Oh Henry #2: Don’t shoot the messenger, but what will Beeza do?

It would be a travesty if TVNZ publicist Andi Brotherston is obliged to fall on her sword in the Paul Henry broohaha.

Brotherston made the now infamous comment that Henry was expressing what we all think, but are too scared to voice when he made racist comments about the New Zealand governor general.

She subsequently apologised in an email to TVNZ staff and now, inevitably, the email is in the public domain and Brotherston is taking the heat. This is a shame, Paul Henry has been allowed to slink off to wait it out under whichever muddy rock he currently calls home, but Brotherston is blowing in the wind and the story today is all about her.

The real issue here has to be what will Beeza do? So far Henry’s been suspended for two weeks by TVNZ, but he’ll be back on air soon enough and that will be don’t miss car crash TV. How long will the ill-tempered tosser be able to bite his tongue before bursting into glorious flaming wreckage? Let’s hope that this latest gaffe is enough to sink forever his chances of taking over from the talking moustache on Close Up.

But you know, I’ve just reviewed some Beeza cases against Henry over the past few years and most of the time he gets away with it and TVNZ is in there fighting for his right to be offensive. As they say: “That’s entertainment”. Actually, it’s not, as you will see…if you get to the end of this long post.

Brotherston was only doing her job and she’s admitted the mistake of not thinking through clearly the implications of defending Henry against the indefensible. Her leaked email (gleefully relayed in full on the TV3 website) ends with an apology, but then in an interview Brotherston makes another softening defence of Henry

Ms Brotherston said last night that Henry had made it very clear he was sorry for what he had said.

“I know Paul Henry very well and I absolutely, categorically know he never set out to offend anyone or to upset anyone and neither did I, neither of us meant to do that,” she said.

[NZ Herald 7/10/10]

Andi, why do you have to say this. Henry is a liability and everyone is saying that now. The best thing that TVNZ could do is tell him not to come back. Let him go, sink him and move on. His credibility is totally blown, despite the trickle of support from the dribblejaws who don’t think he’s done anything wrong.

Mary 

06 Oct 2010 8:13p.m.

Where are my rights as a white person? My family like many others white families, built this country but now somehow we have no rights! I am sick of it, I want a voice!

Jackle 

06 Oct 2010 8:07p.m.

There wasn’t this much carry on over that racist whats his name Hone something when he said what he did and that was a direct racial slur at every person in NZ, where were the protesting idiots then or are only white people racist

Bouncy444

06 Oct 2010 7:49p.m.

What a storm in a tea cup. Get over yourself New Zealand and lighten up!!

Thankfully, this type of commentary is in the minority and many are pointing out that Henry is a serial offender. He doesn’t deserve a second chance…wait that would be like how many Paul?

In the meantime, I actually think that TV3’s Ali Ikram has done a good job with this video pisstake. I normally don’t think he’s very funny, but Ali, this is actually very good. It nails Henry, but with humour.

So to Beeza

We already know that Henry’s racist comments generated more calls to the BSA than just about any other on-air incident in recent memory. We also know that Paul Henry’s no stranger to Beeza’s wet feather lash. Here’s a brief listing of cases involving Henry and the Beeza. There’s circumstantial evidence here that TVNZ might actually like to keep Henry on the Beeza dripfeed because it’s good for ratings. On the other hand, maybe he’s ADHD and hasn’t been properly diagnosed.

Susan Boyle ‘retarded’

Ashurst and others and TVNZ. Breakfast. Presenter stated that singer Susan Boyle was “retarded” and that it was possible to “make it out” by looking at her. Upheld (good taste and decency – action taken), upheld by majority (discrimination and denigration).

This incident in November 2009 is now part of New Zealand broadcasting legend. Here’s the exchange that caused offence. The Beeza in this case upheld the complaint:

During the discussion about Ms Boyle, Mr Henry briefly noted that the article revealed that she had been “ritualistically beaten” as a child, including by her teachers. Mr Henry laughed as he talked about the revelation. The following exchange took place between the presenters:

Mr Henry: Here’s the really interesting revelation in the latest magazine, she is in fact, um, retarded [laughs].

Ms Wetzell: You are shocking.

Mr Henry: It’s official, no, it’s official she has an intellectual disability. She suffered, what happened was, and this is always bad, she was starved of oxygen and suffered a mild form of intellectual disability. And if you look carefully [holding the magazine up to viewers] you can make it out, can’t you [laughing]?

Ms Wetzell: You don’t know what you’re talking about. In the New Idea

In this case TVNZ defended Henry in tones that are now all too familiar and ring hollow:

With respect to Standard 1 (good taste and decency), TVNZ stated that Mr Henry was known for his challenging sense of humour, that his comments were intended to be light-hearted and comedic, and that there was considerable audience expectation that he would be provocative in his language and manner on occasions. It said that Mr Henry had not intended to cause any offence or hurt and that his comments were made spontaneously on live television.

This is the pattern. Henry is a buffoon (argues TVNZ) his comments are ‘comedic’ and Beeza should just look away. It’s not good enough.

Gays are ‘iffy’

Cage and TVNZ. Breakfast. Host’s comments about homosexual couples adopting children. Discrimination and denigration. Not upheld [February 2010]

This is a significant complaint and potentially a breach of human rights legislation and I find it astounding that Beeza let it go through to the keeper. In this exchange with the out-and-about Alison Mau,  Paul applies  his gutter wisdom to the issue of gay adoption:

At approximately 6.40am, one of the programme’s hosts, Paul Henry, introduced the discussion and had the following exchange with his co-host Alison Mau:

Henry:  …a little bit later in the morning I thought we might talk about the Acting Principal Family Court Judge’s call that it’s time the adoption laws were updated to reflect society. What he’s effectively saying, I think, is that you shouldn’t discriminate against homosexual couples when it comes to adopting. I’m a little bit iffy on that…

Mau: Why? Why shouldn’t same sex couples raise children just as well as mixed sex couples?

Henry: It’s not natural, is it?

Mau: Oh don’t start that.

Henry: Well it’s not natural, is it? It’s obviously not natural.

Mau: Not your sort of natural, no.

Henry: It’s not God’s sort of natural and I’m not even religious, but it can’t be, it’s not, like, natural, is it? Like you don’t get a whole clan of cave bears that are all male because that just couldn’t happen. It’s not natural.

Mau: You’re just determined to open a big can of whoop-ass aren’t you?

Henry: I’m not trying to do it… I’m merely…

Mau: Raising a talking point? That’s fine.

Henry: Because I mean people will… it smacks of the sort of thing the Labour Government did of course, doesn’t it? I just think you know I’m iffy on it, ‘cause we’re talking adoption aren’t we? I’m just iffy on it.

Mau: Yes goodness me, iffy – it smacks of human rights. How outrageous!

Henry: Yes human rights. A lot of bad things have been done under the… guise of human rights, haven’t they?

Then a bit later in the programme this enlightened exchange:

The following exchange then took place between the presenters:

Henry: Well, it is. It is unnatural, homosexuality…

Mau: No, it’s not.

Henry: …But is it wrong?

Mau: [reading feedback] “To call this unnatural is ludicrous and narrow-minded. Gay couples are great parents and are more than qualified to raise children. In short, it’s about accepting that society is diverse.”

Henry: I mean, it is unnatural though. We shouldn’t be frightened of saying that it’s unnatural. It is unnatural. Although homosexuality is through all species. I don’t know if it’s through all species but many, many species. A lot of monkeys are homosexual.

Mau: Actually… we had one text that said that somebody’s aunt had a homosexual pair of magpies who tried to, who were sitting on eggs to try and hatch them.

Henry: Extraordinary. And they didn’t, did they, hatch? Where did they get eggs from? They stole the eggs, thieving homosexual magpies. The thing is, though, if you go to any animal park, and I’ve got to be careful what I say here, but if you go to any animal park, you will find monkeys being filthy with each other.

Mau: That is completely beside the point.

Why did Beeza decline this complaint?

Well, again in this case TVNZ based part of its submission on the “…that’s just Paul” defence:

TVNZ noted that Breakfast was targeted at an adult audience. It said that Paul Henry was well-known for his tone and this type of banter, as well as for voicing his opinions which often offended sections of society. TVNZ considered that the discussions on Breakfast were “robust”, particularly as Mr Henry’s co-host tended to disagree with his sentiments, “as befits the expectation of a ‘robust’ debate”.

Notice a pattern here? The Beeza eventually declined the complaint because Henry’s comments were not rough enough to cause offence. [EM shakes head in disbelief at this point.]

The Authority considers that on this occasion, particularly in the context of the entire discussion, the host’s comments were not sufficiently vitriolic and lacked the necessary invective to reach the threshold for encouraging discrimination against, or denigration of homosexuals for the purposes of the standard.

[25]   The Authority therefore declines to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Beejezuz Beeza, what is enough to get your goat?

There’s almost too many incidents of Henry having a go at mental illness to mention, but again there’s a pattern here. Henry blunders through an interview or an editorial segment being deliberately provocative, rude, insensitive and boorish; the sidekick du jour Alison Mau or Pipa Wetzell, plays the loyal foil [Note to Al & Pippa: ladies, wake-up and smell the big bag of shit sitting next to you...] Then someone complains and the Beeza declines to uphold the complaint on the grounds that it is robust debate, or Henry’s style or some such excuse. Here’s just one example:

Television New Zealand Ltd and Rainey – 2009-145

23 Mar 2010 [2] At 7.55am the presenter, Paul Henry, advised viewers of the Dr Giles Burch knows how. He’s a psychologist and lecturer in …. 4 Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)

The ‘moustache on a lady’ incident is also infamous and again in this case the BSA declined the complaint, as they did in relation to Henry’s lowbrow toilet humour.

Television New Zealand Ltd and Brown – 2009-049

Breakfast host made comments about female guest’s appearance: action taken allegedly insufficient.

Television New Zealand Ltd and John Bragg – 2009-059
Breakfast host made comments about news presenter and people using public toilets: allegedly in breach of good taste and decency.

There are a number of complaints too about Henry being unbalanced. He is, but that’s not the point.

Television New Zealand Ltd and Withers – 2008-074
Breakfast presenter interviewed John Key: allegedly in breach of balance.

Television New Zealand Ltd and Brooking – 2009-012
Breakfast interview with Garth McVicar from the Sensible Sentencing Trust – discussion about whether sentences in New Zealand were long enough; allegedly in breach of balance standard

And on several occasions, there have been issues of taste and deceny; most, again, not upheld and TVNZ’s boilerplate responses again excuse Henry’s behaviour. After all, he’s just a lad!

Television New Zealand Ltd and Livingstone – 2008-007
Breakfast presenter made a statement about prisoner abuse: allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, law and order and fairness.

TVNZ and McLeod – 2008-072
Breakfast presenter made comment about people who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: allegedly in breach of good taste and decency.

Television New Zealand Ltd and Quinlan – 2008-095
Breakfast item referred to a celebrity who masturbated to web cameras: allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests.

Television New Zealand Ltd and Middleton – 2009-032
Breakfast. Europe correspondent discussed 13-year-old boy who had allegedly fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl: allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard.

Templated response from TVNZ

Having looked at these decisions now it’s clear that the formality of responding is just a rote exercise for TVNZ. All the responses are of this variety:

TVNZ stated that Breakfast was “a mixture of news, serious interviews, magazine segments, review and often frequent good-natured ribbing at the expense of almost anyone in the headlines or visiting the set”. It said that participants and viewers appreciated this, and in particular Paul Henry’s “‘shoot from the lip’ hyperbolic comments [were] an accepted style and integral part of the daily morning fare for the programme’s growing audience”. TVNZ noted the Authority’s Decision No. 2008-072. It considered that this was a similar occasion where the host made an off-the-cuff remark, and that he frequently made ad-lib comments that polarised the viewing public.

They can just copy&paste this to fit any complaint against Henry and the Beeza buys it. Therefore, perhaps we should have a sceptical attitude to any sanctions Beeza might apply to Henry in this case. A rap on his hairy knuckles might do it, or another suspension. But my bet would be that given Henry’s already serving a suspension, good old Beeza might just think that he’s done the time that fits the crime.

It’s time for TVNZ to stop making excuses for Henry’s obnoxiousness; it’s a tired defence that should be abandoned. He’s a ratings magnet, but for how much longer? I’d like to be confident in saying that the Henry brand is too damaged to recover now, but I”m not sure that’s the case.

I also think that this weekend the predictable Michael Laws will defend Henry in the SST, I’m not sure that Paul Holmes would be so stupid.

At the end of the day, Henry’s not entertainment, this is ‘That’s entertainment’

Your reward for reading to the end of this post, better than a kick in the balls, eh?

3 Responses to Oh Henry #2: Don’t shoot the messenger, but what will Beeza do?

  1. [...] Yesterday I raised the issue of Henry’s proposed return to TVNZ on the 18 October and mused about whether this would be allowed to happen. I don’t think TVNZ has the bottle to sack Henry, so if he does go back on air it will be compulsive viewing. John Drinnan’s column in today’s NZ Herald, talks about this issue too. Television New Zealand is reeling from the Paul Henry race slur, raising the question: Can the shock jock come back to Breakfast as usual when his two-week suspension ends on October 18? [...]

  2. [...] you realise that Henry is a serial offender as I pointed out in ‘Oh Henry’ parts #1, #2 and [...]

  3. [...] to TVNZ as a precursor to a Beeza inquiry into Henrygate are now moot. Beeza may still feel it necessary to poke a finger in the wound, but I’d be [...]

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