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TV shows lack of respect for Kiwi paralympians

Sep 11th, 2012 | By | Category: Diversity, Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

IT HAS been four years since New Zealand pledged to recognise the participation of disabled Kiwis in sport, yet our television networks seem slow to catch up.

Free-to-air coverage of the 2012 London Paralympics was limited to two one-hour highlights slots on Prime TV, much to the disappointment of New Zealand’s disabled community and advocacy groups.

This, despite the New Zealand Government in 2008 ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which makes specific mention of disabled people’s right to participate in recreation and sport.

“The lack of coverage of the fantastic athletes at the Paralympic Games by media demonstrates that…barriers still exist by failing to recognise their achievement,” says Wendi Wicks, national policy manager of the Disabled Person’s Assembly.

Ms Wicks believes the limited TV coverage presents disabled people as unworthy of recognition, despite their sporting achievements.

“It is four years since the [United Nations convention] was ratified in New Zealand. This demonstrates that there is a great deal of work to do before disabled people…can be recognised as equal citizens in Aotearoa.”

CCS Disability Action national president Kim Willetts has also found the coverage disappointing, and says New Zealand’s Paralympians need to be celebrated for their achievements.

“These Olympians have reached the pinnacle of their sporting career. They have put their heart and soul into their sport,” she says.

“This shows that society doesn’t value disabled people the same. This isn’t special – these are elite sportspeople.”

The advocacy groups say disabled New Zealanders have been “very disappointed” with the non-existent Paralympics coverage, as shown by comments on the groups’ Facebook pages.

Journalism student Kezia Bennett (left) – who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair – says she has not been happy with the minimal coverage.

“There’s even been very little in the back of the sports pages,” she says. “We are placing far more importance on able-bodied athletes..

“People need to realise that [Paralympians] are professional athletes. They have to work twice as hard to overcome discrimination as well as physical impairments.”

Ms Bennett, who attends an integrated dance class, says she would like to see disabled sport have a bigger profile in the media, not just the Paralympics.

“It goes on all year. There’s so much we can report on. It’s proper sport and we need to take it seriously.”

Both the Disabled Person’s Assembly and CCS are heartened that able-bodied New Zealanders are questioning the lack of coverage, and that attitudes are starting to change.

For example, members of Facebook group ”I’m pretty sure New Zealand is the best country in the world” have expressed their disgust.

“Shame on NZ TV for not putting it on TV so we can watch these great achievements for ourselves,” says one commenter.

Another wrote: “What a pity mainstream media haven’t felt fit to put a table up showing where we are and how we’re doing – like they did with the other Olympics.”

However, SKY TV has defended the minimal coverage,  saying the number of viewers interested in the Paralympics does not justify the cost of more extended coverage.

“It boils down to what our subscribers are watching,” says SKY spokeswoman Kirsty Way. “We use data to forecast the number of interested viewers, and we have an independent agency that measures TV ratings to determine how well each sports show is performing. Though we don’t always get the numbers spot on.”

Ms Way, who says SKY is broadcasting twice the Paralympics coverage than TVNZ did four years ago, is aware of the discussions on social media about the issue, and says the commenters are “a small but vocal group”.

“It’s fair enough. We understand their passion [for the Paralympics]. But we have to make commercially sensitive decisions.”

TOP ATHLETE: Paralympian Sophie Pascoe, who has won six medals in London. Photo: Zimbio.com.

Ms Willetts says she hopes the TV networks will realise there is a demand for more Paralympics coverage:  “Able-bodied society is asking ‘why aren’t we seeing this?’ New Zealanders want to see more.”

Ms Wicks believes changes need to be made at a policy level, with a particular focus on SKY’s programming commitments and sponsorship of Paralympic athletes.

She says both Australia and the UK have much more extensive free-to-air coverage of the Paralympics.

Beth Dean, a New Zealander living in London, says  UK coverage of the Paralympics has been good, and she has enjoyed the footage more than some of the Olympics events she attended.

“The technical aspects added a level of complexity, but in a good way. It is still exciting and a great celebration of human ability,” she says. “If we want to ignore defects or accidents…just because it depresses us, then shame on us.”

SURVEY: “These are our top athletes,” says NZ public

THE smiling face of swimmer Sophie Pascoe has beamed from our TV screens many times in the last two weeks – but New Zealanders would have liked to have seen the races that won her those six medals.

In light of SKY TV’s limited coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics, NewsWire asked members of the public on the streets and via social media if they would have liked to have seen more of New Zealand’s Paralympic athletes in action.

The majority of those surveyed (75%) replied that yes, and that they were not impressed with the level of coverage offered.

Student Christina Hyde-Fitzwater said she found the minimal coverage was “offensive” to the hard work done by Paralympians and others involved.

“I would want to see the same coverage [as the Olympics Games], and would find it interesting and exciting,” she said.

“Sophie Pascoe’s medals are no less than those of the main Olympics, so why are they treated any different?”

Mary Powell, of Brooklyn (pictured right, with dog Lilly) said she would have liked more coverage, especially given the New Zealand team’s successful performance at this year’s Paralympics.

“We’ve been doing so well. These are top athletes,” she said.

“Some of these swimmers are missing a piece of their limbs, but they are still amazing.”

Stacey O’Brien, one of the front-of-house team at Tommy Millions on Courtenay Place, says more coverage of the Paralympics needs to be shown to inspire young New Zealanders, particularly those with disabilities.

MORE PARALYMPICS: Stacey O’Brien and Alice Kronfeld

“We’re a small population, so we should be able to follow our athletes closer,” she said.  “It should be equal – the Olympics was on TV 24/7. Why not for both?”

Her co-worker, Alice Kronfeld, said the Paralympics should be shown on free-to-air television.

“TV One had really good coverage of the Olympics. It should be accessible for us young, minimum wage earners who can’t afford Sky.”

Some of those surveyed said the lack of coverage is symptomatic of prejudice towards the disabled in New Zealand.

“People still look at disabled athletes differently,” said Tom MacGregor, of Lower Hutt (right).

“But they are just as good, if not better [than able-bodied athletes]. SKY can’t even have one dedicated channel. These people aren’t missing eight legs – so why are we missing eight channels?”

Shannon Cooper, a Hare Krishna book distributor, believes New Zealanders are still uncomfortable with interacting with people who have disabilities.

“Some people don’t know how to approach or talk to a disabled person. It’s a comfort thing,” says Mr Cooper (left), whose brother is disabled.

Karori Masters student Miriam Malthus believes institutionalised “ableism” is still a problem in New Zealand, and the limited Paralympic coverage reflects that.

“They don’t have the big names that the main Olympics does, and the competition itself is very complex, because a lot of the sports are graded according to level of disability to make competition fair,” she said.

“So there are multiple grades for all their events, which I could see broadcasters being wary of because it would take so much explaining.”

However, in spite of this, consultant Gwilym Breese (right) said more coverage of the Paralympics was needed to celebrate New Zealand sporting prowess.

“We need to see higher achievement in New Zealand sports performances, particularly ahead of lacklustre performances in league and cricket,” he said.

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is a Whitireia journalism student, most passionate about the arts and social justice issues. Sometimes, she even combines the two.
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  1. Yep we have a large family and even tho 90% are not disbled in our whanau we hoped so much that we would see more coverage…………discrimination hard out, we should really let sky, prime and one know know hard out!

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