Indian community leaders have been unanimous in their condemnation of TVNZ Breakfast host Paul Henry’s comments about Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand in the course of an on air interview with Prime Minister John Key yesterday morning.

During the regular Monday morning interview with the prime minister, Mr Henry asked who would replace Sir Anand with when his five-year term concludes later this year and questioned, "Is he even a New Zealander?"
When Mr Key replied in the affirmative, Mr Henry asked if he would “choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time... Are we going to go for someone who is more like a New Zealander this time?"

The conversation has outraged large sections of New Zealanders who have already complained to TVNZ and the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Speaking to Indian Weekender from Cambridge, New Zealand Indian Central Association President Paul Singh Bains said, “[Paul Henry’s] arrogance is just too excessive. The man needs to move on. His comment is so out of place with what a vibrant, multicultural, multiethnic society like New Zealand is today.

“It is insulting to question if Sir Anand is a New Zealander. He is more a New Zealander than many others – and the Queen appointed him at the recommendation of the government. He is humble, honourable, and does New Zealand proud.

“I think Henry has been on a trip belittling India and Indians since the run up to the Commonwealth Games. His comments have been out of proportion and twisting names to make extract laughs is cheap and humour of a very low level, if you can even call it that.” (Mr Bains was referring to Mr henry’s earlier comments on Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dixit).

“These kind of comments should not be tolerated. Just what is meant by ‘some people don’t look like New Zealanders’? Some of us Indians have been living in this country for over 100 years. My family has been here since 1918. This is deeply disappointing and disgusting.”

Mr Bains also said the prime minister should give this serious thought since he was part of the conversation. He felt he should have countered Mr Henry while on air.

Auckland Indian Association President and NZICA vice president Harshad Patel said, “This is totally unacceptable. There has to be a complaint to the broadcasting authority and other concerned authorities. This comment was patently racist and extremely insulting. I think it was not right on the part of the prime minister to just seem to tag along without reacting strongly to the comment. He was on air – right in front of the whole nation and he it seemed either he did not see the seriousness of the comment there and then or simply ignored it then. He must clarify.”

Whau Board candidate Ann Nisha Pala agreed the prime minister could have responded more strongly as soon as he heard the “insulting comments.”

“As a journalist, I think Henry’s job is to openly air opinions and make people react to them, which is what he tried to do and later apologised. But I was surprised the prime minister said nothing at the time. He should have stopped him in his tracks. The country was watching. Mr Key should have come out far more forcefully right there. Commenting several hours later was good but not good enough.”

National Party Member of Parliament Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi defended Mr Key saying he was totally taken off guard by the comments but said that he clarified “in detail” after the cabinet meeting several hours later. Mr Bakshi however said the comments were out of place and should not have been made on air. Asked if he would pursue matter, he said he would discuss it later with the community and his colleagues.

Former NZICA general secretary Veer Khar said, “I pity him for his lack of knowledge. Some 200 ethnic communities call themselves Kiwi. Some people take time to understand such matters and Paul Henry is one of them. There are still less intelligent people and he is one of them. But Prime Minister John Key can’t just smile and pass it as a joke as he seemed to do on screen. I expected more than that.

“This country is truly a melting pot… Maori came in waka, the Europeans came in ships and the third wave of migrants from Asia came in planes. We are all kiwis. If this much cannot be understood, then there is a serious problem. If he apologises sincerely, he will be forgiven. He is in the media business. He has to do it all the time to stay in the limelight I suppose. But this was going too far.”

Mr Henry later in the day apologised to Sir Anand but several people were not impressed by the manner in which he did it.

Green Party human rights spokesman Keith Locke was quoted in the New Zeal;and Herald as saying Mr Henry's apology "falls well short of the mark. He has not recognised that his comments were deeply insulting. It was not good enough for him to simply say he regrets it 'if my comments have personally offended Sir Anand'.

"Mr Henry needs to apologise to all those who he as demeaned as not being true New Zealanders – firstly all people of Indian descent, and then all other ethnicities he holds don't 'look' like New Zealanders. "Television New Zealand cannot sidestep this one, as it has done so far," he said.

The Governor General is in India attending the Comomwealth Games. His office said it did not want to dignify Mr Henry's comments by responding to them.