What’s up with the housing stories, media?



What is up with our news media’s stories on housing issues? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person suspicious of the motives around the recent string of housing stories gone bad. In a country where we have an enormous amount of displaced families crying out for help, they seem to be picking out the ones that will get the biggest backlash from the right.

As a qualified journalist I am well aware of the amount of research and background work that should be done as part of writing these stories. And as someone who’s been on TV and in the paper with personal issues that were in the public interest I know the amount of background information I provided as evidence and the research they did before publication.

So what’s going on? Is the extra workload plonked on journalists due to lay-offs putting more pressure on and reducing the amount of research done? Are they only going with the stories that are brought to them and aren’t getting any truly sympathetic and genuine ones? I’m not sure I buy either of these excuses. It doesn’t take much time to use Google and check relevant registers. And one doesn’t have to search far on message boards to find desperate families, particularly in Christchurch and Auckland, who have contacted the media to ask for help, to no avail.

Instead, we are being served up a string of sympathetic on the surface stories around housing – particularly Housing NZ – that rapidly turn into train wrecks. There are two kinds – the homeless with less than sympathetic circumstances, and the displaced who are struggling with moving from their communities.

It’s like they know what the reaction will be, but print the stories anyway. Sure enough, out come the haters, who rip the families to shreds. I read the comments (and comments are always open on these stories, unlike most others) literally hearing nah nah ne nah nah from National and WhaleOil in my head – and I bet you do too. We have a new hybrid to bene-bashing – homeless-bashing.

On Saturday we woke up to the worst one yet, which really upped my suspicions – this story about a homeless family in Christchurch headlining the Stuff main page. And sure enough, the comment feature was open. It was a free-for-all. And sure enough, within minutes readers did what Fairfax didn’t and revealed the real background to the story. And anyone with any sympathy towards the situation (I have sympathy – for the kids) was suddenly supporting fraud, property damage, and rent arrears. Win-win to the bashers. Lose-lose for the homeless kids who are not to blame.

And sure enough, on Sunday, the real story came out. With no comment function. Such a surprise.

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This smacks of a planned Part A and Part B to me. On Saturday I found it very hard to believe that Press reporters don’t know that when one partner is working, and the other partner is on a benefit, that’s fraud. And sure enough, they had already been in touch with MSD regarding this. I had also found it very hard to believe that their reporters were incapable of using Google. Turns out they could, they just didn’t mention what they found.

So why, media? Why go ahead with this story if you knew the real background? Why frame it as a sympathy piece when you knew there would be no sympathy forthcoming – just more confirmation that (in particular) non-Pakeha beneficiaries are low-life, lying pieces of shit? When you found out things were not as they seemed – why not go to this couple, tell them you had found out the truth and give them a right of reply? Or explain to them how you can’t help them and that they should sort their criminal behaviour out, and then come knocking? That you were off to chase a more legitimate plea for help in your inbox?
Why not? Because doing that doesn’t fit the right-wing agenda – nor does it feed the trolls.
So now that they have been ‘outed’ for the ‘animal’ ‘scum’ they are – what now?

I do not condone benefit fraud. I do not condone trashing houses. I do not condone not paying the rent. I do not condone forcing your kids to sleep in a tent so you can get subsidised housing. None of this is ok.

However, this family, especially the kids, are fellow humans who, despite all of their parent’s bad decisions, need help. They need a roof over their head that isn’t a tarpaulin.
Now they are likely to lose their priority A status on the HNZ waiting list. And after the outing they’ve had, no landlord anywhere will ever provide them with a private rental. Instead of assisting these teens in gaining a roof over their head, the media have guaranteed that they will be homeless for much, much longer.

Should the parents be held responsible? Yes. The teenagers? They deserve a home. And I don’t envisage Fairfax doing anything to help them get one.


  1. Bene-bashing is fast becoming a national (and I use that word deliberately) past-time. It absolves people from having to be concerned about homelessness and child-poverty by blaming those at the bottom of the heap. It’s a license for callousness.

    Of course, it achieves nothing except entrenching poverty and worsening a sense of alienation by the poor and dispossessed.

    This is the modern-day way of ignoring a problem.

    Of course, when that problem (I refuse to call it an “issue”) refuses to conveniently go away, the poor; the homeless; the jobless; the under-employed will simply incur more wrath from the Right and middle-classes.

    At no time does this become a social problem – it’s an individual “decision”.

    Shortly, a couple of right wing trolls will be along to prove my point.

    • Funny how those right wing trolls say nothing when it’s tax fraud. And bugger me there is a lot more of that going on.

      • I’ve seen noone defending Tax Fraud.I’ve also seen noone complaining when someone states they are going to go after tax fraud. Tax avoidance is a different matter though. When you state you are going after people or companies that take advantage of tax loopholes like Facebook or Google you are likely to look like idiots as Labour did on this issue recently.

    • I wonder if we shouldn’t maintain a Gnat-shaming gallery, along the lines of the dog-shaming websites. Just to be even handed.

      We might even get some tax info volunteered by neglected minimum wage minions…

  2. I think incompetence is a better explanation than conspiracy. Poto Williams is the likely source of the story and it was a very poorly researched effort by the young reporter.
    The simple fact is that there is a housing crisis in Christchurch, more could be done by all involved at local and national level but when you get a piece of partisan hackery produced so poorly you end up driving voters to national.
    The stuff comments thread was incredible. Ordinary Kiwis using Google to reveal facts that the reporter failed to write.
    The terrible outcome for the children of this couple is that they are probably much worse off today. No doubt the mother has had her DPB stripped, their fraudulently obtained position of the priority list for housing is probably gone and the parents will probably face fraud charges.
    Well done Labour.
    You have made things worse.

  3. I used to be friends with the editor of the Christchurch Press at primary school (well, obviously she wasn’t the editor of the Press when we were at primary school together). Unfortunately I’m not in contact with her now, but she was always a decent person, and I can’t imagine her standing for this as part of an intentional strategy.

  4. The main stream media tends to confuse throwing crap at a fan to see how much of a mess it will make, with journalism.

  5. Another story that has been under reported is how this government is quietly closing all the Housing NZ offices and transferring their work load onto MSD staff.

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