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My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

Complaint Upheld Against Paul Henry, So What?

I learned this morning that the complaints agains Paul Henry were upheld by TVNZ’s Complaints Committee regarding Mr Henry’s "jokes" about Susan Boyle being retarded (I spoke about the original event in an earlier blog post). This is, on the surface, good news. But what, exactly, does it mean? I don’t see much concrete repercussions for Mr Henry from what I have been able to glean online.

The Dominion Post, as found on Stuff.co.nz, reports that "Complaints over Paul Henry’s ‘retard’ comment upheld". They said:

TVNZ has upheld complaints against broadcaster Paul Henry for calling singer Susan Boyle “retarded” – though they acknowledged he was just trying to be funny.

That, right there, raised a warning flag for me. Complaint upheld, but with a qualifier. Mr. Henry was just trying to be "funny". Hmmm. Ok, let’s read on.

The article quotes Anthony Flannery, head of TVNZ’s News and Current Affairs as saying:

"We apologise to those who were hurt and distressed by it"

Good, they have to apologise to *someone*.

But nowhere in the reports does it seem the apology is for having done something wrong.

So I thought I’d go see on TVNZ’s website if the information there is more complete. Nothing like going straight to the horse’s mouth to get the information. On their site, I found "TVNZ upholds Henry complaint".

Not much more there to be found. Although Henry’s statement itself is reported there. He’s offered an apology:

“I am sorry that some people have taken what I said in a way that I never intended."

That is about as much as a non-apology as he could have made. He is not sorry for what he said. He isn’t sorry that he said something offensive. What he is sorry for is that some people took what he said in the wrong way. In other words, he’s saying that he did nothing wrong, and that he’s sorry to have been misunderstood.

It’s a bit like the kid who was caught doing something stupid, and apologises, not for having done something stupid, but for having been caught at it.

Right. So that’s one part of the whole affair that leaves me singularly unimpressed.

Mr. Flannery also says that:

“It should also be remembered that in 600 hours of live television each year there have been very few times when he has overstepped the mark."

Hmmm, would it be any more acceptable for someone to strip naked in front of the camera "only this once" because they’ve appeared clothed on camera so many times before? Past good behaviour does not give you a pass to behave innapropriately. And it’s not like there’s any real remorse shown on the part of Mr. Henry.

What I’d like to know though, is what are the concrete consequences for Mr. Henry? It doesn’t appear that he’ll get any negative consequences to his actions. If a complaint being upheld is the only thing, it’s not much. Maybe like a letter of reprimand in his file? So what? That’s not even a slap on the wrist! That’s not enough to make him learn his lesson, certainly doesn’t ensure that he won’t do it again.

Mr. Henry has already shown that he doesn’t see how what he said was offensive. Further, his apology is a non-apology. He definitely hasn’t "gotten it".

So, yes, I’m glad the complaints were upheld, but frankly, it feels very much like just a political move to appease people. Doesn’t appear heartfelt at all.

And then, there’s the comments from readers. I don’t know whether to be saddened, discouraged or upset by the majority of the comments that are basically saying the whole affair has been the "PC brigade" gone mad. Perhaps it is no wonder at all that Paul Henry’s apology wasn’t such an apology, and that TVNZ isn’t doing much more than "upholding the complaint" – it appears there are too many people in New Zealand who don’t think that using that kind of language is offensive, belittling and discriminatory.

One thought on “Complaint Upheld Against Paul Henry, So What?

  1. you said it all! people try and wriggle out of this like a fish on a hook but they got caught and ought to apologize and swear they won’t use the word again. Besides, who is laughing when the word is said? Next time you hear it, respond with stony silence.

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