Paul Henry is not the real villain

So Paul Henry has quit. Big deal. His resignation (if indeed that was what happened) simply disguises the real issues involved here.

While some commentators have made much of the Henry ability to make embarrassing gaffes or to just to be embarrassing or gauche or rude or some combination of those, others have accused him of racism and worst. To be fair he has his defenders and that included his employer - at least until Sunday.

To my mind the real issue is not what he said, but the way in which he was licensed to say whatever he wanted.

This was a licence given by his employer to be controversial, to draw attention to himself, and his show and thereby to encourage people to watch by being shocking, offensive, off the wall, outside the square and a lot of other clichés which defend the unorthodox.

There is nothing wrong with being unorthodox; far from it, and I certainly do not want to defend or demand some kind of monolithic cultural conformity.

But the difficultly I have always had with Henry is not in what he has said - appalling though some of his comments have been.

What has always appalled me is that this was a deliberate ploy, a calculated strategy of TVNZ to attract viewers, and in that sense Henry was simply a willing pawn. A well paid, celebrity and popular pawn, but a pawn nonetheless.

Just in the same way as Paul Holmes was a substitute for intelligent high brow current affairs. Both Holmes and Henry were the tools of deliberate marketing strategies in which revenue not information, ratings not viewer enlightenment were the driving forces.

This is what you get from commercially driven television. It doesn't have to be like that, although too often it is.

In a famous quotation, Lord Reith who pioneered popular television in the UK, said that the BBC should find out what the viewer wants and given them something better.

Under a succession of leaders in TVNZ, the approach has been to find out what the viewers want and make them wallow in it.

In my view that is simply despicable. If there is no public service ethos left in TVNZ, if it simply to be a commercial broadcaster (and to display the worst aspects of that culture) then there are only two options for the government as owner.

One is to sell it because the broadcaster clearly has no social value. Alternatively to change its mandate so that it does fulfil a social purpose, and to put people on the board (and in management) who understand and will deliver to that brief.

Right now it is a disgrace; not because Paul Henry is a disgrace - that's a given - but because the people in charge sanctioned, licensed and encouraged him to be himself. His downfall is necessary, but the people who fostered him are the ones who are the moral bankrupts. And nothing will change until they are dismissed.