Henry’s a tough act to follow

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Prime Minister John Key was surely being overly optimistic last week when he suggested the resignation of Breakfast host Paul Henry, following a string of bigoted remarks targeting the Indian community, would bring about closure to the recent unpleasantries. 

Henry’s move to fall on his sword after causing a diplomatic incident involving India and New Zealand may have moved the spotlight away from Key’s initial complicity in the controversy, but it certainly hasn’t answered some of the biggest questions to be posed. 

Most pressing is the issue of who will replace Henry on the advertising-rich morning show. To say he’ll be a hard act to follow is to understate his impact; Henry had an enormous following. 

Love him or hate him, his replacement will almost certainly be on a hiding to nothing. 

Currently being filled by stand-ins Rawdon Christie and Greg Boyed, the role has been tipped to suit anyone from former Radio New Zealand Morning Report announcer Sean Plunket, to US correspondent Tim Wilson and the less experienced Jack Tame, who’s previously filled in for Henry. 

Then there’s the question of what Henry will do next. Stubborn and seemingly borderline narcissistic, there is no question that he’ll want to continue to spout his divisive mantra, just as soon as he can find a broadcasting vehicle more suited to his particular bent. 

There have been suggestions that he could accept a shock-jock role at any number of radio stations, although it’s hard to imagine Henry having the same impact in a purely audio form – on the small screen it was often his body-language and facial expressions that carried the day. 

Similarly strong are calls for TV3 to seize the opportunity to snatch one of the country’s most talented broadcasters from under TVNZ noses. It’s possible, but again you have to wonder if the Paul Henry brand is now completely incompatible with that of the Mediaworks’ channel. 

The other aspect of the debate that’s nowhere near closure is the issue of what a television or radio host can or cannot say in public. Thousands of Henry supporters somehow conspired to view his downfall as an attack on freedom of speech, as if it meant big brother was now listening to everything we say. 

It’s a point that certainly needs clearing up. Freedom of speech has never sought to offer freedom from the consequences of speech. Yes, it might mean you can say what you like but it doesn’t stop others from judging those comments or choosing to distance themselves from them. That would be a breach of their rights, after all. 

Carol Thatcher, daughter of the former British Prime Minister, was sacked as a BBC presenter after making a racist remark off-air earlier in the year. Only last month Rick Sanchez was sacked as a CNN anchor after commenting, during his own book-launch, that the US media was “run” by Jews. 

This pair, like Henry, had the right to say what they liked, but no immunity from the consequences. That’s the price of living in a free world.