Henry's remarks the actions of one person - McCully

By James Ihaka

Paul Henry. Photo / Greg Bowker
Paul Henry. Photo / Greg Bowker

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has said he will make it clear to New Delhi that Television New Zealand has statutory independence and Paul Henry's "insulting comments" were the actions of an individual.

New Zealand High Commissioner Rupert Holborow was called in by the Indian foreign ministry in New Delhi and handed a formal protest over Henry's "racist remarks" against the chief minister of the city.

India says Henry deliberately mispronounced and ridiculed the second name of Sheila Dikshit, who has been in the news after taking charge of the Commonwealth Games preparations.

Henry mispronounced the minister's name as "Dik-shit" on air, despite being told it was pronounced "Dix-it".

"It was conveyed to him that the Government strongly and unequivocally denounces the racist remarks of the journalist in question," a statement from India's foreign ministry said.

"These remarks are totally unacceptable to India."

Mr Holborow had expressed his "deep regret" for "culturally insensitive, inappropriate and vulgar" comments.

"They reflect the views of only one media commentator - who has already been censored for other racist and unacceptable comments - and certainly not the New Zealand Government or people," he said.

Mr McCully this morning issued a statement saying he would also indicate to the Indian Government that Henry's comments were the actions of one person.

He said freedom of speech was important in New Zealand.

"However it is always regrettable when a prominent individual abuses the freedom of expression, which is one of our basic rights, to cause offence to others.

"That is especially the case when the person offended against is a prominent public figure in another country.

"The New Zealand High Commissioner has apologised for the offence caused. That is appropriate. The actions of Mr Henry in this case can only be described as gratuitous and insulting."

But Mr McCully said the TVNZ operated independently.

"Any action against Mr Henry is entirely a matter for the company, or for the Broadcasting Standards Authority should a complaint reach that body," he said.

Governor-General slur

Meanwhile another Henry slur, against Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, has prompted a warning from a big-spending TVNZ advertiser and sponsor.

Supermarket giant Progressive Food Enterprises, which sponsors the MasterChef series on TVNZ and does other advertising on the state broadcaster, said it would be keeping a close eye on Henry's performance when he returns from his two-week suspension on October 18.

"Along with many other New Zealanders, we felt offended by Paul Henry's comments about what it is to be a New Zealander," said a spokeswoman.

"We note that TVNZ has disciplined Paul Henry by taking him off air, and in the meantime advertising will continue.

"We will be closely monitoring this issue and the placement of our advertising, on behalf of our customers, our staff and our suppliers."

Henry asked Prime Minister John Key during an interview if Sir Anand was "even a New Zealander" and whether his successor would "look and sound like a New Zealander".

Toyota New Zealand chief executive Alistair Davis said he was not aware of any complaints to the company or requests for it to pull its sponsorship from the show This is Your Life, which Henry was to have fronted.

His replacement is Paul Holmes, who called former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan a "cheeky darkie" on his Newstalk ZB morning radio show in 2003.

That gaffe cost Holmes' then weeknight TV One programme its sponsorship deal with Mitsubishi.

TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards said the broadcaster did not normally discuss advertising or sponsorship clients.

But she said there had been "no negative reaction from either in this case".

Will the real Paul Henry please stand up:

TVNZ broadcaster Paul Henry is best known for his role as a simple handy-man in the British soap Crossroads, according to an Indian newspaper.

The story of Paul Henry's comments about the Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand, has been covered extensively by the Times of India.

However, its website yesterday got the wrong man from a Wikipedia article, saying Henry was born in Britain in 1947 and trained at the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama.

A Paul Henry did indeed play the character Benny Hawkins, "a bumbling semi-rustic handyman" from 1975 to 1988 in the soap opera, but it wasn't the New Zealander.

It added that Ronnie Barker revealed late in life that he had suggested Henry should be cast as the character Lennie Godber opposite him in Porridge.

A Facebook group has been set up to defend the New Zealander. More than 17,000 people said they liked the "Bring Back Paul Henry" page and 4929 people liked another page: "TVNZ sucks for suspending Paul Henry".

But 2493 liked the "I am boycotting TVNZ until they sack Paul Henry" page.

- With NZHERALD STAFF

- NZ Herald

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