Paul Henry is only the tip of the redneck iceberg

Yesterday, I began watching the Indian media get hold of the Paul Henry story. Indians are, rightly, up in arms with the TV host’s insult of Chief Minister Smt. Sheila Dikshit’s name—this, plus the incident questioning whether Governor-General HE Sir Anand Satyanand was a New Zealander, shows a pattern where Henry thinks poorly of people with Indian ethnicity.
   The Indian people might want to know that the insults to their people are not restricted to Mr Henry: his colleague Paul Holmes has been rubbishing New Delhi and India in the weeks leading up to the Commonwealth Games, using the fact that few New Zealanders have been there, and pushing unfair stereotypes about hygiene. Mr Henry is also not alone in making fun of Chief Minister Dikshit’s name, with sportscasters giggling about it like children.
   Henry has received the flak because he perhaps had more of a profile, and is already down after the comments about Sir Anand. Isolated incidents we can probably forgive. But, collectively, it shows our media still have plenty of representatives from the redneck sections of our society—and I am happy to tar those members with the same brush as the one I have used on Henry. Right now, I hope there are many broadcasters feeling at least a little shame for joking about the Chief Minister’s name.
   And we wonder why politics is under-represented in New Zealand by minorities, how Parliament—or even the local body elections that I contested—do not reflect our rich cultural mixture. This week, we did not have to look very far: one of our institutions, the fourth estate, is quite prepared to treat Chief Minister Dikshit with little respect; and one of its members is willing to imply that a Governor-General, who speaks with a New Zealand accent, does not sound ‘like a New Zealander’ because he has Indian roots.
   It’s not as though we begin on the best footing when we go to India. When I spoke in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, two years ago, one question asked of me by a member of the local business community was why New Zealand had cooperated with China over free trade prior to considering India as a trading partner. I answered him frankly, ‘Follow the money.’ To me, even being someone of Chinese ethnicity, I see benefits working with India, with its proficiency in English, its common law heritage, and its respect for intellectual property. Of course China is important—but not at the exclusion of a fellow Commonwealth country. The gentleman justifiably felt India had been sold out.
   The Indian Government has rightly summoned our High Commissioner asking for an explanation. Our nation has had to apologize to India for Paul Henry. Yet one thing remains very clear to the Indians: Paul Henry is a civil servant working for state television. Words are not going to mean an awful lot to Indians, if they are not backed up by action by our government. Read between the lines of the Ministry of External Affairs’ official protest: they want him fired. Their words:

It is hoped that the government of New Zealand would take immediate demonstrative action against the said individual to send out a clear signal that such behaviour is totally unacceptable.

They mean that a 14-day suspension isn’t going to cut it. And that was for the Sir Anand issue, not for the Sheila Dikshit humiliation.
   Having been to India, I know the industry of the Indian people—and I know that they can do whatever they put their minds to. If they begin crying boycott, we are in such trouble that even a smile from the Prime Minister cannot cover.
   Paul Henry has done one good thing: expose some of the unacceptable thinking that he and others harbour. But just as Sir Peter Jackson strengthened our national image, one man has now weakened our country’s image as a progressive, multicultural and embracing nation.
   TVNZ, which has flip-flopped between defending Henry and giving him a light slap on the wrist, needs to do more soul-searching than CEO Rick Ellis, or Henry sympathizer and spokeswoman Andi Brotherston, has done so far. Does the network truly condone this sort of behaviour? A mere suspension, and the use of the Dikshit clip for days after the Sir Anand affair, are saying that it does. And in such a case, Paul Henry is being unfairly targeted as the sole offender: the circumstantial evidence is that TVNZ has a far sicker culture than even I had imagined.
   To think: usually, I go abroad holding my head up high because I come from New Zealand. People are willing to help me out because they respect our nation. I’m going to brace myself for a much harder time when next working in India, because some of our country’s less palatable members have been able to get away with pushing their agenda for too long.
   I initially thought that the Facebook page demanding a TVNZ boycott was going too far, given that there are responsible TVNZ staff, too. However, I have not watched a single second of TVNZ programming this week, as an unconscious decision. (Commonwealth Games coverage on Prime has helped.) Maybe the supporters of that Facebook page have a point, because as the days pass, and there continues to be inaction from TVNZ, it is becoming apparent that more heads need to roll. My idea of getting Henry to meet with the New Zealand Indian Central Association is looking more meaningless by the day.

Image credit: Map of India by Umesh Rai.

PS.: TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston has tendered her resignation.JY

You may also like

5 thoughts on “Paul Henry is only the tip of the redneck iceberg

  1. Kia ora Jack, good on you. The question about racism in NZ is as simple as the answer. Do ‘Kiwis’ see Maori as their equals? Do they see Samoan’s, Tongans, Indians, Asians, Somali refugees as their equals? The answer is No. This kind of behaviour is abhorrent, embarrassing and shameful but it is the reality here. And it’s proven by the ‘polls’ all of which vote 60-40 in support of Henry. Small countries don’t need to breed small minds. Luckily for us there is a minority here that can be open minded and open hearted. It is this and our strength that makes us better people.

  2. Himiona, I totally agree. Any one of us who has lived as a minority has seen the ugly side of our country. Just last month, when campaigning at the Problem Gambling Foundation forum, the issue of racism came up. I stated that most of my white opponents would not understand what it was like—nor would most have a clue on how to remedy these issues. And yet we expect to provide them with a power base—when at least one of them practises, through deeds, exclusion.
       I’m really surprised that the polls are in favour of Henry—which again shows that the majority of us New Zealanders do not “get it”.
       You are right that we should be encouraged that there is an open-minded minority in Aotearoa. And the percentage of our open-minded citizens has certainly grown since I first arrived here in 1976. We can only hope that that trend continues.

  3. Read and viewed more about this at paikea‘s blog; mentioned you when I commented there because I’d heard it here first.

    I feel a great swell of pity for those that champion this man…a swelling say, the size of a Peterbilt.

  4. Paikea is spot on in her views, Jak: thank you for mentioning me to her. The good news is that Mr Henry has resigned as of tonight. But his bosses should have acted far earlier.
       And Patrick: I don’t agree. Why can’t Henry be a redneck?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *