Paul Henry's 'retard' fallout continues

22:27, Nov 30 2009
Special Olympics New Zealand has weighed into the controversy caused by Paul Henry and his comments about Susan Boyle.
WAR OF WORDS: Special Olympics New Zealand has weighed into the controversy caused by Paul Henry and his comments about Susan Boyle.

Special Olympics New Zealand has weighed into the controversy caused by Paul Henry and his comments about Susan Boyle, saying the term "retarded" is as offensive as a racial slur like "nigger".

The organisation had asked the Broadcasting Standards Authority to ensure using "the R word" was unacceptable after the TV One Breakfast host called Scottish singer Susan Boyle "retarded".

On last Monday's show, Henry laughed while reading from a magazine article about how the Britain's Got Talent singer was starved of oxygen at birth and suffered an intellectual disability.

"Here's the really interesting revelation: she is in fact retarded ... And if you look at her carefully, you can make it out," he said.

Special Olympics New Zealand chairman David Rutherford said using "retard" to describe intellectually disabled people was as hurtful as racial slurs like "nigger" and "kike".

Mr Rutherford said Special Olympics New Zealand had requested a review of the application of broadcasting standards to ensure that the use of "retard" was regarded as unacceptable.

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"Central to our thinking has been the consideration of people with intellectual disability. Most people with intellectual disability would find it very difficult to defend themselves in the medium of television."

Henry's comments have made it to Hollywood, with celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton directing his Twitter followers to an American news story on the Henry's comments.

Hilton, whose perezhilton.com website received millions of views per day, tweeted: "Susan Boyle in the middle of 'retarded' controversy", with a link to a story on Irish-American website Irish Central - sharing the story with more than 1.5 million Twitter followers.

Irish Central quoted Henry as saying his comments were made in a light-hearted fashion.

He said he had done nothing wrong and that it was okay to use the word retarded in relation to people with intellectual disabilities.

IHC New Zealand spokeswoman Philippa Sellens said last week Henry's comments were "highly offensive".

"It was in extremely bad taste to use his position as a broadcaster to 'entertain' by mocking a sector of the community that has difficulty speaking up for themselves."

IHC had had "a massive response" and was encouraging the public to complain to TVNZ and the Human Rights Commission.

The Human Rights Commission was unable to confirm how many complaints had been received.

TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards said she was unable to comment on the complaints as they were "going through the usual process".

Henry defended his comments over the weekend, saying criticism was "water off a duck's back".

"The only reason I'm particularly interested in this – I've never spoken this much about a complaint before – is because I've been aware before with certain things that I've said that certain interest groups have got together and sort of encouraged people to complain, but I think when it's an organisation like IHC it is actually quite different.

"There's a question of free speech here. At the end of the day if I am not breaking rules – and I don't go out to do that – I'm just saying what's on my mind, what I think. I'm trying to be entertaining, or trying to be informative, but I'm not checking myself all the time as most people do."

Asked whether he had been rapped over the knuckles by TVNZ, Henry said: "It's very early days. I'm assuming an official complaints procedure has started.

Watch footage of the incident below:

NZPA