My happy, stimulating childhood was varied and colourful except for learning about right and wrong, that was back and white. Our home had no TV, but plenty of books, routines, chores, homework, good habits and a healthy sense of fairness.
Mum and Dad were both people of high integrity who valued honesty and justice and taught us to treat our neighbours as we would like to be treated. Those solid standards were set for us to live up to and I hope to pass them on to the next generation for our children’s benefit. Consequently I am conscious of fairness and won’t be the only one who has noticed with increasing alarm the put downs, insults and the unjust tactics we witness on TV screens every day.
It’s meant to pass as entertainment, or debate, or news, and occasionally as documentary. Recently the programme, The Price of Milk, was heavily promoted proudly touting to be giving the farmers’ side of the story.
Funded by New Zealand On Air, a documentary talking to real farmers about real issues to balance all the negativity smeared around sounded worth watching to me.
That Sunday night I didn’t see the programme so Jock recorded it. He warned me that it would make me angry if I watched it. He was right. How frustrating that an opportunity to truly give the farmers’ side was overlooked.
How disappointing that instead of building understanding this deepened divisions. How annoying that the farmer was portrayed as being the “quintessential kiwi cocky” but many practices shown are not typical in today’s dairy industry. Above all it seriously upset me to see the unfeeling manner the interviewer used in his subtle questioning.
He unfairly mistreated the goodwill of a media-naive couple who innocently hosted him and his TV crew in their home, farm and lives. In trying to lighten the load that dairy farmers carry of their “serious PR image” this guy could now be burdened with regrets.
If he wasn’t feeling depressed before this stressful experience he could well be now. I hope he has good support from friends, family, neighbours and Rural Support Trust. The message of the documentary was that dairy farmers are not acting responsibly.
The irony is that the journalism was not particularly responsible. To add insult to injury “The Price of Milk” price tag is publicly funded through NZ On Air so farmers contributed to production costs. I don’t deny that a percentage of farmers need to improve skills and attitudes. Just as in any job or profession, including journalism, there are top performers, average and those who could do better. Skinny cows, hip lifters and deep mud are unacceptable but neither are lightweight researching, put down reporting and shallow presentations.
From our experience with an episode of Country Calendar we know that hours of filming are edited out. “The Price of Milk ” didn’t screen footage taken of good practices, like supplementary feeding, so unjustly created an unbalanced and bad impression. Two farms were compared but not on a level field. One operation had off-farm income from the builder husband so their cows were almost lifestyle and not main income.
One farm was filmed in a wet winter, the other months later in spring abundance. I am not condoning bad practice among farmers, but I do challenge bad practice among TV presenters and other influential media personnel. So recovering from initial explosions of disappointment after viewing this controversial programme and indignation at the injustice, I now face a choice. Either to be cynical and assume the presenters were working to an agenda and unfairly set the farmers up to reinforce preconceived labels.
This confirms the quote from the documentary that “the media shows negative stuff”. Or I can be more charitable and consider maybe there’s a lack of understanding from the TV team. Perhaps they didn’t know farming well enough to realise the difference between good and bad performance, or winter and summer management.
So a wonderful opportunity exists for education to close gaps in knowledge, improve understanding and rekindle respect for farmers and farming. For justice to prevail NZ On Air could produce another documentary, or better still a series, covering the seasons of work and life on differing farms. Showcase some of the positive and productive operations in districts all over our beautiful country.
Find the many good news stories to be told of progress in management of herds, pasture, effluent, environment and efficiency .Town and country are neighbours to be treated as we want to be treated ourselves. A good title would be “The Values Of Milk”.