TVNZ is backing its controversial presenter Paul Henry despite his bizarre suggestion that one way of stopping the boisterous antics of Mahia Peninsula dolphin Moko would be to shoot the mammal.
The comment came during Breakfast yesterday and has made waves not only in the northern Hawke's Bay, the waters of which Moko has made home for almost 2 years but also among those charged with protecting marine wildlife.
TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston, confirming no "official" complaints had been received, said the comment had to be taken in the context of the programme and of Henry "having fun".
She said it wasn't a serious suggestion from the Breakfast host, who has previously voiced support for dolphins at Marineland, and who regards Hawke's Bay as a "second home". He reportedly enjoys watching dolphins from his beach house north of Napier.
Napier-based DoC area manager Jan Hania said Henry's comments were "highly inappropriate ... but, I'm sure, were tongue-in-cheek," and anyone causing any harm to Moko would be liable to prosecution.
One Mahia resident said today: "Everyone's unhappy about Paul Henry ... but they just think he's a bloody idiot.
"I think the locals are quite possessive about Moko, and Paul Henry just opens his mouth without thinking first."
Peninsula resident Maria Preddey, who once had to wait in a kayak while Moko stopped her from getting back to shore, did not see the programme, but quickly learned of the comment from neighbours.
It didn't surprise her, and she said today: "That's just Paul Henry. I think it's just a very provocative thing to say."
She doesn't agree with his utterance but says any publicity about Moko's behaviour helps people understand the position of the dolphin and how it should be respected in the environment.
If people weren't happy with Moko being at the beach they could just "steer clear", advice she said kayakers in particular should heed.
She watched a TV3 Campbell Live segment last night and said it was "probably the most accurate" look at the issue.
Henry is one of television's more controversial presenters, but Ms Brotherston said that was part of his appeal.
Henry had at least as many fans as he did detractors, and he had won a TV Guide popularity vote.
His Breakfast antics have prompted at least 14 complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority in his four years on the show. Ten were in the past 18 months.
The only one to be upheld related to his reiteration of reader comments that female guest and Greenpeace worker Stephanie Mills, had a moustache.
While co-host Alison Mau pleaded with him to stop, he commented at that time: "That was a moustache on a lady. People can say what they see, it's television isn't it?"
Mau later read a letter from a woman who talked about the medical causes of female facial hair and said she had been reduced to tears by Henry's comments. But he responded: "Start a group, really."
Recently Henry said he didn't know why complaints against him were on the up but said it didn't bother him. "I think it's an indication that I say what I think and in television that is not overly common."
He thought there were "a lot of people that don't have much of a sense of humour" and "a large number of people who have nothing better to do than complain".
- HAWKE'S BAY TODAY