Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No violin unscraped

Like Brian Edwards, my heart sank when I saw the front-
page lead in today’s New Zealand Herald: there’s only
one term for this kind of journalism and it’s ‘cheap shot.’
For the record, under the tear-jerking banner headline
STRIKERS’ HELPLESS VICTIMS, the Herald chose to angle
its report of the strike by Auckland radiography and
hospital laboratory workers this way:

The parents of a baby girl are devastated after being
told long-awaited surgery to help her to eat without
a tube has been postponed because of hospital strikes.

Seventeen-month-old Rebecca Jones has cerebral
palsy and was to have two surgical procedures this
Thursday to ease constant pain and sickness, and
help her take solid food.

What I am about to say has nothing to do with this little
girl’s particular situation. Who among us would not feel
the parents’ distress and identify with it? But by the
Herald’s own account, the strike has forced the
cancellation of 500 operations and among them there
would undoubtedly be other cases of personal distress.
This case, involving a little girl in pain, was clearly
singled out for the front-page story in order to make the
point that the strikers are real shits who should feel
guilty as hell. Note, however, that all the cancelled
operations were for elective surgery (a fact buried deep
down in the story); in other words, many patients were
waiting for operations before this strike came along and
many would still be waiting if it hadn’t happened at all.

Not only does the Herald bias its report against the
workers from the outset, it makes no attempt, as
Edwards correctly notes, to explain, analyse or even
report in any substantive way the reason for the strike
and the case made for it by the workers involved. This is
all too common in reports of industrial action. In one of
my Nine to Noon media comments last year I criticized
the Herald for angling its coverage of a strike by airline
cabin staff on (of course) the disruption to flights and
travel plans. The implication of this kind of reporting is
that workers in public-service industries should never
strike, because it will always be inconvenient or
upsetting for someone. Perhaps the Herald would be
kind enough to advise them of a suitable time, if indeed it
can bring itself to perceive that sometimes the breakdown
of wage negotiations leaves workers with no other option.

I think we can safely say that the radiographers and lab
workers would not have taken this action lightly. To
suggest otherwise, as everything about the Herald's
story suggests—indeed, screams—is to imply that they're
a pack of heartless bastards, when in fact they spend
their days taking care of more people's health than the
entire editorial staff of the Herald ever do.

The Herald is by no means the only offender in this
regard, though, and I repeat, as I said on air today, that
it's still a paper that publishes a great deal of excellent
journalism—which makes it doubly disappointing that
it should resort to violin-scraping on the front page.

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