I have to disagree with my friend Wallace, who claims that Paul Henry is defensible in terms of freedom of speech. Paul Henry has not been locked up, beaten or gagged. He’s lost his job. He lost his job by behaving in a way that would cause me to lose my job, if I said similarly offensive things in the execution of my job. I expect that most New Zealanders would be in a position to be given verbal warnings, written warnings and dismissal if they were similarly offensive.

If Henry had told a Fijian-Indian coworker that they “didn’t look like a New Zealander” and then repeatedly pressed the point, there would have been consequences. If he had mocked the facial hair of a female coworker, there would have been consequences. If he had, bizarrely, told an Indian coworker that her name should be “Dick-in-Shit” because she’s Indian, there would have been consequences.

If TVNZ’s response had been based on these principles of conduct, he would have been given a verbal warning, written warning and dismissal in due course. Instead, they acted as little as possible at each step, with Henry only resigning because of public pressure, not due to simple breaches of acceptable conduct.

Paul Henry can continue to express his bigotry as much as he like, and he will not be arrested.

If you are employed to gather elderly extras together for a big film shoot, you can be fired for producing a collection of young-20s nudists. That’s not a breach of freedom of assembly; you just weren’t doing your job right.

Take your pick

There’s an ad for TVNZ OnDemand at the moment that goes something like this:

“On your deathbed, what kind of life do you want to remember? How about one where you’re surrounded by beautiful people, everyone listens to what you have to say, and you’re constantly entertained by wonderful things? That’s not going to happen, though, idiot. Your life is stupid. If you want fond memories on your deathbed, watch lots of television.”

Now, I am the last person in the world who’d think that there isn’t at least some kind of ecstasy offered by dissolution in a constant stream of television. Anyone who has spent more than 30 seconds talking to me will be aware of my tiresome tendency to relate just about everything back to something like a Mitchell & Webb sketch or an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But this TVNZ OnDemand advertisement is like a wake-up call demanding that its viewers radically re-evaluate their priorities.

I’m not quite sure what the marketing team can be thinking. Maybe they’re so completely on-board with their product that they sincerely believe that a life of watching their programming is preferable to anything in most people’s real lives. Maybe the notion that television is preferable to real life is so commonplace that the ad was written without any thought to the implications at all.

Yet I can’t help but think that at least some viewers will see that ad, hear the question – “What kind of life do you want to look back on?” – and answer by turning the TV off entirely.