Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pike River II

Some further thoughts, not really about the Pike River Tragedy itself - for what really needs to be said about that?

I noticed a couple of things about the men who fronted for the media, eith in their professional capactiy - Peter Whittall, Gary Knowles, Tony Kokshoorn - or the various local men that the media talked to about the tragedy as it developed. The first thing I noticed was that they were almost without exception, men. And, when pressed to speak, they did so with remarkable fluency, thought, courage and emotion. The stereotype of the rugged Southern bloke, laconic to the point of inarticulacy, emotionally stunted to the point of autism, is an injustice to the men of Greymouth.

If it seems that the workeng men of the South and the Tasman coast are like that, it is only in contrast to the vapid emotional incontinence of more urban climes, where babble takes the place of having nothing to say, and cheap emotional display disguises our unfamiliarity with true feeling.

The men of Greymouth demonstrated they could speak calmly in the face of tragedy; could be emotional without being over-wrought; could describe their feelings and their fear perfectly adequately, but could keep them controlled because this wasn't the time and place; could show courage, dignity and leadership; and could confront a crisis calmly and, under immense pressure, make the right calls.

It's with reference to this last that I raise my second point, which is what I consider the very poor performance by the media in the face of this. While the men dealing with this disaster were calm, rational and reticent, the media was juvenile and emotionally manipulative.

This went beyond the obvious faults: the pointless demonstrations of mining equipment by Jack Tame on One News - what was the purpose of that, forty eight or seventy two hours after the initial blast?; the slick graphics that the TV news stations deployed to make their coverage look slick and sensational; or the dreadful, trite quality of some of the coverage, which saw one TV reporter referring to the miners as the "Prisoners of the mountain," for Heaven's sake.

The media, I feel, were attempting to manufacture a narrative around this tragedy, especially as the days passed, when reporters interviewed the family members of the missing miners.

Giving these greiving people air time was distasteful and manipulative. They should have been left alone. We don't need to be told that the families are incredibly distraught, and to have their misery paraded for our own vicarious emotional fix.

Even more of a concern was how the media gave scope to family members to criticize the rescue effort. By encouraging them to verbalize their dissatisfaction and their urge to get down into the mine, in spite of the official ban, they may have prompted some to make more of these plans than a desperate longing. Given what happened yesterday afternoon, this could have had terrible consequences; it would certainly have wasted time and diverted resources being directed towards the rescue.

It also encouraged the people to wonder if the rescue effort was on the wrong track, putting more pressure on the shoulders of men who were already contending with far more than could reasonably be asked of them.

Even on the morning of the second blast, family members were being interviewed and airtime being given to their criticism of the rescue effort, and their desire to simply get into the mine, without authorisation if necessary. That the families of the missing felt that way is no surprsie. Who wouldn't? But that the media gave them air time to express what should have been kept private, and acted to undermine and pressurize the men co-ordinating the rescue effort, was simply irresponsible, cynical and disgraceful.

The media should be ashamed of itself, and study the tremendous example of Peter Whittall, Gary Knowles, Tony Kokshoorn and the many others who showed how to confront a disaster properly, like men do.

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