Contrary to popular belief, journalism is not a profession that grants unlimited liberty to reporters and editors; in fact, it keeps them vulnerable to public criticism, sanction and at times liable for legal prosecution. Good journalists rarely transcend legitimate limits of propriety and decency, not just to avoid pitfalls but also to remain credible.
Journalists, who are products of universities with a clear understanding of sensitivities and public emotion, would not stray into areas that may cause public outrage. News presenters and current affairs hosts on Radio and Television follow this tenet, which is why their programmes project quality.
There are also a few who thrive on crude humour, casting insults on celebrities, impervious to national or international reaction.
Paul Henry, host of Breakfast programme on TV1 (from which he resigned on October 10) belongs to the latter category. His comments on Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand to Prime Minister John Key on October 4 have had their serious repercussion.
Worse, his impudent and deliberate mispronunciation of the name of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, accompanied by vicious laughter has angered the Indian Government, which in a rare move, summoned our High Commissioner Rupert Holborow to issue a demarche. Tempers were still high at press time but as a mature country, with a record of integrity in international diplomacy, India would graciously allow the insult to pass.
But public reaction to Paul’s remarks about Sir Anand has been singularly vociferous in New Zealand. Unite Union leader Joe Carolan organised a protest march in front of TVNZ building on Hobson Street on October 4.
Indian Newslink received more than 200 email and text messages saying that we should “bring pressure on the Government and TVNZ to sack Paul Henry.
A number of them felt that Prime Minister John Key should have been more forceful in his reaction and refuse to return to the programmes if the offensive Breakfast host returned to his job after his suspension period ends on October 18.
We believe that a number of questions remain unanswered, although Paul has resigned from TV1. We carry extracts of public opinion below, received when the issue was hot and long before Paul resigned from TV1.
Labour MP and Party Associate Ethnic Affairs Spokesman Dr Ashraf Choudhary described Paul as a man ‘living in colonial times.’
“Our airwaves can do without people like him. Racism has no place in New Zealand and he needs to do the honourable thing and resign. Mr Key has told the media that he cannot be held personally responsible for what comes out of Paul’s mouth. But as Prime Minister, he should take a firmer stand when people make racist comments,” he said.
His colleague Dr Rajen Prasad said New Zealanders could not believe that such a slur can go by unchecked in this day and age.
“They are proud Kiwis, accepted as an integral part of our communities by the vast majority of New Zealanders,” he said.
National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi considered Paul’s comments ‘wrong.’ He said Sir Anand is a New Zealander, who does “a wonderful job representing our country as Governor-General. We are proud of him.”
Paul must go
Pakistan Association of New Zealand President Mohammad Tauqir Khan has recorded a protest against Paul for his remarks on Sir Anand.
“These remarks have raised many questions in the minds of our people whether our children born here will be able to call themselves New Zealanders. Paul should say who he considers a New Zealander,” Mr Khan said.
New Zealand Indian Central Association President Paul Singh Bains said Paul Henry’s resignation saved TVNZ Chief Executive Rick Ellis the embarrassment of sacking him. “It remains to be seen how TVNZ would go about repairing its damaged image,” he said.
Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) Marketing Co-Chair Sunny Kaushal said his organisation condemns Paul’s racial remarks.
“Paul has deliberately and repeatedly belittled Indians and leaders of the Indian community on more than one occasion in the past. Our condemnation is not confined to these recent incidents and we stand strongly against any form of racial discrimination against any ethnic community by any individual or organisation,” he said in a statement.
Acting Executive Director, Auckland Regional Migrant Services Lawton Hakaraia was worried that many new migrants and long-time residents would read Paul’s comments negatively.
“They have all committed themselves to become New Zealand citizens and to respect our country for its stance on inclusiveness, multiculturalism and the appreciation of diversity.”
Victoria University Law student Nikita Singh has launched her protest on Facebook and was planning a demonstration on October 11.
What the boss said on 10.10.10
Paul Henry and I met earlier today and he offered me his resignation, which I have accepted.
In doing so, I offer my sincere apology on behalf of TVNZ and myself to all those who have been offended by Paul’s inappropriate on-air comments.
I will be apologising in person to the Governor General.
I also apologise to the Indian community, both here and in India.
Paul has many loyal supporters and there will be those who question whether his resignation was the right outcome.
I believe Paul has done the right thing (in resigning).
The reality is that his comments have split the community and damaged New Zealand’s international relationships, and there is no going back from that.
We will all be aware of other broadcasters and public figures who have said or done things to cause controversy, without such a serious outcome.
Paul is not the first broadcaster to step over the line, and I expect he would not be the last but there are factors at play here that have taken things to a unique level.
Rick Ellis, Chief Executive (and Editor-in-Chief) TVNZ, New Zealand