Leaked: TVNZ Paul Henry email

By James Ihaka, Claire Trevett

Paul Henry making fun of Sheila Dikshit's name. Photo / Supplied
Paul Henry making fun of Sheila Dikshit's name. Photo / Supplied

A senior TVNZ public relations manager has offered her resignation after publicly defending Paul Henry for his racist on-air comments, a leaked TVNZ email reveals.

TVNZ news and current affairs PR manager Andi Brotherston yesterday apologised by email to staff for her "horrendous error of judgment" in the way she responded on Monday to Henry's comments about Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand.

Brotherston told a media outlet that Henry was "prepared to say the things we quietly think, but are scared to say out aloud".

A day later, TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis suspended Henry for two weeks without pay.

Brotherston said her comment - which has caused nearly as much outrage as Henry's on-air statement - was wrong and had "impacted the reputation of TVNZ".

A copy of her email was leaked to the Herald.

She had offered her resignation but her boss had "graciously declined to accept it".

Her apology came as the fallout from Henry's comments intensified yesterday.

Senior Cabinet Minister Steven Joyce said Henry was becoming a liability.

Mr Joyce said he knew from his own radio career that while the best breakfast shock jocks "walked the line", they did not last if they crossed it too often "because it's not worth the hassle".

"So I think the difficulty for Paul Henry is the frequency in going over the line is becoming a problem for him and his employer," Mr Joyce told NewstalkZB.

"So if I was him I'd use this two weeks very carefully to think about exactly where this is going."

Prime Minister John Key said Henry's comments were inappropriate, but it was not all his fault as he was encouraged "to a certain degree" by TVNZ.

TVNZ has received more than 600 calls and complaints about Henry's comments.

As well, there have been complaints over another Breakfast incident last week in which he worked himself up into a fit of laughter over the name of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

Between bursts of laughter, Henry referred to the minister as "dick shit", despite having been told her name was pronounced "dixit".

He also appeared to make a slur against Indians in general.

The president of the Fijian-Indian Association in Wellington, Vinod Kumar, said yesterday Henry's suspension was a token punishment and "does not fit the crime".

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 [such incidents] will not be repeated?"

United Future leader Peter Dunne saidyesterday the incident showed New Zealand still had some way to go before it becamea genuinely multi-cultural society.

"Mr Henry's public comments were gratuitous and insulting, and TVNZ's response has been pathetic."

A TVNZ spokeswoman, Megan Richards, said she did not know if any of the more than 200 formal complaints lodged with TVNZ this week had come from staff members.

But the Herald has spoken to some who were dismayed by Henry's comments.

Ms Richards said there were several hundred more complaints to be processed.

"Until they are sorted we cannot say if they are formal complaints, or just protests. It's likely to be the highest response, at least in recent years since the BSA mechanism became more widely known."

Ms Brotherston said last night that Henry had made it very clear he was sorry for what he had said.

"I know Paul Henry very well and I absolutely, categorically know he never set out to offend anyone or to upset anyone and neither did I, neither of us meant to do that," she said.

On Facebook, the "Paul Henry" page has 53,112 members, the "Bring Back Paul Henry" page has 15,827 and the "TVNZ sucks for suspending Paul Henry" page has 4,512, as of this morning.

The "F*** you Paul Henry" group has 1,426 members and the "I am boycotting TVNZ until they sack Paul Henry" page has 2,329 fans.

- NZ Herald

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