Henry's suspension 'token' - community leader

By Vaimoana Tapaleao, David Leggat, David Eames, Charlotte Woodfield

Prime Minister John Key talks with Paul Henry. Photo / TV One
Prime Minister John Key talks with Paul Henry. Photo / TV One

TVNZ broadcaster Paul Henry should undergo counselling to ensure there is no repeat of comments like the slur that led to his suspension, a representative of the Fijian-Indian community says.

The under-fire Breakfast host was yesterday suspended by TVNZ without pay for two weeks for his comments in which he asked Prime Minister John Key if Governor-General Anand Satyanand was "even a New Zealander", then urged him to choose a successor who "looks and sounds more like a New Zealander".

Henry's comments have drawn rebukes and criticism from the Race Relations Commissioner, politicians, ethnic and community organisations and thousands of people who have posted comments on websites.

The president of the Fijian-Indian Association in Wellington, Vinod Kumar, said today the suspension was a token punishment.

"The punishment that has been handed down does not fit the crime," he told Radio New Zealand.

Mr Kumar said he was worried what offence Henry might cause next.

"Is there going to be any form of reprimand? Is he going to be put on notice? Is there any form of counselling that his employers need him to undertake so that, seeing that he is a repeat offender of this nature, will not be repeated?"

Approached yesterday for comment at his North Shore home, Henry at first declined to comment.

Minutes later, he drove his car to Herald reporters - who had left his property and were on a shared road - and made his verbal assault.

"Get off my f*****g land," he shouted. "Have you got your pictures now? Have you taken photos of my property or any of my neighbours' properties? If any photos are published I'll sue the f*****g paper."

When he was not given a response, he yelled: "Can you not speak, you there in the car? I will f*****g sue your paper."

TVNZ is also facing criticism over an initial statement in which spokeswoman Andi Brotherston defended Henry, saying he often said what "we quietly think but are scared to say out loud".

Last night, TVNZ reported that Henry's on-air remarks had generated a record 600 complaints to the state broadcaster, and had made headline news in India.

By midday yesterday, it was the third most popular story on the Times of India website's world section.

The head of the Broadcasting Standards Authority said Henry's comments had created the biggest "onslaught" of complaints since the last time the broadcaster caused controversy.

Chief executive Dominic Sheehan told the Herald his organisation had not received as many angry calls since last November, when Henry referred to UK singing sensation Susan Boyle as retarded.

Earlier yesterday, TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards told the Herald the broadcaster had received "several hundred formal complaints, which will be handled as quickly as we can manage".

TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis said he had told the host his comments had been inappropriate, and his apology - delivered live on air yesterday - was "the right thing to do".

"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."

But the Unite Union said suspending Henry, "the poster boy for bigotry", was not enough and called for his sacking.

Unite Union national director Mike Treen said he did not call for someone's dismissal lightly.

"However Paul Henry legitimises racism and bigotry in the workplace. I deal every day with problems associated with managers and even co-workers abusing staff because they look or sound different."

Unite and Global Peace and Justice Auckland (GPJA) joined a protest outside TVNZ's Auckland offices last night.

"It is a case of 'three strikes and you're out'," said GPJA spokesman John Minto.

"Paul Henry is a serial offender. He has abused women, people of colour, gay people, people with disabilities and all migrant Kiwis who don't look like him."

Sir Anand, in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, said he had not received a personal apology.

"I haven't seen his apology. I've seen news reports that he has [apologised]. If he has, that's fine."

He said when he heard of the comments he only had one reaction.

"I am a New Zealand-born New Zealander. I am reliably informed I was born in 37 Dryden Street, Grey Lynn at the Bethany.

"That's all I need to add to the chemistry."

Mr Ellis said he would deliver a personal apology to Sir Anand on his return from the games.

Henry is due back on air on October 18. He was to have fronted This is Your Life on Sunday, but has been replaced by Paul Holmes.

Rawdon Christie will front Breakfast for the rest of this week, and Greg Boyed will host the show next week.

- With NZPA

- NZ Herald

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