Everybody is having a crack at Paul Henry for his publicity stunt saying Susan Boyle was retarded.

The TVNZ Breakfast host - who in March laughed at a middle-aged female guest for having a moustache - rubbished the Scottish singer for being "retarded".

But you can't blame a lonely dog for barking. All publicity is good publicity in tabloid media. Nobody has been pointing a finger at TVNZ management for its tacit approval of its tabloid star. They want him to be offensive because it rates.

Henry is capable of serious, no-nonsense journalism. But TVNZ has him chained up on Breakfast - leaving him to bark at anybody who looks different.

Compare that to the interview with psychic Deb Webber - a star on TVNZ show Sensing Murder - who was treated with the utmost respect.

The state broadcaster is not rushing to judgment over formal complaints that Paul Henry's "retarded" comment breached broadcasting standards.

TVNZ says it has 20 working days to respond. It will be surprising if it is in breach. Henry is adept at staying within the letter of the law. The complaint is on hold so Henry will have the added frisson of controversy in the run up to Christmas - when advertising demand is strongest.

But the delay is a nonsense. He was in the wrong. TVNZ can make a stand on the "retarded" comment whenever it likes.

It is choosing to make the Broadcasting Standards the benchmark for what is acceptable for a news and current affairs presenter. At TVNZ it's okay to be mean as long as you are deemed to be funny.

SWANSONG

TVNZ is looking for a new Paul Henry show for next year - possibly a 5.30pm entertainment programme on TV One. So this could be his swansong in news.

Henry is clearly a talented entertainer but can he ever be trusted with the news?

Everything seems to be a joke to boost his profile.

Many of us admire a broadcaster who breaks the rules.

But the most worrying thing about TVNZ and Henry is their comments are not a slip of the tongue, but aimed at boosting his brand and appealing to the mean-spirited.

BROWNING GONE

Steve Browning has stepped down as New Zealand general manager of the organisation that runs TiVo in this country - Hybrid Television Services.

Browning, who moved from Freeview in April, is now working as chief financial officer at up-and-coming publishing company The Image Centre.

Browning and Hybrid could not be reached for comment. But an industry colleague said Brown had always been expected to stay only for the start-up phase for the digital video recorder firm.

It is understood the uptake for the TiVo set-top box has been slow.

Tech reviewers are impressed by the slick technology that puts it on the cutting edge for a consumer-led convergence of television and computers. But apart from movie downloads, it lacks content compared with its main digital video recorder competitor, MySky HDi.

TiVo is backed by Telecom with an unmetered broadband deal that allows unlimited movie downloads. Unlike MySky it does not require an ongoing subscription. Hybrid is one-third owned by TVNZ and two-thirds by Australia's Seven Network.

NEWS FREEBIES

Last weekend's television coverage of the first anniversary of the Air New Zealand Perpignan crash raises questions about the relationship between the national carrier and television journalism.

TVNZ's Melissa Stokes and TV3's Juanita Copeland, each with a cameraman, flew courtesy of the airline to London then continued to the crash site off the coast of Perpignan, in the south of France.

TVNZ, which said the free trip would have saved it $5000 to $8000, said London correspondent Mark Crysell was covering rugby so could not go and it was an important event.

Both TVNZ and TV3 said apart from the flights they had paid the trip's other costs.

Asked if paid transport to an air crash anniversary - from an airline that is awaiting a report on what caused the accident - was a new benchmark for standards in television news, TV3 news head Mark Jennings said free trips had been a part of coverage for several years and were commonly used by TV3 to report movie premieres around the world.

JUNKETS

Jennings is right that travel junkets and freebies are common in all media coverage nowadays, with editorial budgets being squeezed. When you are handed a free trip how does that affect the way you cover news events?

There remains a view that while public relations has made inroads into the media, that news is still sacrosanct. The standard response from media is that the freebie does not affect coverage, and viewers are told about the freebie so they can judge any bias.

TVNZ did that after the Perpignan report but TV3 did not.

Jennings seemed to acknowledge there was a problem, saying TV3 might consider making such a declaration in the future. But it raises the question where airlines have flown TV3 reporters in the past.

Air NZ may have had good intentions ensuring New Zealand television coverage of the Perpignan anniversary. But should TVNZ and TV3 have accepted the free trip?

This was after a week in which Air New Zealand was at the centre of headlines over its handling of the Erebus Crash 30 years ago and its subsequent handling of the anniversary.

SUBSIDIES

New Zealand On Air announced this year that it has reduced the amount TV networks have to pay for some taxpayer-subsidised local content.

But even before the Government gives TVNZ and TV3 a helping hand to get them through the advertising slump, results illustrate the reality of TV production subsidies in New Zealand - taxpayers pay the bulk of budgets.

The NZ On Air annual report to June 30 shows the funder paid $74.74 million for 827 hours of programming and provides for the first time a breakdown of genres and how much of budgets are funded by taxpayers.

The TV networks' share of the production budgets was the lowest for 141 hours of special-interest programmes, where NZ On Air paid $10.27 million, or 98 per cent.

NZ On Air paid $12.86 million, or 84 per cent, of the budget to produce 339 hours of children's programming. It paid $3.6 million, or 83 per cent of the budgets, for 39.25 hours of arts and culture shows and $5.6 million, or 76 per cent of budgets, for 42.5 hours of comedy. In documentaries NZ On Air paid $9.2 million for 66 per cent of the budgets for 99 hours, and in drama $29.4 million for 52 per cent of budgets for a total of 59.5 hours.

OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE

Information does not include money paid directly by TV networks for shows without subsidies - like TV2's Shortland Street. But the report gives an idea on how the Government spends public cash and the biggest recipients for subsidies. Who are the biggest players at the public funding trough?

Ironically, the biggest recipient for public cash was Television Zealand, which picked up a lot of heavily subsidised programming but which also received money to make the shows.

TVNZ was handed $21.4 million for shows such as Tagata Pacifika, the kids' series I AM TV and Country Calendar. TV3 - which does not maintain such a big production arm - received just $761,000.

The second-biggest recipient for subsidies was South Pacific Pictures, best known as the producer for Shortland Street.

SPP received $17.2 million, including $9 million for a third series of Outrageous Fortune for TV3 and $6.2 million for a second series of Go Girls for TV2.

SPP - which is led by industry veteran John Barnett - also owns half of the production company Satellite Media, which received $915,000.

Great Southern Television - led by Phil Smith - received $7.5 million, most of which went to its drama series The Cult.

The children's television production What Now and the associated company Whitebait Productions - whose directors include Janine Morrel and Jason Gunn - picked up $4.9 million.

A Wellington-based production company led by Yvonne Mackay was allocated $3.5 million for the children's drama series Kaitangata Twitch while another children's production company, Pickled Possum Productions, was give $3.2 million for Action Central 2 and State Challenge 2009.