Saturday, September 4, 2010

Workers are human too

In view of my criticism of the New Zealand Herald for
milking cheap emotion out of the Auckland hospital
radiographers’ strike it’s only fair to record that two
days later the paper belatedly published a report
explaining precisely why the workers were planning to
strike, backgrounding the issue and interviewing a
radiographer who said how distressed she and her
colleagues felt about the effect the strike would have
on patients and people expecting surgery. ‘To come to
a decision to go on strike takes huge emotional effort,’
she is quoted as saying. As I said, these decisions are
never made lightly where public services are involved.

Significantly, this story was written by regular health
roundsman Martin Johnston, whereas the tear-jerking
front-page lead wasn’t. The Herald should have run it
up front right at the outset.

Little slack can be cut, however, for TV1 and TV3, both
of which ran reports about the strike last night, and
both of which went unerringly for the ‘human’ angle of
the patients who would suffer because of it. Both Garth
Bray (TV1) and Melissa Davies (TV3) focused on the
problems the strike was causing, which is fair enough
up to a point but, reported in isolation, carries the
inescapable message that the people doing the striking
are heartless bastards. Both gave airtime to the head of
the health board but neither deigned to put the strikers’
side of the argument. Davies said she’d tried in vain to
contact the union but that was just to get a reaction to
the case of guess who? the same family featured on the
front page of the Herald on 31 August.

A cynic would be strongly tempted in this case to modify
the old media saw ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ to ‘If it weeps, it
keeps.’ Neither reporter necessarily set out to
deliberately cast the striking workers in a negative light
but that's what happens when you take the easy option
and tell your story simplistically and one-sidedly. You
want a 'human' angle? Workers are human too. The
radiographers in Christchurch instantly called off their
strike there because of this morning's earthquake.

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