Saturday, April 23, 2011

What to do about Paul Henry?

Published in 2010 in Challenge Weekly

The latest antics of Paul Henry should make us Christians think. First, he intentionally mispronounced the name of Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dixit in a crass way which is unrepeatable in Challenge. Secondly, speaking to John Key on air of the replacement for Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, "Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time?" This has led to a belated apology for causing offence and a ten day suspension. In my view it raises some interesting questions for us as Christians in a multicultural age.

First, there is the issue of political correctness. Many people, including a number of Christians like myself, are rather fed up with demands for political correctness. It seems we cannot speak in humour without offending someone. The question here is: did Paul Henry cross the line this time? Many would say no and laugh it off. The question then becomes, when does it cross the line? After all, we have take care that in our desire for a good laugh and our reaction against political correctness we do not inadvertently open the door to racism. My feeling here is that Mr Henry crossed a critical line. His problem is that he represents our national network and that our Governor General is every bit a Kiwi, he was even born in NZ.

Secondly, it raises the issue of freedom of speech. One can defend Mr Henry on the basis of his right to express his opinion. In recent times the likes of Hone Harawira have made some rather 'marginal' remarks concerning Pakeha. However, the difference here is that while voters can and will judge Mr Harawira, Mr Henry is speaking on behalf of the national television network and so he represents the network. As such, there are lines then that cannot be crossed. In offending all non-white Kiwis, he went too far.

Thirdly, there is the central question of racism. From this standpoint, even allowing for excessive political correctness, he went too far. The problem for Mr Henry is that his comments while seemingly humorous and reflective of some people's thoughts, were demeaning to all NZ Indians, all who are non-European, and so all of us. After all, we are all immigrants. We or our forebears have travelled on waka from all parts of the world and the face of a New Zealander is now multi-coloured. Jesus came to unite all peoples and end racism. Paul too was vehemently opposed to it. So, Mr Henry was rightly chastised. Should he have been fired rather than suspended? Not in my view. The punishment seems appropriate to the 'crime.' It is not easy speaking off the cuff entertaining the nation as Mr Henry usually does so well. But I do hope he and we too do take care not to cross such lines in the future treating all from every culture with respect and dignity. This is the purpose of God. Go deeper!

Postscript: After this Paul Henry resigned. I think he should have been given another chance. I am sure he will be back.


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