Thursday, February 16, 2023

Second thoughts on Cyclone Gabrielle and the media

Yesterday afternoon I blogged on the media’s coverage of Cyclone Gabrielle and its devastating after-effects.

 I have decided to pull that post. In view of the emerging picture, it could be seen as carping and petty.

This is a disaster of a magnitude not seen in New Zealand before – certainly not in my lifetime – and it confronted the media, as well as emergency services, with overwhelming challenges. While my blog post was by no means entirely critical, to focus on deficiencies in the media’s response now seems disrespectful to everyone caught up in the tragedy. 


David McLoughlin said...

While not trying to downplay the severity of this storm on places like Wairoa, Karl, the fact is that we have had similar and far worse storms previously. For example, in February 1936, we had a massive (unnamed) cyclone that tracked much the same path as former-Cyclone Gabrielle (coming in via Norfolk Island), causing major floods; Whangarei and Thames were inundated; 40 boats were sunk in Auckland harbour and many homes lost roofs; there was massive damage in Palmerston North with many homes there also losing roofs; and the TEV Rangatira was badly holed in Wellington harbour but fortunately didn't sink. Twelve people died nationally in that storm. In March 1988, many of us will remember, we had Cyclone Bola which devastated East Cape and prompted Geoffrey Palmer's famous observation that NZ is a "pluvial country," which had journos dashing for their dictionaries. The worst storm of all in our recorded history was Cyclone Giselle in April 1968, which not only caused the sinking of the TEV Wahine with the loss of 53 lives, but massive destruction to houses in Wellington and elsewhere. Nothing else has to date approached the ferocity of Giselle, and the 1936 storm was according to the records, more destructive to many places than this week's.

It worries me that the media and the usual cheerleaders often exhibit little knowledge of what has happened in the past, and so every storm or cyclone is trumpeted as if we have never experienced such a thing before, or is "the worst ever" and of course the ludicrous but regular claim that such storms are "Mother Nature's" or "Gaia's" revenge on we humans for driving cars or eating dairy products, which is piffle. Storms are weather, weather always happens, and disruptive and dangerous as weather can be, it is still weather.

Anonymous said...

I too jumped the gun in my initial concern over media reporting which I am feeling guilty about.

Karl du Fresne said...

I think the difference this time is the geographical extent of the mayhem. Bola and Giselle, both of which I remember (the scars from Bola are still evident in northern Hawke's Bay) were more localised.

Arthur said...

Bang on, David.

"You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." - Rahm Emanuel

Alas, politicians and much of the media will milk this tragedy for all its worth.

Odysseus said...

Karl, I agree Gabrielle has wrought the most serious devastation and I feel deeply sorry for those affected. We must do everything we can to help the regions rebuild and recover as soon as possible.

But there is a disaster of an even worse intensity and wider scale building in the education system for which Hipkins himself bears direct responsibility. It's called the "Curriculum Refresh"; it classifies children and their learning paths by race and promotes animistic religious concepts as science. Professor Elizabeth Rata has just sent the attached Open Letter to Hipkins pleading for an immediate halt: Obviously the media are giving the letter a wide berth - they would lose their government funding if they covered it. But perhaps the grave concerns presented in the letter would merit comment on your blog. As many people as possible need to be made aware.

Karl du Fresne said...

Further to David: I just heard Mani Dunlop of RNZ say she spoke to a man in Te Karaka, near Gisborne. That was one of the areas that took the full force of Bola and he told her this was worse.

Max Ritchie said...

There are charts online which show that Bola was more powerful. But if the Dunlop correspondent felt that Gabrielle was worse then who can argue? But compared to what goes on annually in the Caribbean and SE America this was at the low end. Still awful for individuals. Possibly good for Chippy however., noting the Rahm E quote above.

Karl du Fresne said...

Meteorological force doesn't necessarily equate with social and economic impact.

Paul Corrigan said...

Karl, I think you were right on one thing - the journalist stocks appear to be low.
- Paul Corrigan

Chris Nisbet said...

For me, the MSM's goose is thoroughly cooked. I no longer visit Stuff at all if I can help it, and for other MSM sites I rarely venture beyond a quick peek at their headlines, just to keep abreast of what they think the important issues are.
If the day ever arrives when a legacy media outlet apologises for what they've become (e.g. not even trying to provide balance on certain subjects, agreeing to the conditions imposed by the PIJF, signing up to it in the first place), and promising to do better, then I might take them more seriously.
If the post you pulled was a bit mean to them I'm sure they deserved it, but maybe you're right that now isn't the time for that.

Rob said...

A search of paperspast suggests 1924 was a shocker, especially the flood of March 1924. From the Evening Post of 20th August 1930

"On 11th March, 1924/ occurred torrential flood rains in parts of Hawkes Bay —rain the severity of whioh has probably never been equalled in any part of New Zealand since the advent of the White man. As 20 inches of rain or more fell in some places in a few hours, the rain was certainly abnormal, and it is small wonder that rivers rose rapidly, washed away bridges and roads, and drowned stock. One man was drowned and a child was killed by the collapse of a house. The total loss of stock was heavy, but a flood warning issued by the Meteorological Office enabled many to save their flocks."

Anonymous said...

The difference between Gabriele and other recent storm-disasters, and those prior to, say, 30 years ago, is the massive extent of forestry wash-off, aka slash. How much of a roll did this play in recent events? I suspect - a massive one. Not much, if anything, beong said about it though. Accountability for this? My gues.....the silence will continue to deafen.

Unknown said...

Dear Karl, your family and all folks in Nz.
We are so sorry to see all the damages, the massive flooding..everything following the cyclone Gabrielle..
You will have a long time to rebuilt and recover from all this.
WE send you our warmest hugs and hope that you will have the strength to go through all this.
NZ is a tuff country and we love it and the people we know there..
Mrs Randi Ottosen

Karl du Fresne said...

Thank you for getting in touch. It's lovely to hear from you. We have fond memories of meeting you in Fredericia in 2019.
Jolanta and I were unaffected by the floods, but my brother and his wife had to evacuate their house in Napier. Fortunately their property was not damaged, but they still have no electricity and are staying with us until it's restored.
Best wishes,

R Singers said...

It's ok, Feedly had it cached for me. In light of the topic, I'd be really interested on your thoughts on this article by Bryan Caplan's