Letter from Christchurch: We're still here, you know [updated]
Another guest post from my Christchurch correspondent, complete with pictures taken over the last few days.
Let me make a plea for Christchurch. And for good journalism.
Watching the media coverage of the Christchurch earthquake, one could understandably conclude that the entire city had been razed to the ground, all the city’s buildings, roads and houses reduced to rubble, and the entire population is now reduced to boiling up stones for soup while dodging falling masonry. Not so.
Why wouldn't they believe that trope, however, when the media are acting as paid doom-mongers and unpaid promoters of pessimism. Right from the very first morning, when the media erupted into print with reports of looting (reports that surprised friends in the city who saw shops with open doors but never any looters, not one) they have continued using emotionally charged but wildly inaccurate phrases to describe our still lovely town as an “earthquake ravaged city”—even when they’re only writing a story about an All Black test!
Does this look like a ravaged city to you?
Such headlines are better for attracting readers and viewers than they are at representing the facts. And in point of fact, they radically misrepresent the true condition of the city of Christchurch (causing even further difficulties for Christchurch businesses already struggling with recession and with a council fixated so much on “preservation” of older building stock that it only makes the city’s reconstruction harder). Christchurch businesswoman Janice Burnett, for example, offers evidence of the effect of bad reporting on her own business, saying
businesses like McDonalds and Subway, to whom she supplies, were looking to Australia for their gherkins under the assumption that her business had been destroyed in the earthquake. Burnett said they had no idea that some of Christchurch was still standing.
And it’s not just other businesses who are reading the bad reporting. Tourists are looking to delay or cancel holidays to Christchurch fearing, after seeing the coverage of the disaster, that their destination lies in ruins. Yesterday, for example, I reassured an Aucklander who was about to cancel their trip that contrary to reports of our demise the vast majority of the city is in good working order and open for business. They were relieved to hear that they could continue their trip as planned.
This is not to belie the disaster or ignore the tragedy, nor the significant structural damage that the earthquake has caused and continues to cause. However, as these photos can only hint at, this is not a city on its knees. It has had a severe shake, but this is not Pakistan or Port au Prince. The vast majority of Christchurch weathered the earthquake extremely well, thank you very much, and our garden city is as beautiful as ever and is open for business.
Don’t believe half of what you hear. Come down and see for yourself!
UPDATE: More up-to-the-minute photos below of the “quake ravaged city,” courtesy Christchurch photographer Kurt Langer. (And just quietly, he and his fully-equipped studio would appreciate a commission or two at the moment, since much of the work he did have on has now disappeared. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with your commissions, or for permission to republish.)