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.