Part of Paul Henry's broadcasting appeal is that he usually treads a very thin line. But he well and truly crossed that line yesterday after suggesting to Prime Minister John Key on Breakfast that Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand's successor should look and sound more like a New Zealander. And TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis has taken action over his comments, suspending Henry without pay until October 18.
“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. 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.
“As editor-in-chief I have today suspended Paul without pay effective immediately. He will return on air on Monday 18 October. When Sir Anand returns from the Commonwealth Games I will be personally apologising to him.”
Henry released an apology later that day.
I sincerely apologise to the Governor General, Sir Anand Satyanand for any offence I may have caused.
I am aware that Sir Anand has made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand.
Anyone who knows anything about me will know I am a royalist, a constant defender of the monarchy and the role the Governor General plays in our society.
If my comments have personally offended Sir Anand, I regret it deeply.
Despite being 'a multi-cultural company that is representative of modern New Zealand’s rich ethnic diversity' TVNZ also released a statement soon after in support of Henry. But, given it was construed by a few as suggesting everyone in New Zealand is racist, was a bit of a PR gaffe.
"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 statement said. "The question of John Key is the same, we want the answer but are to scared to ask."
TVNZ is accustomed to standing by Paul Henry when he gets in hot water (and, as Henry pointed out in his acceptance speech as winner of the people's choice award at the Qantas Awards, so is the TVNZ legal department). No doubt the ensuing scandal will only serve to further increase the ratings for Breakfast, because, those that loathe him will probably be watching even more closely and waiting for another insensitive faux pas, and many (but not all) of those who love him will probably let him away with it.
Still, Breakfast tech commentator Ben Gracewood quit the show yesterday said Henry's remarks were the final straw. And one does have to wonder if there's a limit to the number of times TVNZ can be seen to be standing by a broadcaster who's becoming renowned for his inappropriate, hurtful and offensive comments, no matter how popular he is.
Here's a good rundown about the fracas in the Herald. And his on-air apology. And John Drinnan's blame-laying at the feet of TVNZ for "its cynical use of racial comments to boost publicity and profits".