I’ve let this blog sit, festering, gathering dust. I’m not good at maintaining regular postings. But it’s still here, and I’m still here, and I’m getting more and more despondent about the way the “rebuild” of Christchurch is going. I’m off work for medical reasons at the moment, so have a bit more time to write and rant. In this week, the lead up the the second anniversary of the February quake, I’m hoping to have a blog post up most days. In my head, I’ll cover schools, the central city, the local body elections and the media – but that could change when I start writing.
I have commended the Press for their reporting in Christchurch since the quakes started. They have done a great job reporting stories on a daily basis, and following that up with more in-depth reporting from the likes of John McCrone and Philip Matthews in the Mainlander section. Their reporting has held the council, EQC, insurance companies and especially the government to account – to the point where Gerry Brownlee called the paper “the enemy of the recovery“.
“We’re getting into the sort of zone of, frankly, The Press again being the enemy of recovery. Happy for you to put that in the paper because I know a lot of people think it.”
So I was in equal parts surprised and disgusted by Michael Wright’s front page opinion piece on Saturday. He effectively writes what Gerry Brownlee wants him to say, not because it’s true, but because Gerry wishes it to be so.
“Christchurch’s central city red zone will henceforth be known as the ‘rebuild zone’, the minister said, and thus it was so”
There wasn’t any particular evidence to support this bold claim, though Wright insists that “Brownlee got the rhetoric just right”. Perhaps the truest words he writes are that “perception is reality”. Well, yes. And the Press is the main organ for the transmission of that perception. If they are just going to drop any pretence of critical thought and instead regurgitate the government’s talking points without questioning, then we are in for a tough time.
Perhaps the giveaway was in the second sentence: “a captive audience of more than 40 local and international journalists were on hand”. I don’t want our journalists to be captive. I want them to think about, to critically evaluate the statements coming from this man. This man, who has unparalleled powers in modern New Zealand political history. Who has increasingly made Christchurch his personal fiefdom. The one thing we have left to stop him is a free press – and I hope that in the run up to this week’s anniversary, we can trust them to do that.
There are echoes of the government’s attempts to redefine the word “rejuvenate” during the Schools closure announcements last year. This bizarre, Orwellian tendency to mangle the mother tongue has two very different exponents in Hekia Parata and Gerry Brownlee. One attempts to re-appropriate words through utter confusion, the other through flat-bat bullying. There is nothing rejuvenating about closing a school. Similarly, stating that we are now are “rebuild zone” does not actually build buildings; it doesn’t fix toilets or re-house people who have already been without adequate accommodation for two years or more now.
This is a transparent attempt to change the narrative around what has been both a natural and a political disaster in Christchurch, just in time for the PM to parachute in on Friday and steal the plaudits. As someone with huge concerns about the way the decisions in this city are being made, I am alarmed by this development. I want to see action, not cynical attempts at rebranding. I realise that people from outside of Christchurch are tired of what is going on down here, and that they’re probably keen on hearing that we’ve moved on from Red Zone to Rebuild Zone. It’s just a shame that it’s not true.