The mainstream media’s relentless obsession with Raveen Jaduram’s salary, even after being cornered to resign from his leadership position at Watercare New Zealand’s largest water utility is an ignominious reminder of the “unconscious bias” that ethnic migrants have to face in this country.
For uninitiated, Raveen Jaduram – an Indian-New Zealander – was Chief Executive Officer of Watercare for the last six years and was facing an enhanced media-scrutiny after Auckland plunged into a historic drought and water-shortage few months ago.
The initial public scrutiny around Watercare’s overall preparedness to deal with Auckland’s water shortage soon deviated into a full-blown frontal attack on its CEO’s unusually high salary, forcing him to resign from the position last week.
Such was the intensity of the personal attack on Jaduram’s salary that one of the latest reporting by NZ Herald this week emphasised that the incumbent had received a salary hike in recent months even after intense media-scrutiny in recent months.
To put it subtly, this was much in poor-taste and more an expression of “war of attrition” between what can be broadly defined as the privileges explicitly reserved only for white-men that were so undeservingly enjoyed by a seemingly less deserving person of colour.
Indeed, the level of reporting in the story was so erroneous that except for the fact that outgoing Watercare CEO’s salary was further increased to $800,000 mark, there was not a single value addition to the facts that were already in the public domain and had been already intensely reported and debated in mainstream media.
In fact, more than anything else, it reflects an expression of “disbelief” that the outgoing CEO’s salary increased despite relentless personal scrutiny of his salary – something which he did not choose himself.
It’s not clear that that “disbelief” was a reflection of the individual journalist or can be attributed as the worldview of the entire newsroom.
However, it is indeed a sorry state of affair that needs to be rebutted resolutely for the simple reason that if this can happen so blatantly to an ethnic migrant worker who has reached to the higher echelons of decision making in a big public organisation - then the fate of the ordinary low to medium level ethnic migrant workers who face unconscious bias to casual racism on a daily basis in this country could only be imagined.
To be fair, every credible media outlet has a responsibility of holding those in power to account, including Watercare – the largest Council Controlled Organisation and its - CEO without any fear or favour.
In that regard, New Zealand’s mainstream media has done well in reporting and offering public scrutiny in every aspect of this important issue around water-shortage facing in our biggest city.
However, the rules of engagement that it follows when reporting and scrutinising on issues that involve white European-New Zealanders and everyone else, particularly ethnic-migrant-New Zealanders, are starkly different.
The mainstream media’s reporting for ethnic-migrant communities continue to remain sensational, contemptuous, voyeuristic, disrespectful and in some cases erroneous.
Not long ago, mainstream media sought sensationalism in reporting of the number of imported Covid cases arriving on flights from India, while choosing to remain gloriously silent in the number of Covid cases arriving from traditionally white countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia or Canada.
The Indian Weekender had then also called out the mainstream-media’s unconscious bias against New Zealand’s ethnic migrant communities by reporting actual facts that India as a source of imported Covid cases remained distant fifth – far below the US, UK, Dubai and Australia – a fact erroneously not reported in their repeated stories on the issue.
Similarly, in this instance, the level of personal attack on an Indian-origin high paid head honcho’s salary, which in no way advanced or enriched the public debate around Watercare’s ability to pre-empt or deal with Auckland’s water shortage crisis is not only unprecedented but purely outrageous.
Make no mistake; the Indian Weekender fully condones the public scrutiny of individuals who are in public roles and have a duty and responsibility to uphold vis a vis their respective positions.
However, what we absolutely reject is the voyeuristic pleasure that some mainstream media reporting indulges in while reporting on issues related to the ethnic migrant community.
It has been absolutely clear in mainstream media’s own reporting that Jaduram has been at the helm of affairs for the last six years and has inherited a fully -functional system with an inherent capacity to decide on the salaries of its staff, including the CEO.
It is also clear that everyone in Auckland Council, including Mayor Phil Goff has been found napping on the important issue of regulating the salaries of CEOs of Council Controlled Organisations.
It is a paradox that while the interest continues to remain on the incumbent receiving that high salary, there has not been enough outrage or public scrutiny on why Auckland Council and its incumbent had failed to act proactively much before the issue had flared up in media.
It is unavoidable to see a clear case of unconscious bias, where the traditional privileged white man’s worldview refuses to come to terms with a person of colour - an ethnic migrant New Zealander – who in their world view seems to be undeserving of getting that high salary – is found to be enjoying that privileged position.
The media scrutiny in this instance could have easily been equally bold and ferocious as it has been so far now, albeit minus the unwarranted focus on the salary of the person in the position, which clearly does not serve any purpose except for exposing the “unconscious bias” that ethnic migrant minorities have to face on a daily basis in this country.