawdon Christie would be filling in for Henry for the next week, and then the fill-in hosting role would be “reviewed”.
Henry is also due to host This Is Your Life this weekend. Ms Richards said the broadcaster is “investigating alternative options” for his replacement.
Henry apologised yesterday if he caused any offence but did not say sorry for the substance. This morning he went a little further. “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. It was wrong for me to ask the questions that I did.” Henry said Sir Anand’s background was far more “dignified” than his own. “Most people think that I am British but the truth is much much worse than that, like the Governor-General I was born in New Zealand but, however, I am at least half what they colloquially call in Europe a gippo (gypsy). “So let me make it quite clear I will never apologise for causing outrage, however, I will, and do apologise 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 gippo television presenter.” Earlier, TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston had put out a statement defending Henry’s remarks.
“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,” said the statement.
Protest at TVNZ
The Unite union said today that suspending Henry, “the poster boy for bigotry”, was not enough and called for his sacking.
Unite and Global Peace and Justice Auckland (GPJA) will join a protest outside TVNZ’s Auckland offices at 5pm today.
“It is a case of ‘three strikes and you’re out’. Paul Henry is a serial offender. He has abused women, people of colour, gay people, people with disabilities and all migrant Kiwis who don’t look like him,” GPJA spokesperson John Minto said.
It was not a case of a broadcaster exercising free speech, he said.
Unite Union national director Mike Treen also said he did not call for someone’s dismissal lightly.
“However Paul Henry legitimises racism and bigotry in the workplace. I deal every day with problems associated with managers and even co-workers abusing staff because the look or sound different,” he said.
Workers could end up “tormented and bullied out of their jobs by the so-called humour being practised by Paul Henry”.
“When we try to protect the workers, the inevitable response is ‘well, Paul Henry is allowed to use this language on national TV why can’t I?’ Paul Henry has become the poster boy for bigotry.”
Henry had “no place on a national broadcaster paid for by taxpayers”.
What it means to be a New Zealander has changed dramatically in the 50 years since Paul Henry was born and is projected to change even more.
In the March 1961 Census, seven months after Henry was born in Auckland, 99 per cent of the resident population was classified as either European (92 per cent) or Maori (7 per cent), with the latter required to show at least half “Maori blood”.
Long-established Chinese, Indian and Pacific minorities shared the remaining 1 per cent.
Official ideas about ethnicity have changed and Statistics NZ now lets people claim multiple ethnicities with no official “blood” requirements, so the figures add up to more than 100 per cent.
Public attitudes have changed too and at the last Census in 2006, 11 per cent of the population refused any ethnic label and claimed to be plain “New Zealanders”. Researchers found that about 90 per cent of them had previously been classified as European.
But even adding in all the self-described New Zealanders, only 77 per cent of the population now claim “European” or “New Zealander” as either their sole ethnicity or one of their ethnicities. In contrast, in the 45 years since 1961:
* Those claiming Maori ethnicity doubled to 15 per cent.
* Those claiming Pacific ethnicity multiplied 12-fold to 7 per cent.
* Those claiming Asian ethnicity multiplied 18-fold to 10 per cent.
By 2026 Asians are expected to equal the Maori population with about 16 per cent each, Pacific people will be up to 10 per cent, and Europeans will be down to 70 per cent.
Waikato University researcher Dr Tahu Kukutai, who has a $300,000 Marsden grant to investigate the treatment of ethnicity in censuses around the world, said Henry’s comments illustrated “a disconnect between this rapidly changing demography and this Eurocentric analysis of what being a New Zealander is. What he is saying is clearly out of step with the demographic realities.”