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New Zealand Apologizes to India Over Dikshit Remarks

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Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit
Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit. Photographer: Matt King/Getty Images

Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) -- New Zealand has apologized to India’s External Affairs ministry over comments made by Television New Zealand presenter Paul Henry about the chief minister of Delhi, where the Commonwealth Games are being held.

India complained about offensive remarks from Henry on the state-owned broadcaster’s Breakfast program, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said in an e-mailed statement today. The protest was lodged after Henry made comments about the pronunciation of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s name, the Dominion Post newspaper reported. The correct pronunciation is ‘DIKS-it’.

“The actions of Mr. Henry in this case can only be described as gratuitous and insulting,” McCully said. “It is always regrettable when a prominent individual abuses the freedom of expression, which is one of our basic rights, to cause offence to others.”

India called in New Zealand’s High Commissioner and conveyed to him that it “strongly and unequivocally” denounced Henry’s remarks, the External Affairs ministry said in a statement yesterday.

“It is shocking that such bigoted views have been aired by a representative of a mainstream media organization of a multi-ethnic democracy like New Zealand,” the ministry said. The remarks were “totally unacceptable to India and should be condemned by all right thinking people and nations.”

Suspended Without Pay

McCully confirmed that High Commissioner Rupert Holborow has apologized for the remarks. Henry was suspended without pay for two weeks on Oct. 5 over a separate and later incident in which he asked Prime Minister John Key whether the country’s next governor-general would be someone who “looks and sounds like a New Zealander,” in reference to current Governor-General Anand Satyanand’s Fiji-Indian heritage.

New Zealand’s apology “will sound hollow” if Henry resumes his presenting position, Keith Locke, human rights spokesman for the Green Party, said in a statement. Henry’s “racist comments have no place on New Zealand’s flagship morning news and current affairs show,” he said.

Television New Zealand has statutory independence from the government and any action against Henry is entirely a matter for the company, or for the Broadcasting Standards Authority should a complaint reach that body, McCully said.

Television New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Rick Ellis said that Henry’s remarks about Satyanand were inappropriate for anyone in the company to make.

“He is a provocative host who speaks his mind and that is what many New Zealanders like about him,” Ellis said in a statement on Oct. 5.

To contact the reporter for this story: Phoebe Sedgman in Wellington at psedgman1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Iain Wilson iwilson2@bloomberg.net

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