• Fall Guys

    The cyber-attack on the Waikato District Health Board is a follow-up to similar attacks elsewhere, and notably in Ireland. It has caused untold misery, anxiety and risk to many vulnerable patients, and confusion and worry to health administrators. It seems to be an instance of “ransom-ware”, whose purpose it is to extract money from the institutions affected; and, not content with threatening the lives of the sick, the perpetrators then threaten to publish private information about those whose records are held by the hospital authorities and to demand more money as the price for not doing so.

    It is hard to imagine a more reprehensible instance of pitiless greed or of the exploitation of hi-tech expertise by heartless criminals. Yet, sadly, it came as no surprise that someone could be found to demand immediately the resignation of Andrew Little, on the ground that he is responsible for the debacle because he is the Minister of Health and also the Minister responsible for the country’s security.

    There can be no more telling example of a growing current trend – that whenever something goes wrong or someone is disappointed or displeased by some action or inaction (of whatever kind), and irrespective of what other factors might be involved, a complainant will emerge from the woodwork to point the finger at the government of the day. This kind of knee-jerk version of the blame game is of course meat and drink for the media; they are presented with a ready-made story, with the added bonus of extending what is already a newsworthy story with a kind of “David v. Goliath” element of the “little man” or “ordinary bloke” hitting back against authority – and there is the pleasing additional opportunity to grill the authority figure complained about.

    The syndrome is constantly repeated, however tenuous may be the causal connection between the matter of which complaint is made and the person at whom the finger is pointed. In the case of the cyber-attack on the Waikato DHB, the intervention of international criminals, utilising a specialist knowledge for nefarious purposes, might have been considered not only as the prime cause of the crisis but also as a factor that was by definition difficult to foresee and counter – as other countries have also found to their cost.

    The reaction seems to be endemic in a society that is increasingly inclined to look to government to solve (and forestall) all problems, wherever and however they might arise. The surprising element, however, is that such reactions often come from those who resist and resent, as a matter of principle, the involvement of government in their lives. The best interpretation of the syndrome may be, in other words, that it is those who are hostile to government in general terms who will be the quickest to blame “the government” if they are displeased about something – anything – that could attract attention from the media.

    It may be futile to suggest that the media, in such circumstances, should exercise their own judgment as to whether such a complaint bears scrutiny; but we would all agree, surely, that free and active media are an essential element in a properly functioning democracy and that their role therefore involves more than simply reporting and amplifying attempts from whatever quarter to treat government ministers as Aunt Sallies or fall guys.

    Bryan Gould
    27 May 2021

1 Comment

  1. chris hurst says: May 27, 2021 at 7:58 pmReply

    Completely agree. Breakfast on TV1 has become a succession of people moaning about the government, aided by interviewers who seem to find it impossible to question the interviewees opinions and motives.