TV host accused of racist jibe at Indian minister

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A diplomatic spat erupted after a popular New Zealand television host intentionally mispronounced the name of Delhi's Chief Minister and made an allegedly racist remark about Indians. The Indian authorities summoned New Zealand's high commissioner in Delhi to protest after the anchor, Paul Henry, repeatedly mispronounced Sheila Dikshit's surname and said her name was appropriate because she was Indian. Mrs Dikshit was frequently in the news during the run-up to the Commonwealth Games.

Henry was told by a co-host that the Chief Minister's name is actually pronounced "Dixit" but he persisted with his comments. Such was the sense of outrage in India that officials declined to attend a lunch hosted by the New Zealand high commission. Rupert Holborow, the high commissioner, was handed a démarche, or formal protest, stating that the Indian government "strongly and unequivocally denounces the racist remarks of the journalist in question".

The commission later issued a statement saying Henry's comments were "culturally insensitive, inappropriate and vulgar". It added: "They reflect the views of only one media commentator (who has already been censured for other racist and unacceptable comments), and certainly not the New Zealand government or its people." This is the second time that Henry, who works for the state-owned TVNZ channel, has been at the centre of controversy. Earlier in the week, he was reportedly reprimanded after he questioned the credentials of Governor-General Anand Satyanand, who was born in Auckland to Indo-Fijian parents. "Is he even a New Zealander?" he had asked New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key, in an interview. "Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time?"

There are more than 100,000 New Zealanders of Indian ethnic origin, making up almost 3 per cent of the population – the second largest immigrant group from Asia, after Chinese.

It was unclear last night what the future holds for Henry, who in 1999 failed in a bid to win a seat in New Zealand's parliament when he was beaten by the country's first openly transsexual politician. He has been suspended from his job for the remark about the country's Governor-General while an inquiry is carried out, and TVNZ has removed the video of the interview from its website.

Henry has apologised for his remarks about Mr Satyanand but has yet to apologise to Mrs Dikshit.