Clearly the series of events that led to Paul Henry’s resignation were precipitated by the public condemnation resulting from his comments about the Governor General and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit (pronounciation closer to Dixit).
I’ve never watched Henry’s show so only heard his remarks about the minister broadcast later when the proverbial finally hit the fan over his comments about Anand Satyanand.
However, it’s been well documented that the Dikshit remarks didn’t initially raise eyebrows – despite being posted on the TVNZ website.
It seems to take a long time for questions to be asked about the acceptability of this kind of behaviour – and why was Henry allowed to get away with it for so long, essentially ridiculing people on the basis not just of their race, but for their appearance or disability?
Compare the slow reaction to Henry’s remarks about Sheila Dikshit to the swift response in the UK when reality TV personality Jade Goody insulted Indian actress Shilpa Shetty on the UK Channel 4’s Celebrity Big Brother calling her, among other things “Shilpa Poppadum”.
Following Henry’s comments about the Governor General a TVNZ PR representative initially defended his behaviour and then he was suspended without pay for two weeks.
Again, compare this to the BBC’s response when the brilliant but maverick British BBC presenter Jonathan Ross and entertainer Russell Brand played an on-air prank on Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs on Brand’s Radio 2 show in 2008, leaving obscene messages on his answerphone. Ross was suspended without pay for three months and both Brand and the Controller of BBC Radio 2 resigned.
TVNZ is now planning to order a review of its editorial policies and presenter code of conduct. That’s very much to be welcomed but the problem doesn’t stop with TVNZ. This kind of thing happens too often elsewhere in New Zealand.
Earlier this year former All Black Andy Haden, then Rugby World Cup ambassador, made public remarks about “darkies”. Did he learn anything from the fall out? Not enough it seems because he went on to finally resign - after making inappropriate comments about rape.
John Key has been quoted as saying that Paul Henry’s resignation “Brings closure to the matter and we should now put it behind us.”
Rather than putting it behind us, I think we need to face up to the fact that as a country, we are behind the times. A significant proportion of the public clearly recognises that and we need to make sure that all our public figures are on the same page.
We have to follow the example of other countries in adopting zero tolerance to abusing or ridiculing anyone because of their race, age, gender, sexual orientation or disability.
Every media outlet and every public organisation needs to have very clear guidelines about what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable. They need to ensure that everyone representing them understands those guidelines. And if a line is crossed they have to know how to deal with it, swiftly and decisively.
Posted by Patricia Thompson on Monday 11th Oct 2010