Hostility at Parliament: 1News reporter reflects on protest

Kristin Hall
Source: 1News

Opinion: Kristin Hall has been reporting on the escalating protest at Parliament since it began on Tuesday. In her decade-long career, she says the level of hostility on the grounds of the Beehive are "unprecedented".

Police surround protesters outside Parliament on February 10.

What do you get when you combine a pandemic, social media and a disparate group of disillusioned people? In Wellington, the answer has arrived on our doorstep in truckloads.

The last three days covering the Convoy 2022 protest have been the strangest of my journalism career. Over 10 years of reporting I have covered Occupy protests, climate change strikes, Black Lives Matter demonstrations and more smaller gatherings than I care to think about.

I’m used to signs aplenty and loud, passionate people. I’m used to people challenging the Government and the media, but the hostility shown towards the press, politicians and the public this week has had a different tone to anything I’ve experienced before.

Hundreds or thousands of people occupying Parliament lawns and blocking busy public roads clearly warrants media coverage whatever the cause, but how to cover it?

Reporters and TV crews found out early on that entering the crowd with cameras and mics was not likely to go down well. Coverage from the speakers balcony at Parliament is equally fraught and opens reporters up to criticism about an ‘us ands them’ mentality.

When I was up on the balcony I was told to come down and speak to people face-to-face. When I followed that advice, I was asked why I wasn’t up at a better vantage point “filming what’s really going on”.

Read more: 'Unprecedented' for New Zealand - police respond to protest

What is really going on? Well that depends on who you speak with. Some say they’re double-vaccinated but are against the mandate, some say the vaccine is tantamount to murder, that vaccination has caused hundreds of thousands of “spontaneous abortions” worldwide and that masks will give you lung cancer.

I spoke to a woman today who travelled from Christchurch, who asked me why I wasn’t covering the Nuremberg trials 2.0 as casually as if she was asking if I’d like a cup of tea.

Contrasting medical opinions aside, the group is united in their distaste for the press.

“You’re all liars” a man told me today. When I asked if he could be more specific he said he doesn’t consume mainstream media. People have asked me why I’m not covering the protests while I’m in the middle of interviewing them.

I have always believed that people are generally good. Today my camera operator and I interviewed a man taking a bath in a public water feature. He smiled and laughed with us as he soaped up, though just minutes before he’d been pulling the fingers at us and swearing from afar. Once he dried off he sidled up to our camera operator and apologised for getting a bit carried away.

It’s easier than ever to get carried away right now. Reliable, science-based, peer-reviewed information has never been more accessible, but the same can be said for conspiracy theories which are frankly insane.

Unverified information has a feel of exclusivity to it that makes it all the more attractive to people who’ve traditionally been cast out from society. Anecdotes, fake eyewitness accounts and straight up bogus stats are being shared at en eye-popping rate with next to no oversight from the social media giants that ultimately profit from it.

Our little country has never been more divided in my lifetime. We can only hope it’s an odd little slice of history instead of a turning point.