Slums ‘R’ Us: The Guardian And Kiwi Poverty Porn

CAPTION: South Auckland is a slum in “an increasingly chaotic megacity.” 

An article in the Guardian website recently reported on “New Zealand’s Shameful Secret” and the growing problems of poverty and homelessness in a country held up as the land of milk and honey. It was an important and timely article. But parts of read like Poverty Porn.

“Catch a bus or two from Britomart in central Auckland, and after an hour and a half and you will arrive in the urban slum of South Auckland. Here, houses are wooden, damp and mouldy and often hold in excess of 10 people. Young children walk the streets in mid-winter with no shoes and gummy eyes. Looming over polluted streams and rubbish-strewn parks is the vast Double Brown Beer Brewery. 

Elsewhere.

The (Auckland City) mission is located in busy central Auckland but the most deprived regions of this increasingly chaotic mega-city are in South Auckland, in the ghettoised suburbs of Otara, Papatoetoe and East Tamaki.

A slum. A ghetto.
A slum. A ghetto.

The theme of the article was strong.  It exposes a hardening of attitudes and darkening prospects for the poor. The Guardian’s Dunedin-based reporter Eleanor Ainge Roy has a good turn of phrase that makes for very readable copy. But the story was over-egged. South Auckland is not an urban slum. Otara, Papatoetoe and East Tamaki do have a lot of poor people and problems associated with low incomes. But they are not “ghettoised.”

Most South Auckland residents are proud of their homes and communities. They enjoy lives they have created there, and many have no wish to live in Ponsonby. They well be surprised to find they live in a ghetto or a slum.

A Guardian reader.
A Guardian reader.

Its one of the tendencies for middle class media that are discovering poverty in their midst. Papatoetoe is Port au Prince. Favona is a Favela. Back in May we had a similar instance when Heather du Plessis-Allan described Ngaruawahia as “rotting”. The dismissive annoyed local people and leading to du Plessis Allan to an embarrassing back down.

Ngaruawahia "rotting"
Ngaruawahia “rotting”

Poverty is a story that media like. But it betrays the middle class background to the majority of journalists that see hardscrabble places as foreign and unsightly. I wonder if local truck stops even offer eggs benedict.

I can remember, as a young reporter at the Waikato Times doing describing singer Maria Dallas returning to Morrinsville, which I described as a simple “cow town” – a term that could be used for a lot of places in the dairying province. My chief sub-editor at the time chided me. Sure, he said, Morrinsville might not have the thrills and spills of Hamilton’s Garden Place on a Friday night. But people had chosen to live their lives in Morrinsville. It was more than a cow town. It was a community. South Auckland people don’t believe they are living in a slum or ghetto  – even if Guardian readers do.

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Slums ‘R’ Us: The Guardian And Kiwi Poverty Porn”

  1. I do enjoy Eleanor Roy’s reports though. Unlike most NZ journo’s she writes with skill & verve. However I am fairly sure that she stays down in Dunedin with Google and a keyboard and (maybe) a phone; trawls the main media sites for stories; juices them up with some liberal angst and a few key memes to suit the Guardian and fires them off. I have seen her report from Fiji (yeah right) though she specialises in tales of right-wing perfidy. The South Auckland scandal scoop was mostly scammed from a TV3 report some weeks earlier.

    1. She has a very nice turn of phrase – its just how overseas media report about countries they have no stake in. AlJazeera had a much straighter piece.

      1. I think it’s called serving your market and that’s the way to go. Her pieces play to their needs while not necessarily serving the cause of hard-working objectivity, a cause long lost. Personally I like the journalism on The Atlantic, but I can still admire lively writing however it skews.

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