NZealand FM seeks to defuse Indian anger over TV race row

The presenter, Paul Henry, mocked the name of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and added "it's so appropriate because she's Indian", prompting condemnation of the "racist" and "unacceptable" comments from Indian officials.

Responding to a formal complaint lodged with Wellington's envoy in New Delhi, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said Henry's remarks were a regrettable abuse of freedom of speech.

McCully said he would contact the Indian government to assure it "the comments were the actions of one person, made in a country in which freedom of speech is an important foundation principle".

While the presenter made the remarks on state-owned television station TVNZ, McCully said he wanted to make it clear to India that under New Zealand law the broadcaster operated independently of government.

"Any action against Mr Henry is entirely a matter for the company, or for the Broadcasting Standards Authority," the foreign minister said in a statement.
McCully backed an apology High Commissioner Rupert Holborow issued yesterday after being summoned to India's foreign ministry, adding: "The actions of Mr Henry in this case can only be described as gratuitous and insulting."

In his apology, Holborow said Henry's comments were "culturally insensitive, inappropriate and vulgar" and did not represent the view of the New Zealand people.
The New Zealand Commonwealth Games team's chef de mission, Dave Currie, said Henry's remarks were extraordinarily disappointing.

Currie told Radio NZ he did not know if New Zealand's athletes would suffer a backlash from crowds in Delhi over the controversy, which was an unwelcome distraction as they tried to concentrate on sport.

Henry originally made his remarks about Dikshit last Friday but they passed largely unnoticed until TVNZ included the footage in its website's highlights section. Since then, it has been viewed more than 300,000 times on youtube.com.
Henry is already serving a two-week suspension over comments on Monday questioning whether Governor General Anand Satyanand, who was born in Auckland to Indo-Fijian parents, was a proper New Zealander.

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