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Covid and the media

Written By: - Date published: 10:42 am, August 29th, 2021 - 54 comments
Categories: chris bishop, covid-19, health, jacinda ardern, labour, making shit up, Media, national, same old national, spin, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags:

This week there has been some argy bargy between the Twitterati including the Waitakerati and the media on coverage of Covid in Aotearoa.

Laura Walters at Spinoff posted this rather heavy dive analysis of criticism of Covid coverage by the media.

Her introduction was fine.  She said this:

We have heard a lot about the team of five million during the past 18 months. We have heard about the team’s superstars: the healthcare workers, border workers, supermarket workers, contact tracers, scientists and modelling experts. Then there is the team’s corps: those staying at home, scanning in, masking up. But there is another subset of the team whose contribution is sometimes overlooked, and other times misunderstood: those who challenge the government and its Covid-19 response.

I’m not talking about those who, like Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, think we should immediately give up on the elimination strategy and learn to live (or die) with Covid-19. I’m also not talking about those who spread misinformation, conspiracy theories, or refuse to adhere to public health measures.

I’m talking about those who constructively criticise the government’s Covid-19 response. The opposition MPs, media and experts who ask about issues with PPE supply chains; why more essential and frontline workers haven’t had their jabs (only 40% of police are fully vaccinated; we don’t know what percentage of healthcare workers are fully vaccinated); and how the government is addressing the failings of the MIQ booking system.

She also said this:

Unfortunately, many of those who do play the vital role of questioning the government’s handling of some aspects of its pandemic response are vilified.

The National party has been accused of politicising a public health emergency. And while there have been attempts at political point scoring and the spreading of inaccurate information by the opposition, on the whole, Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop has constructively questioned the government on legitimate issues. He’s asked about things like the percentage of health workers who are fully vaccinated, and vaccine supply issues.

She then mentioned Tova O’Brien and Jason Walls as being subjected to attacks.  Her comments about reporters questioning the Government’s policies were appropriate but I am afraid she lost me when she defended the National Party.

Her attack against the twitterari was repeated by Andrea Vance in Stuff this morning who said this:

Government supporters aggressively insist critics should shut up and trust the experts. That anyone questioning the prevailing approach is recklessly anti-science, undermining the response or indifferent to a higher death toll.

This is too crude. It is perfectly logical to accept the need for current restrictions, while criticising the Government for how we got here and the failings that led to it, not least in the vaccination roll-out.

Both of their attacks are too crude, to use Andrea’s phrase.  If someone presents a well thought through critical analysis of current policy then my impression is that the left will relish it.  And there are a number of contributors whose writing is critical of current efforts and weaknesses in the system.

For instance Marc Daalder had dug deep into Government information and highlighted significant weaknesses in areas such as contact tracing.  But his commentary is evidence based and nuanced which is a feature that many other writers lack.

Matt Nippert has also written some indepth analysis of Covid and its effects.  His weekend description of Delta is outstanding.  The article contained this passage:

New Zealand had found its first case of Delta on March 9, detected and then trapped and starved of new hosts in managed isolation and quarantine, with a passenger who had flown out of India. It would be five months before it returned here with a vengeance, but our neighbours would not be spared for long.

In April, Delta hitched a ride out of Fiji’s MIQ system and within a month was replicating itself in more than 100 new people each day. And on June 16 in Sydney, a limo driver who worked ferrying international aircrew around the city tested positive for Delta. The case only had five days between being infected and being detected and isolated, but that was enough to seed a stubborn outbreak that would later shatter both inter-state and transtasman consensus on the pandemic.

With similar economies and political systems, and an elimination strategy that had largely been in lock-step with New Zealand, the bubble between the two countries had opened just months earlier in April. Wellington was now watching developments in New South Wales very closely indeed.

On June 23, after a tourist from Sydney tested positive for Delta on his return home, the Covid response experienced what Gerrard calls a “dress rehearsal”.

If you were looking for a sign of official worry about Delta, this was it: The country’s first alert level change without confirmation of community transmission. The mushrooming list of places of interest, and frantic efforts to find and test the more than 2000 people who had also been present, showed the extent to which the response was trying to outrun an opponent that was now faster than ever.

But among the pearls there is this daily onslaught of trash analysis that is not contributing to the debate but instead is undermining it.  And the quality of the commentary is so poor that you have to question its value. The commentary is full of absolute conclusions uninformed by reality like this effort from today from Heather Duplessis-Allan.  Her broad conclusion was:

We thought New Zealand was exceptional. The world raved about our world-leading Covid response. But now, the world is ridiculing us at worst, shocked at best.

Reality would beg to differ.

Hers is not the only bad take.  Here are a few examples collected from recent columns:

  • National aligned Janet Wilson whose opinion piece is basically a collection of National Party talking points.
  • Chris Bishop’s dad John Bishop who managed to combine insulting former National Party voters with a claim that the dawn raids were justified.
  • Mike Hosking on any day.  What I would like to know is when will he admit his errors?
  • Mike Hosking’s wife.  Fancy criticising Ardern for the elimination strategy that has stopped thousands of kiwis from dying.  And her criticisms and insinuations about Ashley Blomfield have been that extreme that the head of the SSO Peter Hughes sought space on Newstalk’s website to say that she had gone too far.
  • Anything Richard Prebble has said.  Enough said.
  • Anything Steven Joyce has said.  Also enough said.
  • Westland Mayor Bruce Smith who is sick of hearing from health experts and wants businessmen to make health decisions instead.

It seems each week there is an array of partisan critical commentary against the Government’s response to Covid.  And the ease in which the criticism can change makes your head hurt.  One day they are too restrictive the next day to relaxed …

Among the dross there is the occasional gem.  This piece by Shane Tepou is a standout, particularly where he said:

If we did surrender to the virus, we know many, maybe most, of the people who would get seriously ill or die would be Māori and Pasifika. It would be my family. It would be our kaumātua we sacrificed if we listened to the people who say saving lives is too hard. That’s not the Māori way, it’s not the Kiwi way, and it’s a bloody good thing we didn’t listen to the naysayers.Ultimately, getting everyone vaccinated, including kids, is going to be how we break out of this pandemic. Not some arbitrary low target like Collins’ target of 70 per cent of adults. We need to get everyone vaccinated.

Don’t believe the rubbish about our vaccine contracts being slow or the myth based on a blog post that we could have paid more to jump the queue. We chose the gold standard vaccine, and we have been getting it as fast as Pfizer can make it. We now have enough vaccine being delivered that everyone can get their jabs. But we are not there yet, and neither are other countries that pundits would have us believe are “returning to normal”.

And this column by Jevan Casinader where he talks about the need to understand the mental strain our leadership is under is also outstanding particularly where he said:

Over the past fortnight, social media pages have been filled with gripes. Why did we lock down with only one case? Why did we even need a lockdown? Why are we still in lockdown? Why won’t they tell us how long we’ll be in lockdown?

We’re like five million children squeezed into the backseat of a station wagon, chanting: “Are we there yet?”

When this outbreak began, our narrative quickly shifted from “a world-leading response” to “a failing, poorly-led public service”.

Clearly, there have been gaps in the Government’s Covid strategy. The vaccine roll-out has been slow. The MIQ system remains inequitable. The border has been exposed on many occasions.

But too often, the criticism overlooks the fact that politicians and officials are making imperfect decisions, based on imperfect information, using limited public resources, during an unprecedented global event. There is no textbook for this stuff.

His description of Jacinda Ardern’s use of the 1 pm briefing sessions also resonated:

The prime minister has been accused of exploiting Covid to build her personal brand. I’ve read numerous posts claiming Jacinda Ardern enjoys Level 4 because she can hog the limelight and deliver Labour “sermons” from the Beehive theatrette.

This is daft – and just plain nasty. In February, Ardern said there is an “indescribable anxiety that comes with the daily grind of managing a pandemic”.

Of course the naysayers have the ability and the economic and political incentive to say whatever stupid idea comes into their head.  They are at liberty to imply they understand the handling of a pandemic that has brought more advanced nations to their knees better than those who have spent a lifetime working on health issues.

But they should not complain when the Twitterati or the Waitakereati get stuck into them.

By all means let us have the debate.  But bring your best game and be prepared to defend your positions, particularly the ones damaging to the response.

54 comments on “Covid and the media ”

  1. Darien Fenton 1

    Yes, seems to me some of the "commentators" are getting a bit sensitive about the pushback. And it's huge. We are all tired, worried, exhausted with dealing with the realities of what this means for real people, including workers in essential services, Such shallow journalism, but might be living in the Beehive bubble where once a day they get to have a moment if fame. Meantime, criticisms of Ashley, Chris, Jacinda et al disregard the fact they are humans, they have kids and whanau they are separated from. Not a gig many of us would sign up for.

  2. barry 2

    Of course we should not restrict free speech. Unless it is a question of slander or inciting rebellion or hatred, people should say what they like. However the media have a responsibility to put things into perspective.

    Testing takes some time to get up to speed. We don't have a people (like firefighters) sitting around polishing swabs waiting for an outbreak. Vaccination was a considered choice between rushing, or waiting and building up slowly – while managing supply of the best available vaccine.

    The people complaining about not being able to trade at level 3/4 should be asked to explain how they can trade in an environment where covid is rampant. They should be asked to explain the figures for the good weeks (most of the year) where they have done well because of our virus free status.

    The people complaining about MIQ, testing, vaccination rates etc, should have to say why we think they could do better. MIQ is a problem, but mainly it is a problem because people are choosing to travel. Last February/March the NZ government told NZers abroad to come home while they still could. Yes it might have been inconvenient, but now people are complaining about the inconvenience of the consequences of their choice. MIQ exists to help them.

    So yes, we should have constructive criticism. The government needs to explain its decisions. There are plenty of good ideas, and we have a right to hear them. Nobody should be threatened for contributing to the discussion. However, I do get tired of hearing the same hacks thinking they know better and ignoring all the good work that is happening.

  3. Clive Macann 3

    Well said, Micky.

  4. Byd0nz 4

    Covid and it's variants are perhaps the greatest genuine challenge the today world is faced with. Each country has to deal with this under the current government they have, each have the support of experts in the field, both internationally and at home.

    There must be a level of trust we give to the government and the experts that advise it. So there are indeed certain aspects to it that are questioned and criticized, but it has to be understood that this is a giant learning curve and only learning from errors can only come from hindsight.
    Constructive criticism is of course acceptable, but point scouring and cheap shot journalism is never helpful. On the whole, for my point of view. We can be thankful for our choice of government is competent to guide us through this terrible time.

  5. Anne 5

    The examples you have cited Micky are further evidence (as if we needed it) of the venom from the entitled political right when things are not going according to their expectations. The fundamental cause of their fury is the remarkable success thus far of the Covid strategies adopted by the govt. [and the medical scientists who advise them] which have garnered admiration from around the world.

    They are hell bent in responding to it by creating an alternative narrative which bears no relation to reality and which is designed over time to create confusion among the populace for political gain. That is why they are projecting their own cynical and self serving approach on to the shoulders of Jacinda Ardern by alleging:

    she's exploiting Covid to build her personal brand and claiming she enjoys Level 4 because she can hog the limelight and deliver Labour “sermons” from the Beehive theatrette.

    What a load of jealous piffle!

    • Forget now 5.1

      I too find those points from people railing against the 1pm briefings to be particularly telling. As if the critics would indeed behave in such a self agrandizing way if they were in that position themselves, and can't conceive of any reason to front up to the public except to decieve them.

  6. Pete 6

    I like the way Mediawatch on RNZ gives attention to some aspects of our media that usually don't get focussed scrutiny.

    This morning they introduced Nick Mills, of ZB Wellington to show Wellington shares other viruses with Auckland.

    What was instructive was hearing another NZME employee questioning the relentless negativity of their breakfast host.

    The old saying came to mind about when your feet hit the floor. When you get out of bed you choose your attitude for the day, positive or negative.

    What is it that happens to Mike Hosking before he gets out of bed that has him the negative arrogant soul he is when his feet first hit the floor?


    (Auckland 24:00 on)

  7. Drowsy M. Kram 7

    Thank you Micky for your post, and to all those who have commented. A real tonic.

    Unite against COVID-19

    • Unite also against wealth inequality, alcohol and drug abuse, industrial farming, non-local food production. Unite for life respecting and preserving communities and the care and safety of children.

  8. Sacha 8

    the Waitakereati

    Stop trying to make fetch happen. 🙂

  9. Ghostwhowalksnz 9

    The NZ Herald to day syndicates a Listener story from Victoria University's Professor Grimes, attacking the government. of course

    'Opinion: Government has caused housing crisis to become a catastrophe'

    Simply put he blames the changes in The Reserve Bank Act in 2018 which added employment sustainibility which have caused the explosion in House prices. This just aligns us with UK, USA and Australia which include employment in the central bank policy targets

    House prices had been rising in previous decades, including before 2018

    Professor Grimes was Chairman of the Reserve Bank from 2014-2108..a period of rapid house price rise

    The hypocrisy is stunning

  10. KJT 10


    ,”Once upon a time, in a world far away” we had these people called “reporters”.
    An honourable profession, who considered it their job to keep the public accurately and completely informed”.

    The 1 pm conferences have made the ignorance, partisanship and the propensity to "make things up and give their own uneducated opinion, indulged in by so called "journalists" glaringly obvious to the public.

    And from the kickback from media hacks. They hate having their incompetent and ignorant spin, that they pass off as ,"news" exposed.

    • nzsage 10.1

      Spot on KJT.

      For "reporters", we now have "commentators" or in the case of Hawkesby and Hoskin, B-grade celebrities with lesser intellect and knowledge of the real world than the Kardashians.

      The modern news media are so far removed from being journalist their programs should be moved from News to the Entertainment Tonight channel.

  11. Sacha 11

    A rare NZ journo who has got Covid twice and lived through the UK’s endless lockdown says we need to stick this out. https://www.stuff.co.nz/opinion/300391716/covid19-you-dont-know-how-lucky-you-are-new-zealand

    • Drowsy M. Kram 11.1

      Thanks Sacha for that link (only ~650 words) – a must read, imho.

      Yep, lockdowns are tough and having your freedoms temporarily taken away is frustrating – but New Zealand has proven to the world that lockdowns work, especially when you go hard and fast, with a small population, on a small island, with everyone obeying the rules.

      It might not feel like it, but the finish line of this outbreak is so close. Just hold on a little bit longer, take it day by day, and you’ll be back to normal before you know it.

      I’ll see you at the pub to celebrate.

    • DukeEll 11.2

      The “endless” lockdown that achieved nothing? Like Victoria’s endless lockdown but cases still keep rising there too.

      Maybe it’s better to accept some COVID risk in the community if the evidence is starting to Mount that lockdowns aren’t the best solution

      • joe90 11.2.1

        if the evidence is starting to Mount that lockdowns aren’t the best solution

        And the mounting evidence that lockdowns aren’t the best solution is…?

        • Sacha

          some vox-pops near Tauranga

          • Incognito

            Tauranga? Isn’t that where they have no internet?

          • joe90

            I reckon Hosk and co opining from the cheap seats, ACT etcs social media spend and vox-pops near Tauranga are driving polls.

            In a sense, Peter Doocy’s arrival in the White House press briefing room has been to his employer’s detriment. It used to be that Fox News could spend days condemning Democratic presidents for not responding to whatever controversy its hosts had been tumbling around in their rhetorical rock polishers. Now, though, there’s Doocy, who is regularly selected by White House press secretary Jen Psaki to ask questions probably in part so that the familiar process can be beheaded early.


            Doocy and his network often don’t provide or consider the context that would subject their theories to heat from the outset. As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait pointed out Thursday, Fox viewers often aren’t really tuning in to the network’s offerings for a considered debate on the news of the day. What keeps them engaged and watching is the diaspora of voices and range of volumes fuming at the day’s outrage.

            https://archive.li/YZanK (wapo)

      • Nordy 11.2.2

        The evidence is that the lockdown as we know and implement it is working.

        Read the information and the data, rather than simply repeating the criticism of those with an interest and purpose in attacking the govt.

      • Macro 11.2.3

        The thing is Duke that even in Victoria where they have had far more practice at "lockdown" than us still can't get the method right. So they have tried to "ring fence" the out-break, but this virus is far too tricky for that to work, and it continually sneaks past the barrier, infecting others not protected in the process. They have only recently woken up to the fact that they needed to place the whole state in lockdown, not just just a few shires.

      • Sacha 11.2.4

        Our lockdowns have been proper ones and hence have worked. Why would we give that up now because of a small number of whingers and especially overseas ones?

      • Incognito 11.2.5

        Lockdowns are pretty ineffective, on their own. Only a simpleton would think that it is all-or-nothing with any measure, be it lockdown, vaccination, or mask-wearing, for example.

        In any case, if lockdowns are not “the best solution”, what is, and what would it achieve and how?

        • Pingao

          Taiwan seems to have suppressed their recent outbreak in May while having a very low vaccination rate at the start of the outbreak. I used Our World in Data "covid vaccination" for the vaccination data.

          I was curious as to how this was achieved as during the early days Taiwan did not lockdown as such and found this article which lists several approaches including masking, social distancing, improved quarantine and how media and local government behaved.

      • "Maybe it’s better to accept some COVID risk in the community if the evidence is starting to Mount that lockdowns aren’t the best solution"

        Accepting covid in the community means accepting people filling our hospitals; our ICU wards; Long Covid affecting survivors; and hundreds dead.

        Which then begs the question "better to accept some COVID" – for who? Undertakers?

        Never mind the bog paper. Stock up on body bags.

      • McFlock 11.2.7

        Covid isn't like water. You can't take a bucket to a tap, fill it with an "acceptable" amount, then turn the tap off.

        One or two drips of covidwater get in the bucket, the bucket keeps filling like a cornucopia until it overflows with corpses. The only way to avoid that is to take drastic action to dry the bucket as soon as you find a drop of water.

      • Gabby 11.2.8

        But the evidence isn't starting to mount.

    • Patricia Bremner 11.3

      Thank you for posting that Sacha. I hope the poor lady, Helena Power can get back soon. LLoyd Burr …I well remember him outside the pub at Russell? being challenged by Winston Peters in 2017… a lifetime ago.

  12. Excellent blogpost, Micky. Salient points and well researched.

    Have noticed pretty much the same thing, and methinks Ms Vance doth protest too much. The msm is not above scrutiny by the public, just as politicians aren't above scrutiny by the media.

    If, as she suggests the media demands "we gave up on freedom of expression" – the same applies to us, scrutinising and freedom of expression to voice our concerns when we think they (the media) are doing us a dis-service.

    And it's not media scrutiny of the government that is exasperating. I've written several blogposts voicing my own criticisms of MIQ policies. (My latest on media dumping on us here: https://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2021/08/29/life-in-lockdown-round-two-day-10-contd-11/ )

    No, its the platforming of so-called "experts", commentators, business whingers (hullo Michael Barnett!) and some "useful idiots" (hullo Bruce Smith!) that does our heads in.

    Enough. If the MSM can dish it out, they damn well should be able to take it.

    • Patricia Bremner 12.1

      devil Just so totally agree. Glad to see you here Frank. Read your items with interest.

      • Thanks, Patricia.

        Truth to tell, though I'm still on duty (essential worker in the Health sector), my roster has been amended so having extra time. Plus my partner and I are in separate bubbles so time spent together is now spent on our own… No grizzling, we all do our little bit.

        Hope you and your family is well!

        • Patricia Bremner

          Thank you Frank, we have two grand nieces with covid in Sydney. (Delta,) they are sick at home presently. These 18 year old twins had their vaccinations as part of a family bubble. Hopefully they will recover. We need to get on top of it here. Listening to family in Scotland and London, they are tired and very anxious.

          Thank you both for what you do. We are fortunate, retired and in reasonable health, but realise we may not get to visit or be visited by our son in Queensland as we are now near 80, and he has medical problems. We all need each other to be strong and clear headed in these times, and follow the science.

          As your writing is lucid and clear we appreciate your items, which as you say you produce in your down time. Keep well.

  13. Stephen D 13

    One thing that puzzles me is, have people who life in Aotearoa turned into a bunch of whiny whimps. God help them if they lived in England, America, Australia. Anywhere that’s been in and out of lockdown for months on end.

    A couple of weeks and they’ve got cabin fever already. Spare me!


    • David 13.1

      Yeah, yeah, yeah overseas cabin fever is old news. In NZ we are still here because we’ve had a horrendous vaccine stroll out. Worst in the OECD. There is no escaping that unless you are an absolute Jacindafobe.

      [Banned for a month for ignoring Moderation request to; you’ve had two full days to comply. You blew any credit you’d left with your trolling, so it was an easy decision this time – Incognito]

  14. coreyjhumm 14

    Commentators and Journalists are two different things.

    The national party is a shambles , Bishop has this year had a couple good hits at the govt over vaccinations that were fair enough despite however him never getting the appropriate reprimanding for sitting on the covid Karen's who traveled the country after testing negative simply cos he wanted to use it to hit the govt that was shameful.

    Ive gotta say though I found the spin off take absolutely decent but I found Andrea Vance's take as some kind of justification for allowing politicians to travel up and down the country to mingle with each other in a physical parliament absolutely unacceptable. Parliament should be meeting via zoom end of to hell with physical parliament in a pandemic.

    I have real concerns though about the way in which genuine, constructive criticism and debate is shut down by masses of people who tell people to harden up, or that they are letting the team down

    The govt has extraordinary powers and impugning on civil liberties with good reason but in extraordinary ways and it's important media are able to criticize, cut through the spin and at times go for the jugular because the opposition is too busy mutilating itself to hold the govt to account.

    There are times when labour / Jacinda supporters attack people with questions like rabid Trump supporters. Some of us forgot the be kind part.

    There are many genuine criticisms and failures that govt officals and govt departments have allowed the ball to be dropped over the last 18 months and while overall they've done a great job a lot of that is because of the pressure they've been under from journalists cos there's no opposition.

    And again journalists themselves are absolutely up for criticism but alot of the criticism they get is ugly

    There are genuinely those who attack journalists for doing their job because they are aligned with a political party or ideology and the journalist made their side look bad and they are acting in bad faith, if my side has dropped the ball I wanna know how/why not go nuts that the journo made my side look bad…

    I trust the media more than I trust unelected govt department bosses who routinely drop the ball and make govt look bad.

  15. newsense 15

    Wait 1000 cases a day NSW and 100 deaths a day UK? Farage and chums…anybody ask them why all these life boaters are so desperate to be here?

    the liars and bullshit are beginning to get a toehold.
    They’re a little bit better than the last lot, a few days of positive, more use of proxies for the negatives and have got NSW and ScoMo too.

    New Zealand is in the top few places to be in the world. And likely to be there after lockdown.

    I mean really the people who have been posting the NSW 5 person picnic thing as a libertarian triumph. FML.

    different place in the electoral cycle and a different, more difficult challenge.

  16. Chris 16

    Hawkesby's so one-eyed she'll only need one needle.

  17. Anne 17

    Thanks for that Pukahu Road.

    And when you've been on the receiving end of one or two of the 1 in 100 sociopaths, you know how dangerous they can be. Many of them get away with conduct which would see the rest of us publicly admonished at best, prosecuted by the police at worst. But for some reason they are allowed to cover their tracks with impunity.

    • Anne 17.1

      Pukahu Road seems to have deleted his comment which was about the level of sociopathy present in society especially in relation to media personnel. (My paraphrase).

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