08 October, 2010

Do I give more face time to Paul Henry?

The ship is fast sailing on this one, but the media keep plugging it, so I will too.

[Warning: This post gets cynical quite quickly]

What I find interesting (though not at all surprising) about the whole Paul Henry thing, is the difference in reporting between the two networks. TVNZ (understandably) is only giving a minimal amount of information, focusing on his offending question surrounding whether Anand Satyanand was "even a New Zealander," and only focused on his joking about Sheila Dikshit's name once the controversy hit India. TV3, by contrast, played a sort of Paul Henry mega-mix whereby he laughed at a lady moustache and his mockery of Susan Boyle.

Both networks conspicuously leave out his comment that homosexuals are "unnatural."

There are two things that annoy me about this whole Henry debacle. First is the fact that people are defending him - some people joining ‘boycott TVNZ until Paul Henry returns’ groups on Facebook. They act (seemingly echoing TVNZ's sentiment) that it was a one-off incident, and wasn't really all that bad. The reason people are pissed off and want his blood, is because it's the latest in a long line of bigoted, arsehole statements that the veteran broadcaster has made - and, being racial, it's the one that's inflamed us all the most. He's not saying “what we're all thinking but afraid to say” (granted, TVNZ later retracted this statement). Most New Zealanders are not bigoted arseholes. Tough I would agree with the sentiment that we'd like to be able to “tell it like it is,” that has more to do with New Zealanders reprehension with complaining rather than any introverted intolerance.

Henry is a bigot and giving him free reign on Breakfast has exacerbated his bigotry. The argument that he's a good broadcaster and that he's fantastic at debating politicians, et al, does not warrant letting his offensive remarks slide.

The second thing that annoyed me about the whole thing is that TV3 interviewed radio shock-jocks John Tamihere and Willie Jackson. The pair admonished Henry's offensiveness, rightly pointing out that a government-owned network shouldn't employ openly racist presenters, while ignoring the hypocrisy of them making those comments. Jackson and (especially) Tamihere have received their fair share of complaints about their own offensive statements, but they defend their right to do it because their radio programme is privately owned, as if that makes it all OK.

Finally, I should pay lip service to the fact that many people are saying that we shouldn't be flogging this piece of non-news. While the media do have a tendency of over pushing pointless “news” items, I think people are more worried about giving Henry's words an ersatz legitimacy by talking about it.

I disagree, and think that we should be talking about it. The fact that he said it, and the fact that many people are rushing to his defense, shows that New Zealand is still a quietly bigoted country. While we have nothing of the sort we see proudly trumpeted from the parapets across America, we're not the paragon of tolerance and freedom that we tell ourselves we are. Racism, heterosexism, misogyny and other forms of discrimination all still exist in our society.

But does that mean that we need to keep harping on Paul Henry? He may be a bit of a media pariah at the moment, but he's fast becoming a patsy for bigotry in New Zealand. In stead of keeping on him, we need to honestly look at ourselves in the mirror, and actually have a conversation with ourselves to finally deal with the conservative bigotry lurking beneath our liberal fa├žade.

[UPDATE: Paul Henry has resigned, lol]

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