John Drinnan on business
John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Henry's return will test audiences

Paul Henry has become overconfident in his role as shock jock. Photo / Greg Bowker
Paul Henry has become overconfident in his role as shock jock. Photo / Greg Bowker

Television New Zealand is reeling from the Paul Henry race slur, raising the question: Can the shock jock come back to Breakfast as usual when his two-week suspension ends on October 18?

Henry and his overweening confidence is clearly the biggest part of TVNZ's current problem - using Breakfast to be a stand-up comedian and shock jock.

Maori broadcaster Willie Jackson says Henry and Breakfast have been given a free rein to offend people.

"The whole culture is wrong at a channel that thinks it is fabulous to continually rubbish people who cannot stand up for themselves," Jackson said.

At TVNZ attention is turning to the systems on Breakfast - the sort of systems that allow a shock jock with numerous complaints for breaching standards and offending people to interview the Prime Minister with little oversight.

Will it be enough to appoint a strong and dominant producer to rein in Henry's most outrageous tabloid instincts?

And can TVNZ turn around the emotional public feelings from a large segment of the population this week?

And what of the commercial risks taken by chief executive Rick Ellis and the Aussie who heads TVNZ news and current affairs - Anthony Flannery?

Breakfast, with its heavy advertising, delivers some of the best margins of any TVNZ show. Henry is a major drawcard.

But given the outrage surely the brand has been damaged by the racial slur in which the state TV host questioned who can be regarded as a real New Zealander.

Did anybody in TVNZ management or in the Government-appointed TVNZ board calculate the commercial risk of giving Henry such a free rein?

Jackson has no problem with Henry returning on October 18. "But why does TVNZ encourage him to show an ugly side that is bigoted and racist?" he said.

"I hope they do not chuck Paul out. That doesn't solve that problem.

"The TVNZ board should ask; Why did this situation arise now? The reason this happened is because he offended the wrong person - the Governor-General. The Government is involved, so they go to action.

"Normally he gets away with everything because no one else is important enough," said Jackson, who has an opinionated talkback show on RadioLive with John Tamihere.


Henry's racial outburst has exposed problems in the running of TVNZ news - and the PR department - as the broadcaster fights to keep digital channel TVNZ 7.

There is no good time for a racial slur.

But this week's comments from the management have exposed the tabloid sensibility and systems at TVNZ.

I hear there is deep concern about Henry and TVNZ's slow reaction.

More to the point, government politicians are furious that Key got dragged in to Henry's performance, raising questions about his attitude to racism.

And it is just as the Government looks at the future funding and control of TVNZ7.

So far, TVNZ 6 and 7 have kept away from the Fox TV tabloid whirl of TVNZ news.

But bucolic public attacks over ethical and cultural issues and attitude to minorities will hurt TVNZ's push to keep 7.

Another option is for the Government to merge Radio New Zealand and TVNZ 7 into a new organisation.

It's understood Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman still has an open mind.

TVNZ already supplies news for TVNZ 7 and RNZ is unpopular with people such as Steven Joyce, Murray McCully and Gerry Brownlee in this government. But Joyce - a politician with a background in commercial radio - is said to have been surprised by TVNZ's handling of the Henry issue.

The Henry interview has done TVNZ no favours. Key gets on well with Henry and has said TVNZ is partly at fault.


Henry's comments have flooded TVNZ and other media - even since his two-week suspension.

But the angry reactions have gone through the roof on Auckland Indian station Tarana Radio. Managing director Robert Khan said callers to the station were furious that Henry's comments had been made on a state-owned channel while they paid taxes. There has been talk of boycotts and protests.

Khan said that after Henry, callers' biggest target was Rick Ellis.

"They regard him as a very weak leader," he said. TVNZ's view, however, is that they had to follow due process.


Auckland Mayoral Super City candidate Len Brown has been getting media training from Ian Fraser over the past three months, with some success, it is said.

Fraser - a former interviewer and TVNZ chief executive under Labour - is said to have been impressed with Brown's performances which started after the debacle about his free lunches.


Paul Holmes has been brought in at short notice to cover for chastened Breakfast host Paul Henry presenting This is Your Life.

He has not missed the irony.

Infamous for his "cheeky darkie" diatribe against another high-placed man of colour - Kofi Annan - he is now the elder statesman of broadcasting and a trusted veteran.

"It came out of the blue and the company is in a fix," said Holmes as he geared up for the Sunday night live show.

"It's going to be a hell of a busy weekend.

"This Is Your Life is a lot of work - it's always a great challenge.

"The timing is tight - you spend hours talking to people and distilling people's lives - people come on live and you have to get to know them yourself."

"Cheeky darkie" caused an outrage in 2003 but the comments pale next to Henry's.

"I'm pleased my name is not across the news media - it's a very difficult time when you are in the centre of these things," said Holmes.

Then he added, "It's ironic, isn't it? These days I'm picking up after the bad boy."


Two recent closures illustrate how the global collapse of the music industry is having an impact on pop culture media.

Tangible Media managing director Mike Hutcheson said the decision to fold the much-loved glossy music mag Real Groove into the free title Groove Guide from November is "just a fact of life".

The pop culture monthly - which was originally published by Real Groovy Records in 1992 - will merge with the free title from mid-November.

Reduced sales means the music industry is cutting back advertising spending.

Music industry folk are sad to see Real Groove go.

Universal Music NZ marketing director Alister Cain said: "It's always had an indie edge and it has played an important role in breaking new bands into New Zealand, with good intelligent writing and editors."

Real Groove started out as a freebie in 1992 and later introduced a cover charge.

New Zealand's tough ad market would have been an issue for MTV Networks, which runs the MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon channels on Sky.

The channels will continue to run but from December 1 will be based in Sydney.

The firm went to elaborate lengths to suggest that the closure of its New Zealand office was because of administrative change.

Twenty-three New Zealand employees were made redundant but New Zealand presenters Jay Reeve and Amber Peebles are said to be "still very much part of the MTV family".


Tangible Media seems to be settling down to life in the suburbs. The Grey Lynn-based publisher has sold its electric guitar - Real Groove - and bought NZ Weddings magazine.

Tangible can probably be confident the issues that killed off Real Groove - music piracy and the the consumer shift online - will not immediately affect the number of people getting hitched or the market for garters.

I was wondering, with the high divorce rate there may be opportunities for regaining past readers.

But how many people go for a white wedding second or third time around?

- NZ Herald

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