Monday, 28 February 2011

we're all in this together

i think most of us have been glued to the television and/or radio, as well as following print media over the last week, as we are desperate for news on the christchurch earthquake. we want to know what's happened, how we can help, what help is already being provided, and how people are coping. the media stories shape our understanding of the event, in the way they present the information to us. what is left in, what is missed out; what is highlighted and what is forgotten; these impact the way we see the event and the players involved.

the horror and sadness affected us all. media stories covered the devastation and loss, but also the tales of heroism, the stories of those waiting to hear about loved ones who were missing, and stories about those who pulled up their sleeves and worked in a variety of ways.

by the fourth day of coverage, i noticed a distinct bias in the coverage - or rather, in the type of people being covered. aside from the politicians and public servants (by which i include civil defence staff, police, army, DHB chief exec etc), there were the stories of individuals. and those individuals, with one major exception which i'll mention later, were white and mostly middle class.

whether it was those who were pulled out of collapsed buildings, people who were interviewed about their experiences, those who were struggling to survive, those who were offering help, almost all the people selected to share their stories were white and middle class. it's hard to say whether the bias was in-built and un-noticed, or whether it was a deliberate strategy because stories of these types of people are received better by audiences.

but it's not like there weren't other stories to be told. it's not like there weren't other groups who had suffered, who had been heroic and who had pulled their sleeves up to help out their neighbours. i can't say that i watched every bit of coverage all the time, but i did watch and listen to a reasonable amount. and in that time, i did not see coverage of maraes and the effort being put in by the maori community to support the homeless. i didn't see what happened to the mosque, to temples or other places of worship. perhaps none were damaged, but it would have been nice to have some basic coverage of that. i didn't see what was happening with the refugee community.

i heard about price-gouging by some dairies (and let's not forget our cultural expectation that dairy owners will be asian) but would have loved to see some in-depth stories told about the heaps of other dairy owners who weren't, many of whom were doing their best to ensure their communties had adequate supplies of basic necessities.

as i mentioned above, there was one major exception, being the international students studying in the CTV building, and the search and rescue teams from taiwan and japan. of the latter, there was nowhere near as much coverage as we got of the aussies and the americans. language might have been a problem, but i'm sure there were a significant number in the asian teams who spoke good english. while there were some brief interviews with the asian crews, they didn't have reporters following them into buildings or building that audience rapport with them in the way that we got stories of western crews.

but more than that, because the coverage of non-white faces was mostly limited to foreigners, it embedded the notion that white faces are local and non-white faces are foreign. that selective lens that focused on white people for the stories of local residents served to embed the notion of what a nz'er looks and sounds like. it shapes our collective understanding, in a very subtle and subconscious way, when we grieve with and identify with one particular representation of nz'ers to the exclusion of others. aside from being unjust, it's really unhelpful in building that community spirit that is so necessary for long-term survival.

so that was last week. this week is looking better. the sunday star times had a story of a pacific islander who had saved someone's life by shifting some heavy rubble (sorry, can't find it online just now), as well as revisiting the story of young myro mckee, who they had featured as part of their coverage of the september earthquake. today the dominion post covered a refugee family and the effect of the earthquake on refugees. during the midday news, radio nz had some coverage of work being done by the maori community. we're seeing tv crews go into the poorer areas of the city, and cover families that are living in very overcrowded conditions (again, can't find the link).

this may seem a trivial point to raise in the midst of so much destruction and hurt. it's important to me, because who is covered is who we identify with and who we want to help. it's important because every community has suffered, and we all need to hear and see the various different types of nz'ers that make up this country. it's a matter of justice, and a matter of bonding and togetherness. if we really want to develop the feeling that we're all in this together, then we have to make sure that create an environment where everyone feels that they belong.

No comments: