Apart from Radio New Zealand, which is doing an excellent job as our public broadcaster, and The Press, the media’s coverage of the quake has disappointed. It’s first job should be to supply needed information to people in the quake zone. Instead, we have this morbid running death count and Facebook-derived stories of the dead.
Today, in what I thought was a pretty tasteless article reading the chicken entrails on the electoral implications of the earthquake, John Armstrong praises Gerry Brownlee saying:
“He has already had to bang bureaucratic heads together to try and bring common sense to the release of victims’ names.
There is also a drastic need to get someone with real communication skills to close the increasing divide between what is happening and what Civil Defence thinks people should be allowed to know about what is happening.”
It seems to me that the praise is for overriding the considered opinion of specialist public servants so that the media could have get the names, rush to Facebook, and glean some quotes to pad out tear-jerker articles.
These kind of articles, and the breathless updating of the death count may draw the punters to the media but do they actually supply any useful information either to those directly affected or to the rest of us? There are good articles on the quakes damage, utilities, and how we in other regions can help but they are relegated to a secondary position.
Armstrong also takes a jab at John Key saying:
“The present political hiatus benefits only one person – the Prime Minister. Key has been omnipresent, if not omnipotent. He has used the advantage of incumbency to maximum effect in terms of being in the public eye and hogging the media.”
In other words: ‘Key is on the TV every chance he gets but he isn’t actually doing anything’. True enough but unfair. During a disaster like this, at least in the initial stages, there is little for the PM to actually do in terms of his policy-making role.
The policies were set long ago, the resources were put in place. Apart from the pro forma declaration of national emergency, which any PM would do, there’s no policy work in these first few days. What we do expect of a Prime Minister in these times is leadership. Essentially the PM’s job becomes paternalistic – assuring a frightened populace that everything will be OK. Key’s no Churchill, he reads stiffly from speeches written by others, but he is having a reasonably competent jab at the role any Prime Minister would been fulfilling at the moment.
The test for Key will come next week when we will start to want policy specifically:
There will be some in the government advocating for use of the ‘shock doctrine’ – to use the disaster to push through radical reform (as Whaleoil is recommending).
In fact, I think Key will be responsible enough to drop the expensive and complicated tinkering with public assets, benefits, and the public sector and, instead, concentrate all his focus on Christchurch.
That will be the true test of his leadership.