As the rest of the world was perceived to be “going to hell in a handbasket with an out-of-control pandemic; ructions in Europe as Britain copes with “Brexit” chaos; Trumpism in the United States climaxing with the 6 January mob-led coup attempt in Washington’s Capitol; a deadly resurgent covid19 outbreak in Victoria, Australia (at time of writing); Russia continuing to harass and murder political dissidents with impunity; China cracking down brutally on Hong Kong and it’s Uighur minority; and global temperatures continuing to rise as Humans blithely pump CO2 into the atmosphere – New Zealanders were spectators to our own issues, dramas, and problems…
Media (1 – Clickbait)
We all coped with the Level 4 and 3 lockdowns in our own personal way. Some better than others, with varying degrees of stress.
According to the Ministry of Health website (last updated 25 August 2020), they were fully cognisant of the psychological impact that the threat of covid19; lockdowns; restricted movement and social contact, might have upon the general population;
“We want people to know it is normal to not feel all right all the time – it’s understandable to feel sad, distressed, worried, confused, anxious or angry during this crisis. Everyone reacts differently to difficult events, and some may find this time more challenging than others. The ways people think, feel and behave are likely to change over time – we all have good days and bad days.”
Psychological stress was soon picked up by medical professionals.
In October last year, writing for the NZ Medical Journal, Meisha Nicolson and Jayde Flett reported;
“Although fewer people reported severe experiences of depression and anxiety post-lockdown (5% compared to 8% during lockdown), this reduction mostly occurred in non-Māori/non-Pasifika people. Of those who completed both during and post-lockdown surveys, over half reported no experiences at both time points, while 22% had improved experiences and 13% had worsening experiences post-lockdown.
Experiences of depression and anxiety were common for young people both during and post-lockdown. Almost 60% of young people had some experience of depression or anxiety post-lockdown (57%), 10% being severe.”
“The data confirms in many ways what was expected: that many Kiwis were distressed and anxious in the midst of the lockdown. However, the study also shows a few interesting twists: about a third of New Zealanders reported significant distress, and rates in younger people (18-34 years) were higher than for older people. Interestingly, rates of distress amongst women and men were quite similar, which is unusual as often women report higher levels of distress.
Although the study couldn’t tell us exactly what about the lockdown people found stressful, it is likely that a combination of health anxiety and worry about the potential economic consequences of COVID-19 played a role. Sadly, more people reported feeling suicidal and there were higher rates of family violence during lockdown too.
Whilst the focus of our response to COVID-19 has now shifted onto the economy and ongoing containment on the virus, this study is a timely reminder that the virus has not only biological, but also psychological consequences. These psychological effects are likely to have a ‘long tail’ and be with us long after the virus has been contained or eliminated. The new Minister of Health will want to pay close attention to studies like this and continue investing in training of mental health professionals to inoculate the country against a future wave of mental health difficulties.”
The mainstream media not only failed to ameliorate the psychological impact of lockdowns (and post lockdowns) – but exacerbated anxiety with a constant, non-stop, daily diet of “human interest” stories. These were almost always focused on expat New Zealanders struggling to get home – often for tragic reasons such as terminal illness;
The stories were relentless. Day after day, almost always personalised with photos of couples or entire families, they were tragic, heart-breaking, and intensely intimate.
Even Radio NZ was not immune, with “human interest” stories – often with interviews – on “Morning Report” as well as “Checkpoint“.
Even when Returnees has succeeded in coming home, the “human interest” value continued to be exploited; milked of every hint of pathos and frustration;
It is hard to ascertain how deeply these “human interest” stories impacted on audiences, creating unnecessary anxiety, but it is worth noting this warning on the Covid-19 website;
“Looking after your mental wellbeing
You may find it useful to limit your time online. Check media and social media at specific times once or twice a day.”
The website for Depression NZ was even more dire with it’s warning to limit media intake;
Find a healthy balance in relation to media coverage
- Being exposed to repeated negative information can be upsetting. While it’s important to stay informed, you may find it useful to limit your media intake if it is upsetting you or your family.
- Try to stick to the facts and verified and government sources Unite against COVID-19.
- Reassure your child or teen that it is OK to feel worried. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
- When others share information with you, their facts may not always be accurate – keep this in mind when you hear something about COVID-19 that is not endorsed by trusted sources such as Unite against COVID-19 or the World Health Organization.
This blogger acknowledges that it is a delicate balancing act when presenting accurate information to media audiences.
But the personalisation of “human interest” (aka, “sob stories”) was counter-productive and ultimately, harmful. They were “clickbait” to sell advertising (or increase audience share in RNZ’s case), at the expense of our mental well-being and sensationalised at a time when many of us were vulnerable to heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
This blogger at one point last year switched off all devices and instituted a self-imposed, 48 hour, black-out on all media – including RNZ. When I switch off RNZ, you know things are getting bad.
This blogger maintains that there is a vast difference between presenting the public with hard news that make us more informed citizens – and flooding us with a non-stop, unrelenting diet of tragedy that serves no purpose and only heightens peoples’ anxiety.
Contrast the stories above with the measured reporting by TVNZ journalist, Jack Tame, upon his return and quarantine. His reporting was a mix of “human interest” and factual details, but without “ambulance chasing” exploitation of people’s circumstances and/or “First World” complaints;
Some wit at the Otago Daily Times, noting the preponderence of teeth-gnashing and wailing, had their own ‘take’ on the #nzhellhole stories with this subtle ‘dig’;
(April fools story or real? Hard to tell the difference!)
And when even the vacuous Kate Hawkesby pens a story that puts things into perspective;
“Yes this week has shown up some potentially glaring issues at the Pullman, but it doesn’t mean all Hotels are doing a bad job. It doesn’t mean the returnees are at fault or doing anything wrong either. Most people are grateful to be here, appreciative of what NZ has achieved, and want to do the right thing.”
– you just know that some Returnees need to get their priorities in order, and the media should look closely at how it amplifies (and exploits) peoples’ frustrations and fears.
Meanwhile, the real stories we need to know are barely covered;
Underpaid and over-worked MIQ workers apparently don’t attract the eyeballs and/or clicks, as much as families in tragic circumstances.
Media (2 – Or, “The RNZ Holiday Silly Season”)
Every year, for about a month, RNZ closes down ‘Morning Report‘, ‘Nine to Noon‘, ‘Checkpoint‘, and loses a whole bunch of well known hosts. The end-of-year winding-down of NZ’s flagship programmes began the week before Christmas. After Christmas, main programming is put on hiatus until the third week of January.
First to go is ‘Morning Report‘, which in the week leading up to Christmas is reduced from three to two hours in length. The last three hour episode is on Tuesday 22 December, and the following day, the programme is whittled down to two hours.
From Tuesday, 29 December 2020, the programme is reduced to one hour and in the New Year re-branded ‘Summer Report‘. Episode lengths are one hour (or two, when it was forced to increase it’s duration on 8 January to cover the Washington coup d’état attempt). Programme lengths increased to two hours from Monday, 18 January 2021 to Friday, 22 January 2021.
There was a further special three hour edition of ‘Summer Report’ on Thursday, 21 January 2021 to cover President Biden’s Inuguration.
‘Summer Report‘ remains in-situ until ‘Morning Report‘ resumes, at its normal three hour duration, on Monday, 25 January 2021.
‘Nine to Noon‘ is replaced with ‘Summer Times‘, hosted by Emile Donovan. The show is a more chat-show-like version of the regular ‘Nine to Noon‘ programme. ‘Summer Times‘ runs from 29 December to 22 January this year.
‘Checkpoint‘ – usually hosted by the tenacious and talented Lisa Owen – was missing altogether for a solid month. Only a five minute news report replaced the usual one and a half hour in-depth reporting. On 7 January, RNZ was forced to broadcast a one-hour long “RNZ Checkpoint Special” following the Washing riots and failed coup.
‘Checkpoint’s‘ month-long hiatus is inexplicable. As Mark Cubey pointed out, RNZ effectively “pretends news stops for the NZ summer“.
To the contrary, the world did not close down for the Christmas/New Year period. A pandemic continued to rage around the globe; Brexit was happening and the failure of a UK-Europe agreement came perilously close; and post-Presidential election events in the United States were causing ructions that reverberated around the planet.
At a time when events escalated, RNZ was missing in action.
And not just the state-owned broadcaster. The final episode (end-of-year Christmas party segment notwithstanding) of TV3’s “The Nation” aired on 28 November, and TV1’s “Q+A” on 6 December. Both then closed down, going into summer-hibernation for several months. (Q+A‘s first episode this year aired on 13 February.)
At a time when we most needed in-depth reporting of global events, we were – and remain – poorly served by our three main broadcasters.
It is understandable that producing programmes like ‘Morning Report’ and ‘Checkpoint‘ place high demands on RNZ staff. They all deserve well-earned breaks from the stresses of their work. But it should not be beyond the wit and abilities of RNZ management (with consultation with staff) to create a holiday roster that allows programming to continue as normal. If necessary, RNZ could employ journalism students (on a living wage) as paid interns, on short-term contracts.
It is not acceptable that, for a month, we are denied current affairs programmes by our main broadcasters.
RNZ has a strong, dedicated following of loyal listeners who expect high standards from our public broadcaster. Those expectations do not lessen from late December through to late January. The world does not stop on 24 December and resume at some arbitrary point in time in the new year.
National was thrashed at last year’s election.
Overall, they crashed from 1,152,075 Party Votes in 2017, to 738,275 last year, losing 23 MPs in the process.
The causes of their defeat has been well canvassed. Reasons range from in-fighting; three leadership changes; leaks; inconsistent policy-making and fiscal ineptitude; and a current Leader who is – frankly speaking – just downright unlikeable.
All of the above is true.
But there is a more basic reason: National got hit by a virus called covid19 – at least metaphorically speaking.
National fought last year’s election as if it were 2017. They were wedded to their mantra that “National are better economic managers”.
Unfortunately (for National supporters) the economy was only secondary to people’s concerns. For the majority, the main issue of concern – unsurprisingly – was health. More specifically, our health and safety as humanity faced a global pandemic sweeping almost every nation, and which has hospitalised and killed millions.
Almost daily, we were witnessing an out-of-control pandemic raging through Europe, UK, South America, and even the United States – the most advanced and wealthiest nation on the planet. We saw hospitals over-run by covid cases and mass graves being dug in Brazil and elsewhere in South America. In New York, trucks filled with rotting corpses seemed like something out of a post-apocalypse horror/science fiction movie.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, the then-Labour-NZ First- Green coalition moved reasonably quickly (some might argue they should have acted earlier – but hindsight is always 20/20). At one minute to midnight on 23 March 2020, the country moved to Alert Level 3. Two days later, we went to near total lockdown to Level 4. On 29 March, the inevitable happened: we had our first covid death.
As we listened and watched our Prime Minister address the nation on those first evenings, and subsequently thereafter, we must have felt like five million “extras” in the Will Smith movie, “I Am Legend“, or the 1970s British sf tv series, “The Survivors“.
It was unprecedented. We were practically at war. And we were called upon to do our bit: stay home; watch TV. (How difficult could that be?)
It was against this backdrop that National contested the election.
But National was fighting a pre-Covid campaign based on “economic management” and – at one point – a promise of “temporary” tax cuts. Worse still was Paul Goldsmith’s startling explanation that the tax cuts would be paid out of the $14 billion Covid Recovery fund set aside in the event of a second wave hitting the country!
New Zealanders got the message perfectly: National’s priority was the economy.
Voters would have been uneasy. That was not our collective priority. Our main concern was fighting a virus and keeping it out of the community.
Could National be trusted to make that their Number One Focus? At least 1,670,300 New Zealanders thought not.
National has always touted itself to be a pro-business, small-government Party. It’s policies on its own website is unequivocal in that respect. Even their Covid19 policy page was heavility tilted toward the economy;
A National Government will inject some steel into our first line of defence against COVID-19 by delivering robust border systems that will keep the virus at bay and allow our economy to thrive, National Party Leader Judith Collins says.
“The threat of COVID-19 will be with us for years to come and National is committed to safeguarding the health of all New Zealanders, as well as the wider economy.”
And their reference to limiting lockdowns to preserve economic activity also left no room for doubt where their priorities lay;
Preparing a more effective response to future outbreaks, should they occur, allowing lockdowns to be more targeted and shorter in duration.
Reducing the need for lockdowns could not be more crucial. The first lockdown saw 212,000 Kiwis end up on unemployment benefits with another 450,000 jobs kept alive by wage subsidies. The current lockdown is estimated to be costing Auckland 250 jobs and up to $75 million a day in economic activity.
“Continuous improvement of our systems is required so that lockdowns become more targeted and effective, with minimal impact on our communities and the economy.”
(See also “Wally of the Year” Award below.)
On 22 September, it was reported that National would relax border controls for economic reasons. Couched in terms of pseudo-safety rhetoric, National’s intentions were plain for all to see;
National have announced that, if elected, they will ramp up the private provision of quarantine to allow workers and long-term tourists into the country.
At an event in Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said Covid-19 would be with us for a long time and the country had to establish safe conditions for skilled and essential workers to re-enter the country.
Allowing workers in the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme to return is at the top of that agenda, but the kind of measures the National Party is interested in exploring would extend to a number of industries with the costs of quarantine paid by industry or by individuals who wanted to enter New Zealand.
“Our horticultural industry, for example, is desperate to fill the worker shortage created by border restrictions that is putting $9.5 billion of the country’s economy at risk,” Brownlee said.
The party would implement a booking system for managed isolation facilities and explore “streamlined” travel arrangements for low-risk countries like Covid-free nations in the Pacific.
And private quarantine facilities were also mooted;
Brownlee said National would work with accommodation providers to create private quarantine arrangements that met or exceeded levels of safety, security, reporting, transporting, training and testing.
The failures in Victoria’s “hastily assembled” hotel quarantine are “responsible” for the state’s 768 deaths and 18,418 cases since the end of May, the inquiry heard on Monday.
“One only needs to pause and to reflect on those figures to appreciate the full scope of devastation and despair occasioned as a result of the outbreak,” counsel assisting Ben Ihle said.
“It was a program which failed to meet its primary objective to keep us safe from the virus.”
Throughout the course of the inquiry, none of the witnesses, including the premier, Daniel Andrews, said they made the decision to use private security guards for guarding returned travellers.
This was the clear message New Zealanders got from National: they were more focused on economic activity than on keeping the virus out of the country.
On 27 August last year, National issued a press statement outlining it’s small business policy. Covid19 and border controls were not mentioned once.
The UK has had “targetted lockdowns” – half-hearted measures that has resulted (at time of writing) 3,929,835 cases and 112,092 deaths.
This was National’s offering to New Zealanders and we wanted no part of it. Quite simply, most people did not trust National to prioritise our health over someone elses’ wealth.
For the second time in it’s twentyseven year long history, NZ First has been thrown out of Parliament by voters. It’s share of the Party vote dropped from 7.2% in 2017 to 2.6% last year. 111,685 voters deserted the Party.
Again, the reasons are varied, but this blogger submits that one specific factor was the cause of it’s Parliamentary demise.
In October 2019, a survey found that 44.5% of NZ First voters would have preferred National as a coalition partner after the 2017 General Election. Only 34.1% opted for Labour.
So the majority of NZ First supporters leaned toward National, not Labour.
Winston Peters and his party chose Labour instead, alienating nearly half their voter-base.
This is the only possible outcome when a political party refuses to disclose it’s preferred coalition intentions to voters so that they can cast their ballots accordingly.
In effect, by not making such a disclosure; by leaving that decision until after the election, NZ First supporters were handing Mr Peters & Co a “blank cheque”.
The remaining 34.1% who supported coalition with Labour were also alienated when NZ First made it clear it was a “hand brake” on their coalition partners.
A prime example was Labour’s attempt to implement a capital gains tax to slow investor speculation in the steadily worsening housing price-bubble. NZ First MP Shane Jones made it crystal clear who was responsible for “killing” the tax;
“The reality is you already had that announcement and none of you rung to thank me for NZ First killing off the capital gains tax.”
NZ First managed to anger both National and Labour-leaning supporters. Quite a feat when you think about it.
It’s demise was inevitable.
Wally of the Year Award
There were several contenders:
- Simon Bridges for his non-stop negativity and failing to read-the-room when the nation was focused solely on keeping covid out and saving lives.
- Judith Collins, for her sheer, barely-contained malice.
- This idiot.
- Minister David Clark, who should have known better.
- Jami-Lee Ross for unmitigated colossal cheek for naked political opportunism and (alleged) harassment of staff.
- Billy Te Kahika, for achieving the dubious distinction as Aotearoa New Zealand’s go-too man for every conspiracy fantasy under the sun.
- Former National Party President, Michelle Boag, for being so blindingly wrong on just about everything, especially why covid19 has the number ’19’ followings it’s name. (Clue; no, it’s not because there were 18 strains preceding this one.) And for leaking private covid19 patient names.
- Former National MP, Hamish Walker, also for leaking private Covid19 patient details.
- National MP Michael Woodhouse, for his bizarre (and untrue) “homeless man” story.
- Plan B “sciencey poster boy”, Simon Thornley, who despite all the evidence, apparently wants Aotearoa New Zealand to follow Sweden’s model in dealing with covid19. Because, y’know, our 25 dead compared to Sweden’s 12,428 death toll is somehow a “failure” in his eyes?
- Simon Bridges for his non-stop negativity and failing to read-the-room when the nation was focused solely on keeping covid out and saving lives.
But heads above the candidates listed, this blogger nominates Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO, Michael Barnett.
Mr Barnett’s non-stop carping against lock-downs or calling for watered-down lock-downs, or exemptions for every business and Uncle Tom Cobbly, were in a league of their own;
In a blogpost on 23 August last year, activist John Minto detailed Mr Barnett’s non-stop carping and misguided attempts to undermine Aotearoa New Zealand’s strategy to eliminate covid19. Had National been in power there is every chance they would have capitulated to Mr Barnett’s increasingly strident demands to weaken lockdowns and allow businesses to operate “as normal”.
The consequences, as shown by other countries, would have been horrific. Hospitals flooded with infected people; ICU wards over-flowing; rising death toll; cemetaries filling up; and Long Covid leaving people suffering debilitating after-effects for months later, perhaps for years to come.
As an agent speaking on behalf of business, he earned his salary. As an agent agitating on behalf of covid19, he excelled.
2020 – But wait, there’s more!
There was more – so much more! – to 2020. But let’s leave something for future (and present) historians to mull over, shall we?
And now, 2021…
The concluding fourth chapter of 2020: The History That Was.
The Wall Street Journal: The Covid-19 Death Toll Is Even Worse Than It Looks
The Atlantic: This is a coup
RNZ: Mark Cubey (profile)
RNZ: Summer Report
RNZ: Summer Times
Wikipedia: I Am Legend
Wikipedia: The Survivors
Scoop media: National Will Back New Zealand’s Small Businesses
Worldometer: United Kingdom Coronavirus Cases
Mayo Clinic: COVID-19 (coronavirus) – Long-term effects
The Daily Blog: When will Michael Barnett stop whinging, whining and bleating? – John Minto
Previous related blogposts
Acknowledgement: Jeff Bell
This blogpost will be re-published in five days on “Frankly Speaking“. Reader’s comments may be left here (The Daily Blog) or there (Frankly Speaking).
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