Fighting battle when it is right

By Andrew Bonallack

2 comments
Waste bins at supermarkets are sometimes targets for people with little money to buy food with.
Waste bins at supermarkets are sometimes targets for people with little money to buy food with.

Another missive, mired in calamities and disasters, comes across my desk. It's three pages long. It's strewn through with hopeless anger and numerous injustices. Our local social advocate thinks it could be of interest.

The Times-Age has involved itself in several "social justice" cases with some reasonable success. By "success", I mean we have either achieved an outcome of sorts, or we have confronted the public with the uncomfortable truth that there are significant social issues, and inequities, within our community.

Good examples of these are the "dumpster diving" story, excessive power bills and people struggling to feed their families on a benefit. It is the right and the responsibility of a newspaper to confront the public with these issues.

Just recently, we had a personal visit from a Ministry of Social Welfare commissioner and her communications person, keen to have a "catch-up". That's certainly come about because the newspaper has been proactive in defending people.

We've been asking difficult questions, on their behalf.

However, people have different perceptions on what the threshold is when a newspaper should get involved. Because the thing is, everyone gets angry about something. If you're on a benefit, if you're struggling to feed your children, your anger, despair and sense of injustice could be a nearly full-time thing.

We can do stories that represent this social rift, and use people as examples, but we can't solve a catalogue of woes, especially if the origins of those woes are your own fault. The newspaper can print stories saying, why, oh why, do we have poverty. Poverty exists. So does the "cycle of violence" among families. But we can't fix you or save you. It is quite possible that you're doing the best you can and need help. It is also quite possible you're a bit of a screw-up and overflowing with self-righteous indignation at the system.

The threshold for media to get involved is varied, but honesty and moral responsibility are two biggies. If you measure up to those, and still end up hitting something that's basically wrong, that's when a paper gets interested.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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