Media Freedom and Racism in New Zealand: II
Racism in NZ Media
By Subhash Appana
By Subhash Appana
In the run-up to the XIX Commonwealth Games in Delhi there was a sudden frenzy in the NZ media to gather and show negative footage about the Indian preparations so that just before the games started the NZ public had all but decided that India would not be ready and the games would be cancelled. When the games did start and proceed without the expected disasters, many began to wonder what the clamour had been all about.
Then NZTV breakfast show host, Paul Henry took a dig at NZ’s Governor General, Sir Anand Satyanand, by asking his friend, PM John Key if the next GG would be more Kiwi and look and speak like one. I was shocked when he started, but absolutely dumb-founded when the PM simply continued to smile while trying to parry and lighten what was essentially a no-no, freedom of speech notwithstanding.
As the inevitable reaction followed, footage (that I’d missed) was aired of another earlier breakfast episode where, while again discussing the Commonwealth Games, Henry repeatedly referred to Delhi’s long-serving Chief Minister, Shiela Dixit, as Dickshit. He then broke into fits of giggles and laughter while asserting, “but she is Indian”.
After that, the shit did hit the fan as NZ’s ambassador to India was summoned to Rashtpati Bhawan where an apology was demanded and promptly offered. PM Key also came on TV and tried to “politik” the issue away. In a knee-jerk reaction TVNZ put Henry on 2 weeks suspension. And as the cauldron bubbled, to the relief of the nation, Paul Henry tendered his resignation. That was supposed to be the end of a sad and unwanted set of events that NZ could well do without.
Unfortunately, it did not end there. Ex-Wanganui mayor and RadioLive host, Michael Laws, grabbed the dropped ball straight after Henry was pulled up and called Sir Anand Satyanand a “large, fat man” who has “never left” the buffet table. And he continued saying he was an “unusual-shaped man” who reminded him of the obese Monty Python character, Mr. Creosote, and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot who is played on British TV by Indian actor David Suchet.
The insults continued to link the Commonwealth Games, Indian and Sir Anand as can be seen by the following quote: “I don’t know why but just on an Indian it seems slightly incongruous. I mean, we don’t all expect Indians to be begging on the streets of New Delhi, but it’s like Anand discovered the buffet table at, like, 20 and he’s never really left it.” This was exactly what Paul Henry had been doing.
When pushed, RadioLive station manager Jana Rangooni said that she was not concerned about Laws’ comments and that, “Michael Laws made some personal observations about his size which were not racist, and having listened to the audio I am comfortable from the tone of the comments that they were not intended to be offensive.”
This brushing over of an insidious racist orientation in the NZ media with no concern for its own Governor General, and a considerable number of its immigrant population, continued in the NZ Herald on 13/10 as columnist Fran O’Sullivan referred to Paul Henry’s poison as “puerile slurs”. What was childishly nonsensical about making fun of an exceptionally-dignified GG’s looks and a popular Chief Minister’s name, one is forced to wonder. And then Fran tried to explain the unexplainable by saying, “there is much in NZ’s heritage that is worth valuing – particularly the right to free speech.”
Fran O’Sullivan was obviously seeking refuge behind the skirt of freedom, albeit without showing any inclination towards spicing it with responsibility. This is exactly the same holier-than-thou defence offered by both Paul Henry and Michael Laws. And it smacks not only of bigotry, but a misguided understanding of reality and a deluded sense of self-importance. A closer look at these media wallas makes for some interesting revelations.
Michael Laws was a long-time mayor of Wanganui where he gained tremendous notoriety for repeatedly harassing police by getting repeatedly punched in the face by his body-builder partner. Earlier he had led the campaign to block the name change of his domain from Wanganui to Whanganui. There’s an interesting story behind this.
Whanganui was a Maori name, but it was wrongly spelt by the white settlers. That remained until some concerned stakeholders decided it was time to correct the wrong. All the powers that be supported the change except mayor Michael Laws and his misguided unyielding supporters. There was no moral or legal basis for this, but still the mayor stood firm. What was driving him? Therein lies the answer on the question of what made him pick up Henry’s diseased ball and continue with the racist onslaught.
Paul Henry, on the other hand, is known for his insensitive, Darwinian sentiments. In fact this right-wing paranoia made him call Scottish singing sensation, Susan Boyle “retarded” in November last year. Boyle’s was a rags-to-riches story of a humble girl who moved from singing in churches to the world stage through the popular TV program Britain’s Got Talent. Henry could easily have outdone a Nazi concentration camp commander when he called her “retarded”. That’s the measure of any misfit who masquerades as a human.
About Fran, just google her name on the NZ Herald site and her photo will pop up. You can then make your own judgements on why she joined the diatribe. A critical analysis of the above will follow.
The opinions contained in this article are entirely those of the author and not necessarily shared by any organizations he may be associated with both in Fiji and abroad.