Missing voices in the media marking the switch to Orange


The easing of restrictions on pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants after the Covid traffic light turned ‘amber’ this week has been celebrated by the media urging us to ‘put on our dancing shoes’. Approval from owners and industry representatives was also a focus, but not from people working at reception or on the front line.

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As the Labor government eased Covid restrictions on Wednesday, TVNZ’s Simon Dallow urged viewers to “get those dancing shoes ready”.

“In just under six hours you’ll be dancing on the dance floor of bars and clubs as New Zealand finally turns the orange light,” he said.

Newshub’s cover at 6 had a similar tone.

“An orange toast,” said his political editor Jenna Lynch. “Do a little dancing in New Zealand, the government has given the nightlife an amber light.”

Television stations were not the only ones to take an interest in the deregulation of dance.

A headline on the front page of Thursday Dominion Post read ‘Dancing returns to Wellington’s bars’, with the story claiming – somewhat dubiously – that the change in alert level was met with ‘unanimous and unbridled joy’ by ‘young Kiwis desperate to return on the dance floor”.

The switch to orange has also been greeted with unbridled glee by hotel owners desperate to return to profit.

About RNZ CheckpointRestaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said her industry was “very, very happy to hear this is happening.”

“This is a huge relief for the hospitality industry which continues to struggle under red level restrictions.”

The rest of this report quoted a range of political leaders, but no health experts, labor representatives or anyone – apart from Green Party leader James Shaw – celebrating or demanding even more freedom.

Not to be outdone, the Christchurch press published an article quoting three spokespersons for professional associations, four hotel business owners, the general manager of a theater and no workers.

During this time, the Herald of Timaru was headlined ‘Hotel operators celebrate easing of rules ahead of Easter’ in an article quoting a pub owner, two trade association spokespersons and no one else.

This type of one-sided reporting has been normal when it comes to covering the country’s alert levels.

These last months, dozens of stories and interviews have been published who concentrates solely on the concerns of business owners and the associations that represent their interests, with little balancing commentary from other groups whose health and wellbeing will be affected by our Covid restriction levels.

There are a few exceptions, like this story from TVNZ’s Breakfast, which featured a woman with cancer, a girl with diabetes and a heart man, expressing how they felt about everything opening up .

Often though, these sorts of voices have been drowned out in the media by cries of “back to normal”.

The companies that make these calls have an important perspective.

But it can make other people with skin in the game – like hotel workers, the immunocompromised, or just people who really don’t want to catch Covid – feel forgotten or ignored.

Back in March, Stephen Judd joked on Twitter about forming a group — the National Association of People Who Just Don’t Want to Get COVID — to make sure the interests of this under-surveyed cohort get more airtime.

He said the joke had serious subtext.

“Information is a beast that you have to keep feeding and it’s much easier to keep feeding when you have a list of people who will answer the phone, especially if they get in touch to say ‘hey, I’m waiting by the phone “. “

Business owners and people who represent their interests often belong to this group waiting on the phone, he said.

“But there are also the people who benefit from staying healthy and in a healthy community, and those are the people there’s no obvious person to call out.”

Ellsie Coles is a senior hospitality worker and solicitor at Raise The Bar Hospo Union, who recently recovered from a bout of Covid that left her hospitalized.

She’s frustrated to see so many stories where workers like her don’t feature, including in this week’s coverage of going orange.

“A lot of the time, the bosses’ opinions don’t exactly reflect how the workers feel,” she said. “There’s been such a push for openness, and I can understand why employers want that. Their businesses can’t survive if they’re closed all the time. But for employees, it’s a health risk. and safety.”

Employees were already facing an increased workload due to colleagues catching Covid or becoming household contacts, and looser restrictions were increasing their already high risk of catching the virus, Coles said.

She understood why people didn’t want to write about the continued negative effects of the pandemic after more than two years.

But the celebratory coverage ignored the risks and hardships still facing not just hospitality workers, but also workers in sectors like health care, she said.

“I don’t blame people who don’t want to read negative things. We’re all really tired. However, it’s too far in the opposite direction and now it’s a big party, and I don’t think the workers of the hotel industry are still celebrating.”

Charlotte Muru-Lanning of The Spinoff has regularly highlighted the voices of workers in her stories about the struggles of the hospitality industry during Covid.

She was also the target of one-sided media reports while working in a restaurant at the start of the pandemic.

About two weeks before Aotearoa’s first lockdown, she saw plenty of stories that gave restaurant and bar owners a platform to complain about the lack of business passing through their establishments.

“We had a lot of customers [as a result]really well meaning, but I think as workers we were really anxious at the time and it might have been helpful if these stories included how worried the workers were,” she said. .

Muru-Lanning said reporters struggled with constant turnover and deadlines, which made it tempting to pick up quotes from press releases or pick up the phone with an easy-to-call spokesperson.

Even so, she urged reporters to consider whether they are reporting the range of perspectives within hospitality and other industries.

It hasn’t been difficult to get a worker on the phone, but it may mean stepping out of your comfort zone or adjusting your traditional ways of setting up stories, she said.

“Telling stories about this industry without talking to the workers – you miss a lot of color in the industry. You’re not telling a full story and I think people are left without a full understanding of what’s going on, and I think which has huge ramifications,” she said. “It’s the people who make the industry go round. I don’t think you can really talk about the industry without talking to those people who really make it work, who get the food from the kitchen to your table, or who actually prepare the food.”


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