What now? The children's hour or breakfast news, asks Diana Wichtel
In an inexplicable triumph of hope over experience, I still turn to the media to make sense of confusing times. I do this even when all I get in return is The AM Show's Ryan Bridge sitting against a backdrop featuring the Sky Tower and a pair of jandals, busy subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.
Post a Newshub-Reid poll, Bridge's interview with Jacinda Ardern - "Mōrena … Why do you think people don't like you as much?" – was like a segment of some weekend morning kids' show called What the %$*! Now? A poll showed people don't fully understand the impending Traffic Light Covid-19 Protection Framework, Bridge said. He asked the PM what he seemed to think were trick questions about how it will work. She knew the answers, so she didn't get covered in gunge. Or at least only metaphorically.
Without another gotcha tactic up his sleeve, Bridge was reduced to feigning – I think he was feigning - potentially career-limiting levels of incomprehension of everything Ardern said. Having noted himself a minute earlier that Auckland would go to Red, he said, "We'd go in at Green, wouldn't we?" Ardern: "No. We've been saying since October …" Bridge: "So wait! Is Auckland going to Orange?" Ardern: "Ryan. As I've said, multiple times, including in this interview …" For an excruciating 12 minutes 25 seconds we were trapped on a Bridge to nowhere.
Meanwhile, on RNZ Mediawatch, journalist Hayden Donnell addressed a related maddening media matter: the hole in the vaccine mandates coverage where some context should be. Many unvaccinated teachers and healthcare workers had been interviewed. "Best estimates say it's about 1 per cent of the education workforce and 1.5 per cent of the DHB workforce so if that's right Stuff must have profiled about half of them by now," noted Donnell. Often there's been little or no reporting on the reasons for the mandates. "Nurses who work with sick and immunocompromised - those people's rights should be mentioned," Donnell said. "After all, they are the entire reason this is happening and it's weird to me that they are often invisible and unmentioned."
At an Auckland anti-lockdown, anti-mandate rally, Newshub interviewed a teacher who had chosen not to be vaccinated. She spoke of "people who want to care for people and now they're not allowed to". The reporter could have asked, "What about the rights of vulnerable children not to be put at additional risk by unvaccinated teachers?" I would like to have heard the teacher's answer.
The question arose as to whether vaccine and mandate protesters should be given a platform at all. It's not a matter of whether to interview – they have a right to be heard - but how they are interviewed. Competing rights is a difficult conversation. Especially now, when it's a matter of life and death, media has a responsibility to make sure we have that conversation.
News thrives on conflict. More heartening stories, such as those about gangs working to take vaccines to hard-to-reach areas, tend to run later in the bulletin. There was a lovely Newshub piece about an East Coast vaccine drive using aircraft with the names of soldiers from the Māori Battalion to reach the descendants of those men. This one moved Leighton Heikell to reporter poetry: "The wairua of men who fought before brought in to join a fight once more." These stories present a less distorted picture of the cohesion of a country that is, after all, heading for a 90 per cent-plus vaccination rate.
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For all the complaining about them, our leaders are endlessly available to the media, reasonably coherent and don't address the nation, as Boris Johnson is given to, with car noises – "vroom, vroom" - and such proclamations as, "Yesterday I went, as we all must, to Peppa Pig World." So, there's really no excuse for context-light reporting or for, like Boris or Bridge, sowing confusion for fun or something. Auckland enters Red on December 3, Ryan. Red. All going well.
Next week: Steve Braunias