Eighteen months ago, New Zealand’s frontline workers were lauded as heroes. Among them were police officers, doctors, nurses, vaccinators, bus drivers, and supermarket workers.
Now, they’ve become targets of abuse for some. Many of those same frontline workers say they’ve been punched, had bottles thrown at them, threatened, and verbally abused.
Why is this happening? And, where does that leave New Zealand?
It’s a question that 1News’ Anger, Anxiety & Us, hosted by TVNZ's John Campbell, is trying to grapple with.
“We’re doing this show because the stories of people getting abused, when they are simply doing their jobs, need to be shared,” said TVNZ’s Sophie Baird, who is helping lead the show’s development.
“We’ve chosen to talk to the frontline workers facing the hatred because, although there have recently been attacks on the media, to assume we know what it’s like for others would be both arrogant and poor journalism.
“We’ve also spoken to experts to help us understand human behaviour; we’ve spoken to organisers from Groundswell and Hone Harawira to understand what drives people to protest; we’ve spoken to social media experts to understand technology’s role; and we’ve spoken to some teenagers to help us shed light on where to from here.”
It can be a delicate balance — should a story be told to draw attention to the topic when most Kiwis treat Aotearoa’s frontline workers the way they deserve to be treated and don't act out negatively on emotion?
“Some might call it a vocal minority, but how many people need to be abused for us to consider it a problem worth addressing?
“To clarify, this isn’t a programme about the recent protests; this is a programme examining why many New Zealanders suddenly feel emboldened to yell abuse at strangers,” Baird said.
So, why focus on “anger” and “anxiety”?
Baird said it’s more a question of how and why frontline workers had gone from being heralded as heroes to now being spat on, punched, and bitten.
“Whether the anger that so many are demonstrating is something you can control, whether it’s actually anxiety that’s manifesting as hate, and whether this is our future.”
Baird said the show wasn’t intended to be angry or anxious — there are moments of “pure delight”, and the team had done its best to make sure it’s focused on solutions.