TVNZ has made an embarrassing back-flip over remarks made by Paul Henry about New Zealand's Governor-General, suspending the Breakfast co-host and declaring that Henry's on-air comments had been "unacceptable".
Henry attracted widespread condemnation from politicians and a range of public figures yesterday after he questioned whether Sir Anand Satyanand was "even a New Zealander" and told Prime Minister John Key that the next Governor-General should be "a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander".
Henry has been suspended without pay, effective immediately. TVNZ said that he would return on Monday 18 October.
But TVNZ's move this morning to suspend Henry represented a marked contrast to how it reacted yesterday. TVNZ's first response was to launch a vigorous defence of Henry, saying that "he's prepared to say the things we quietly think but are scared to say out loud". That statement was consistent with how it has reacted to previous controversies surrounding Henry's conduct.
The first sign of a change in stance came several hours later, when TVNZ issued a belated apology from Paul Henry and refused to say whether it stood by the earlier statement.
That reticence became a humiliating U-turn this morning, raising questions about TVNZ's judgement in enthusiastically backing Henry just 24 hours earlier. The broadcaster's chief executive, Rick Ellis, now describes the comments as "unacceptable".
"I have met with Paul and told him that while his apologies were the right thing to do and that I believe he is sincere in his regret, I still consider his remarks unacceptable for any employee of TVNZ to make," Ellis said.
"He is a provocative host who speaks his mind and that is what many New Zealanders like about him. He often pushes the boundaries and that’s important in a country that values freedom of speech. But I consider his latest remarks to have well and truly crossed that line."
The prime minister welcomed TVNZ's decision, saying this afternoon that it was "the right course of action".
"I think they are sending a message and that message is quite clearly that Paul Henry was over the line," Mr Key said.
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