By STUART DYE
Paul Holmes' "cheeky darkie" comments have appeared around the world, including on a racist website where messages of support have been posted for the broadcaster.
A member of Florida-based white nationalist site Stormfront quoted Holmes with the comment: "I love it."
Despite Prime Minister Helen Clark's immediate rejection of the comments, New Zealand's image has been tarnished, it is claimed.
On his Newstalk ZB morning show on Wednesday, Holmes referred to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a "cheeky darkie" and said, "We are not going be told how to live by a Ghanaian."
Media in Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, China, Australia, South Africa, the United States and throughout Africa have reported what was said.
The Herald has received messages from around the world criticising Holmes. Many call for his resignation.
William Ocloo, a Ghanaian living in Denmark - Mr Annan's home - said the comments had confirmed his worst suspicions.
He had endured similar comments from New Zealanders in the past. "I feel strongly that there is a general perception in New Zealand [of racial superiority]."
Maxwell Yifusu, a spokesman for the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, said the national radio station had been inundated with outraged calls.
"It shows total disregard for the world's highest-ranking public official and is an insult to our country."
Producer Paul Yandall has resigned from the Television New Zealand Holmes programme over the comments and there are rumours that others are considering walking out.
The programme's future was unclear last night, but bosses at the radio station have said they will take no further action other than to follow up complaints.
However, many people who have contacted the Herald are in no doubt as to what should happen.
"An apology is inadequate," said Marc Anderson Honore, a New Zealander living in Denmark. "The man's comments were indefensible and deeply unsympathetic. Any news organisation with an ounce of integrity will distance themselves from this racist hack. ZB should take action and sack Paul Holmes."
Another caller from the Netherlands said: "To not remove a 'journalist' who, regrets and apologies aside, is so obviously a racist in a country with a history of subjugation of an indigenous population is totally unacceptable to most world citizens.
"This is the tolerant, multi-ethnic country which invites tourists to enjoy its scenic beauty? Not without getting misanthropes like Holmes out of positions of influence.
"I don't want to visit a racist country no matter how pretty the view."
* NewstalkZB's Auckland offices on the corner of Cook and Nelson Sts were evacuated yesterday after a telephone threat just before 8.30am during Holmes' breakfast show. The station played CDs until just before 10am when police let staff return.
Reaction 1: Alton Abdul Shameem JP, Takapuna:
Dear Mr Holmes,
Today at approximately 4.30pm I happened to glance at the Herald in a supermarket, the headline caught my attention. I am a darkie, open minded, free thinker and a peaceful New Zealander; when I read your article I was totally gutted, stunned and had tears in my eyes. I am crying as I am writing the email to you. Yes we do have tears too!!!!
I always thought of you as one of us and never in my wildest dream imagined that you, a national icon and leader, would make comments like that. We are all human beings.
It seems that your mask came off in the comfort of your radio station, whereas on the TV you know that we all can see you. As a hard working darkie on an uneven playing field overcoming daily obstacles, prejudice and discrimination, I do not have time to listen to talkback shows or read newspapers and that's the reason why as you say it "Of all the calls we've only had two people objecting to me calling him a darkie."
You have really really really forsaken me and my family and my pride and joy to be a New Zealander. Is there any way I may help you please do contact me. Helping, caring and uniting people is my passion and goal.
* Mr Shameem came to New Zealand from Fiji 13 years ago.
Reaction 2: Newstalk ZB general manager Bill Francis:
Paul's Kofi Annan remarks were wrong. Paul has acknowledged that, Newstalk ZB agrees and we both greatly regret the offence caused.
The reaction, however, is out of all proportion. Paul Holmes is not the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he's a broadcaster, the best in the business, an entertainer.
A lot of this reaction is genuine and understood but some is fuelled by media agendas. Start with TV3's gloating lead on Wednesday night. And now I think we get a better feel for why TVNZ is being eaten up from inside after seeing successive in-depth items hoeing into one of their own - the guy that's given them a decade of leadership in current affairs. The print media is no surprise. A Paul stumble and the wolves move in.
From his early days Paul has had a reputation for pushing boundaries. It is an aspect of his character that has got him into trouble, but it has also got him out of it. This is the man who managed to shock the country by trying to phone the Archbishop of Canterbury. But this is the man who talked to a distraught man on the run from police and who persuaded him that neither flight nor suicide were the answer.
This is the man who has worked tirelessly and with little recognition to raise funds for the Special Olympians, the man who has always seen that people have redeeming features, strengths and assets even when others in society have refused to acknowledge those characteristics in someone.
Contrary to his Kofi Annan comments he has always carried an awareness of the multi-ethnicity of the radio audience and has been a strong proponent of Maori issues being brought into mainstream media. I've worked with Paul for a long time. I know his strengths and his weaknesses intimately and one thing I do know is that he doesn't have a racist bone in his body. On radio he's fought for the Tampa refugees, railed against the imprisonment of Ahmed Zaoui and said we need to celebrate the arrival of Asians and other nationalities.
Paul's radio show has always had a strong element of comment, heavily laced with satire. Regular listeners know and understand this. He writes his material close to deadline - there's no luxury of lengthy contemplation over its worth. He gets one shot at it and most times he gets it right, makes his point and makes people think or laugh out loud. So here he got it wrong. This is no reason for public execution.
Paul is hurting deeply over what has happened here. He is a man who has been honest about his success, his personal failures and his joys and sorrows. He is a broadcaster who uses his intelligence, his general knowledge and his skills to ensure others don't feel left out.
Paul will keep his radio show. He has our full support.
Reaction 3: Ron Abdul-Rahim, vice-president, Association of Nigerians in NZ:
On behalf of the Nigerian community in New Zealand, I would like to use your media to express our concerns regarding the recent unpopular comments made by Holmes about the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
We find Holmes' comments irritably offensive to the growing African communities in New Zealand.
His token apology doesn't count any more because the messages are clear.
It's all about racism coupled with jealousy.
Holmes' attack on dark skin is not an intelligent representation of him as a New Zealander.
The tangata whenua of New Zealand are dark. What is going to be Holmes' reaction if a Maori is elected for the post of Kofi Annan?
This does not speak well of a person of high public profile like Holmes.
Like our fellow Ghanaians, we Nigerians deeply feel really disappointed with Holmes' irrational attack on Kofi Annan based on his skin colour and African nationality.
We hope the offender learns his lesson and does not repeat this in future.
By STUART DYE
More from New Zealand
- 11 minutes to read