Paul Henry’s ill advised on air comments suggesting that New Zealand’s Governor General was not fit for office because he neither looked nor sounded like a New Zealander demonstrated how disconnected the “state broadcaster” and its talking heads are from the real world. Worse than that, I found highly offensive the implication that an idiot like Henry speaks for all of us.
Television New Zealand spokesperson Andi Brotherston leapt to Henry’s defence suggesting that he merely reflects what society is “quietly” thinking. Perhaps that is true on some issues, but it certainly was not in this case. The record number of complaints from the public on this matter suggest that Henry grossly misjudged the public appetite for such commentary. The public backlash was as much about disapproving of Henry’s racist tone as it was about defending the good name and dignity of the office of Governor General. Republicanism aside, the GG performs a valuable role as a representative of New Zealand and as an apolitical interlocutor essential to the functioning of a civil society. Henry’s gaffe threatens our nationhood and questions our self perception.
Even more embarrassing was that Prime Minister, John Key was engaged in a conversation with Henry at the time of the incident. However, I’m prepared to give Key the benefit of the doubt. His guard was down during (what he thought was) a moment of light-hearted banter. But one has to question the wisdom of even appearing next to Henry, given his track record. Popular technology commentator Ben Gracewood obviously asked himself that very question, because he resigned from the Breakfast show immediately the comments came to light.
TVNZ mouth-piece Andi Brotherston might be looking back fondly to less controversial days when she shared a provincial radio turntable with DJ turned Cabinet Minister Steven Joyce. Perhaps he could find a parliamentary spokesperson role for her; she might be needing it. Way back then, Joyce established a private radio station to challenge the entrenched state monopoly. Perhaps the accepted moral authority of another state broadcaster needs to be challenged once again.
If you want to lodge a complaint with Television New Zealand about Paul Henry’s racist and denigrating comments, you can do so using the online form at the Broadcasting Standards Authority website.