In bad taste

The death toll from Tuesday’s 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch stands at 146, with at least 200 missing, according to a summary posted at

(Stuff is the web portal of newspapers owned by Fairfax Media, my employer.)

It’s likely that 122 of the 200 listed missing are inside the Canterbury Television (CTV) building, with another 22 in what’s left of Christchurch Cathedral.

It’s also fairly apparent that the chances of finding people alive under all that rubble diminishes by the minute. This makes the following item from Sunday’s New Zealand Herald (also reported in Stuff) of particular poor taste.

10.35am: There are reports that people have been sending hoax text messages claiming to be stuck under buildings. St John received a text on Friday reading, “Help me, I’m alive. I am trapped inside the CTV building. Please come fast I can’t breathe.” Police and Urban Search and Rescue teams were called, but they later found the cry for help to be a fraud.

This is terrible. I guess we’re supposed to assume  that the “St. John” referred to here  is the private, volunteer ambulance corps by that name. But, no. This is New Zealand, where this kind of journalistic nonchalance reflects a widespread linguistic ambiguity that can be observed in everything from insufficient traffic signage to “No worries, mate,” the kiwi’s answer to everything. It’s understandable that papers here would assume everybody knows what St. John’s is, considering the size of the country.

Oh, and the prankster(s) in question? Thanks. That was extremely constructive. I’m sure the rescue workers digging through the CTV building just loved to be jerked around like that.

Next time you want to prank someone, try being a little more useful.


  1. Quite right, surely they could have accounted for the vast herd of people who suspected that the *actual* Saint John was contacted by these pranksters.

  2. Riiiiight….because it couldn’t possibly have been St. John’s hospital, or police from the neigboring town of Saint John, if such places existed.

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