Who Gets Heard in New Zealand?

root - Posted on 01 January 2000

The Scholarship of Poverty Series

by by POOR staff

As part of our Media Studies Program at POOR, we provide extensive media and poverty training for visiting students and professional journalists. One such visitor is Jean McGeorge from New Zealand, who wrote to us to explain why she was interested in visiting POOR magazine. After she had visited our Community Newsroom, our Media Studies interns interviewed her to gain an understanding of her work and her dilemma with mainstream media coverage of poor communities in New Zealand.

Jean first contacted POOR via e-mail:

"Hello, my name is Jean McGeorge and I am a journalist from New Zealand. I became really interested in the media portrayal of poverty while working as reporter on a community newspaper in one of New Zealand's poorest areas. I got sick of reading headlines (in other papers of course) like 'Welcome to the Underworld' and 'Otara as Bad as We Thought.'

I am now putting together a proposal for a research grant to put together guidelines to help improve mainstream media coverage of poverty and poverty-related issues in my country.

The grant I'm applying for allows for travel to go to media organisations overseas that could provide useful models.

I would love the opportunity to come and spend some time observing at Poor Magazine and to talk with you about ways in which these issues can be reframed and addressed better in New Zealand.

If I got the grant, I would probably be traveling in February or March next year and imagine I would need to spend a week or two with you.

Please get back to me, let me know what you think and I can tell you more about New Zealand and the work I would like to do."

In further correspondence, Jean discussed the multi-cultural, and often poor, communities of New Zealand:

"South Auckland, where I worked, has a reasonably large Maori population, and also a high immigrant population. There is a large Pacific Island population (Samoan and Tongan communities) and smaller communities of Indians, Asians and the country's refugee resettlement programme is based here."

POOR asked Jean, "What, if any, writing groups are in existence with low income folks in New Zealand?"

She replied, "Pretty much none, I'm afraid. The only thing I have found so far is a newspaper in Wellington, our capital, called the City Voice. This uses a large volunteer staff and focuses on issues affecting inner-city people. It also practices advocacy journalism and is run as a collective.

Unfortunately, New Zealand is so small ( 3.5 million people) there is not the market for many niche publications, and most of the smaller community papers which could serve this function have been bought up by the two large multi-national publishing companies operating in New Zealand. Plus, the main media writes ABOUT, very seldom FOR, low-income communities."

An Interview with Jean McGeorge

by Vlad Pogorelov

I remember when, still a romantic young man, I watched the Australian film ìCrocodile Dundeeî a number of times. I had a big world map on my study desk, underneath the Plexiglas. Instead of practicing Algebra or Russian Grammar I would sit there for hours, dreaming of traveling to all those exotic places of the world. New Zealand was definitely one of them. As in the Moody Blues song, ìthinking is the best way to travel,î and so I traveled in my imagination. New Zealand was a place of dangers and adventure, where the native tribes are ready to ambush you at any moment and exotic prehistoric animals are roaming free in the wilderness.

Twenty years later I still havenít made it to New Zealand or Australia, but I am much closer to that part of the world than I was before. Yet after living here in America for the last 8 years and even becoming an American citizen, I eventually had to say good-bye to my romantic notions of the ìNew Worldî that were shaped by the books of Maine Reed and Fenimore Cooper. California turned out not to be the place of Wild West cowboys or Gold Rush miners. It is more prosaic, more regulated and at times inhumane. Keeping that in mind, I prepared for the interview with Jean McGeorge, who came to POOR all the way from New Zealand.

A woman in her twenties, Jean embodies an air of ingrained intelligence and a calm, but firm, self-confidence. For a second she reminds me of portrait I have seen of Florence Nightingale, just arrived at the battlefield of the Crimean War. Jean is sitting in her wooden armchair in POOR’s conference room and is facing a crew of interns, staff writers and other prominent figures of the New Journalism movement. With quiet determination she withstands an assault of curiosity and thorough journalistic inquiry into her life and work.

Having heard so much about her from co-editors Dee and Lisa, I finally have a chance to ask her the questions that Iíd prepared the day before. Knowing that I will not have enough time to satisfy my curiosity about her work and New Zealand, I settle on two questions. As other members of the interviewing group have questions as well, I am confident that we will gather enough vital information to understand the motives behind her mission of reporting on New Zealand’s poor.

Jean, who graduated with a degree in Journalism, could have a bright future as a young and promising journalist of the mainstream media. Instead, ever since her days with Papatoe Toe Otahuhu, a small but influential community newspaper of South Auckland, Jean has reported news concerning poor and underprivileged people. According to Jean, she was “inspired to cover the poor because there was not enough coverage on them in New Zealandís mainstream press.”

Currently, Jean is on a fact-finding tour about news organizations that cover poverty issues here in the US. She received her scholarship to research the broad subject of poor coverage in press thanks to her own energy and enthusiasm as well as the support of some representatives of New Zealandís newspaper industry. After an extensive search on the net, looking through dozens of different organizations that advocate and inform on the subject of poverty, Jean chose POOR Magazine and POOR News Network as the main place where she would learn.

According to Jean, New Zealand has a population of 3 million people, with one million concentrated in South Auckland. The poor and indigenous people are concentrated in the suburbs of South Auckland, areas formerly populated by white working class. Jean tells us of the segments of the population which are most at risk: the Pacific Islanders, the Indians, the Africans and of course the recent immigrant arrivals from variety of countries. Jean writes about the oppression and neglect suffered by these people under New Zealandís conservative Government. “The poverty is portrayed here,î Jean says with a sad smile, ìas if it is because the poor are lazy. And thatís what made me interested in this subject, made me write about them.”

Jean thinks that her Government betrayed her people when it privatized healthcare, reduced welfare or dole, as they call it, and abolished the trade Unions. She tells us that a few years ago her Government started a campaign of harassment against poor people, calling it “daubing dole bludger.” As a result, many poor and disadvantaged people were pushed into even greater poverty. Yet despite obvious class oppression, New Zealand is an apolitical country. “We donít like to make a fuss. Somehow, we see it as embarrassing.” Jean says.

As I hear Jean talking about all the injustices done to the poor workers and indigenous people of New Zealand, I realize how much needs to be done in the US to revert the current situation of unjust welfare reform, reduced social spending and private healthcare. The way Jean describes her now ìindependentî country is so similar to what is happening hereóin Uncle Samís backyard. The fact that a majority of Americans are as apolitical as New Zealanders is not a surprise. It seems that it is very symptomatic for the English speaking post-British Empire worldóespecially if the people who are running the show are not the oppressed, the indigenous, the descendants of slaves or the minorities.

Describing her journalistic work, Jean tells us that big businesses recently evicted seventy families from their homes, in order to expand the motorways. The homes were demolished and the evicted families had no money or political influence to get proper compensation. Despite Jeanís involvement, she was unable to prevent it from happening. ìA lot of dirty dealing was going on,î she says, shaking her head. ìAnd unfortunately there was not enough feedback from the community.î I am wondering if Jean knows about the housing crisis here in the Bay Area, and how thousands of San Franciscans have been evicted due to influx of high-tech money and enormous greediness of the landlords. I personally know a number of people who have been evicted, including myself. And some of them have been thrown out on the street more than one time.

Jean explains she eventually left her newspaper because the company that owned it was uninvolved with the staff and did not provide benefits for the workers. It reminded me my last ìreal jobî as a part time case manager in a chain homecare agency. I was fired for talking about fair benefits for the employees and the possibility of organizing a Union.

I ask Jean if there are other alternative newspapers or magazines in New Zealand writing on the issues of poverty and class oppression. To my surprise, Jean admits that that there are not. Apparently, the subject of poverty and class oppression is not covered very well in New Zealand, and that is why Jean is on her fact-finding tour. “Youíve got a lot of facts to gather, sister,” I think. “And one of them is that you can organize against the System, even if your number is small and you have holes in your pockets. POOR Magazine is a good example of that.”

For more information on POOR's Media Studies/Poverty Scholarship Program, please call us at (415) 863-6306 or email, tiny@poormagazine.org

A Journalist from New Zealand

Takuya Arai

Recently, I broke my rib. Since I do not have a health insurance and cannot afford to have a doctor, I was unable to get a proper medical care for my broken bone. Although I saw a doctor once right after I broke my bone, high medical expense, which was just an astronomical figure to my monthly budget, disqualified me for further medical care. I just needed to stay calm and depend on the natural healing ability of my body. It seems that my bone is healing this time, but I get scared when I imagine myself in a situation that requires more serious medical care, which I basically do not deserve because of the lack of adequate financial resources.

"Pacific Islanders, like Maori, have pretty bad health statistics." Jean answered. "We have a huge problem of communicable disease, such as tuberculosis, diabetes, measles, etc." Issues concerning health are more serious than any other threat to the poor community.

Jean has the same perception as POOR News Network does with regard to the point that issues concerning poverty are only the subjects of the news for mainstream media, which helps create a "sense of isolation" of poor community from the rest of the society. She was a journalist writing for Maori community newspaper called "Papa Toe Toe Ota Huhu" in Auckland, New Zealand, where she became interested in issues of poverty. With her New Zealand English accent, which sounded very fresh to me, Jean willingly answered our questions about the situations surrounding poverty in her country.

"Are minority people organized?" Joe, one of the POOR media studies interviewers, asked.

"There are a number of ethnic communities in South Auckland and very few white people. Pacific islanders, such as Samoans, Tongans, Indians, Muslims, and other Asian Immigrants do not really have political or organized voice." Despite the seriousness of the issues, she never raised her voice or became emotional when she was answering our questions. Her calmness and concise language reflected a sense of intelligence to me.

However, more importantly, what she told us reminded me of my own experience when I first came to the United States 9 years ago. I was 19 years old with full of hope and anxiety (fuan). People, culture, food, climate, everything was new to me. Living in a small city in Ohio and being Asian at the same time introduced me to a lot of unique and eccentric experiences, which I enjoyed so much.

However, being different from everybody around me also caused a lot of difficulties and hardships. (Toriwake) More than anything, my inability to speak English affected me the most in every aspect of my life. Sometimes I was being culled from the community. Stress accumulated when I could not say what I wanted to say when I confronted mean racists who consistently tried to make me the target of public ridicule, and when the same type of things happened a number of times a week over the period of 1 to 2 years until I became relatively communicable and capable of verbally fighting them back.

"In South Auckland, there are a lot of working class people. They do not have enough resources to fight. They have no money. Language barrier is a big factor." Jean explained. Their HAGAYUSA resonated in my mind. "Mainstream media like TV, radio and newspaper do not have consistent coverage of issues concerning poverty. People in poor communities are reluctant to open themselves up to the mainstream media because their experience with media was negative ones in the past." She added.

"How are minorities in New Zealand acting against threats from its government and society?" I asked this question because I was inspired by the news last week that Zapatista rebel leaders in Mexico are calling on the Mexican government to pass the Indian rights law. "A lot of people want their lands back." Jean answered. "Because of the land occupation, minorities are claiming compensation from the government."


Sign-up for POOR email!