Jason Walls: Attacks on the media are escalating and look like they'll only get worse  

Author
Jason Walls,
Publish Date
Mon, 8 Nov 2021, 8:14PM
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was heckled at a press conference in Northland last week. (Photo / Michael Cunningham)
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was heckled at a press conference in Northland last week. (Photo / Michael Cunningham)

Jason Walls: Attacks on the media are escalating and look like they'll only get worse  

Author
Jason Walls,
Publish Date
Mon, 8 Nov 2021, 8:14PM

There are three certainties in life for journalists: Death, taxes and a fair amount of criticism.   

The latter comes with the territory and for the past few years, I’ve become accustomed to a certain level of feedback from people unhappy with my coverage, or questions.  

It’s not unusual for me to receive unsolicited messages on Facebook or Instagram from these people – sometimes pretty ugly stuff.  

I know other reporters get them too. 

But recently, there’s been a stark and worrying change in the level of animosity directed at journalists.  

Yesterday morning, for example, my partner woke me up to tell me someone’s been commenting on her photos with deeply personalised criticisms directed at me.  

To get to me, they came at her. 

For others in the news media, it’s been worse.    

Over the weekend, a 1News cameraman was attacked by anti-vaxxers while filming a vaccination event in Greymouth.  

Newshub reporter was heckled by a member of the public as she was setting up for a story.  

Unfortunately, all signs point to these sorts of incidents not just continuing, but getting worse.  

New Zealand’s now at the ugly end of the vaccination rollout. Almost everyone who wants to be vaccinated has been. 

Among the remaining 10 or so per cent yet to get the jab, is the incredibly vocal anti-vaccination community.  

They seem to be united by two things: Their distrust of the Government and their hate of the mainstream media.  

The former was on full display last week after a far-right conspiracy theorist faked media credentials to get into a press conference to heckle the Prime Minister.  

Jacinda Ardern said she was only taking questions from “accredited news media” and moved the press conference to another location – which she was right to do.  

The incident was clipped-up and put online, where it went viral on the fringe far-right, anti-vax websites and forums.  

Even podcaster Joe Rogan – who admittedly is not either fringe or far-right – had a crack at Ardern.  

But much of the sentiment in the countless comments sections on various “news” sites were directed at New Zealand’s media, accusing reporters and editors of being complicit in some sort of mass cover-up.  

Some of the comments are violent and quite unsettling.  

The day after Ardern’s press conference was hijacked, another set of protestors blocked the entrance to a vaccination clinic she was meant to visit in Whanganui. 

Once it was clear the Prime Minister wasn’t showing up, the mob turned on reporters.  

According to journalists on the scene, it was confronting. 

Police had to physically step between the two parties, as protestors loudly yelled about how journalists’ salaries were paid by the Government. 

It was an ugly saga – but I fear it was only the opening gambit in what’s likely to be a tense couple of months.  

Later today, a “mass Hikoi” is expected at Parliament. If this is anything like what was seen in Whanganui, it could be a problem for media covering the event.  

Meanwhile, on Wednesday Ardern will be visiting Auckland for the first time since the delta outbreak began 13 weeks ago.  

If protestors turn up to any events, things could go south very quickly.  

And while the Prime Minister has a security detail, reporters have nothing.  

I’ve never felt afraid to do my job – but the thought of covering these types of events gives me chills.