Today I lodged a complaint with Air New Zealand today regarding the adoption of controversial media wench Paul Henry as a personality in one of their lauded air safety videos.
Paul Henry found himself amidst controversy in New Zealand regarding comments he made on air about the ethnicity of the then Governor General of New Zealand, Mr Anand Satyanand, to the Prime Minister John Keys. This was not an isolated incident involving Mr Henry who had earned a reputation for making derogatory remarks about individuals targetting their their physical appearance, ethnic origin anything that distinguished them from the "norm" (which in analysing Mr Henry's "hate speak" is anyone who is not white, male & middle class). His final comments caused his overdue resignation from the public broadcasting position he held after mocking an Indian Olympic official's pronounciation of her name.
At the time commentators carefully shied away from referring to Mr Henry as a "racist". As if there are grades of acceptability. The public interest test applied to retaining him on air related to his freedom of speech, not the societal impact of his behaviour. Interestingly the response among the general mass prepared to articulate their views was the defence of free speech and targetting the 'Leftist ideals' of the government (a centre-right goverment). The rednecks came out to play and they loved the attention they got.
The latest appearance is Mr Henry used in an air safety video for the country's national carrier. The same carrier that sought and received an unprecedented $885m bail out from the public purse in 2001. Targetting Air New Zealand may seem unfair as there is no shortage of media outlets attempting to get Mr Henry's attention. The mediocre broadcaster is apparently the hottest ticket item for flailing media outlets seeking to up ratings with the ever present controversy that surrounds people of Mr Henry's ilk. Nonetheless, Air New Zealand wants me to fly them. They want my membership. They want me to choose them over another airline. They stayed afloat on taxes I paid.
Why do I feel so strongly about this? Growing up in New Zealand I experienced many racial taunts and discrimination on the basis of my ethnicity. It didn't end at childhood. By Mr Henry's definition I am not a NZer - I have the exact same ethnic background as Mr Satyanand and was born in New Zealand. Even as a child, no adult within my sphere (school, girl guides etc) ever corrected the perpetrator of these remarks, offered me protection or reassurance. In my teens I was physically attacked by someone because my ethnicity. It went unreported. The police showed up because the individual returned with a knife to use against me. Because I was a "nargi b...ch". Indians had a reputation of not "rocking the boat". We suffered in silence.
What's changed? My 9 year old nephew is now experiencing the exact same racial taunts that I did and I will be damned if I don't get involved and make an effort to stamp out this insidious bullying. The mercantile classes feared constant attacks on their person and property. Not much has changed evidently. Racial violence is still prevalent in NZ. I know the price I paid when no one helped me and I know how quickly this type of mentality can escalate, even into criminal behaviour. I for one, am no longer silent on this subject.
My complaint (because I doubt I will get a response from Air New Zealand)
Air New Zealand's decision to adopt Paul Henry as a face of their air safety campaign leaves me in no doubt that I will be cancelling airpoints membership and resolving to use its competitors in future. By choosing no doubt at the advice of an overpaid agency that a controversial "d-list celebrity" would be great for business fails to take into account the bail out the NZ public gave this supposed 'national' carrier. Perhaps Air NZ would like to investigate some statistics on the ethnic background of tax paying individuals in NZ before adopting such a cavalier approach to its advertising. And yes the attempt to create viral campaigns is nothing more than a brief to raise brand awareness/recognition - that's advertising. Such a shame when the media leads with a much-endeared character like Richard Simmons. The conduct is insidious and insenstive. Thankfully the flying public has a choice. Will certainly campaign against any future public assistance for this airline and no doubt given the current economic climate this is inevitable.
Here is the video - enjoy it - it is clever, it is funny. It just happens to include someone unrepentant about the type of hatred he peddles. Someone that the airline are more than happy to pay for his services. I was excited to see Richard Simmons myself.