Dimwittery in a dark place

Last updated 05:00 25/11/2013

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A television crew was initially barred entry from the crowded Civic Theatre back in 1991 for the meeting that - it turns out very wisely - blocked the sale of the Southland Building Society to Westpac.

The stated reason for denying them entry to what was clearly going to be a highly newsworthy, not to mention contentious meeting?

Fire regulations.

Crowded building . . . important safety issues . . . nothing personal, but rules are rules, they were told.

From outside the door they reproachfully shoved a microphone under the gob of a Southland Times reporter, for whom access was somehow not a problem, and asked his reaction to their outrageous exclusion.

He admitted the television crew was "probably no more combustible than the rest of us" though when the camera was lowered he added that their presence were perhaps seen as more inflammatory.

Undeterred, they gatecrashed the meeting and challenged the decision from the floor. The chairman accepted the cheerful encouragements from a crowd seemingly untroubled by the potential risk of dying in a Civic inferno, their escape routes blocked by the cameraman, reporter and sound guy, and permitted them to film away.

So look, sometimes we might collectively roll our eyes when fire regulations are invoked. But they do matter.

The Reading Cinemas manager and staff in Invercargill had a hard day at work on Friday, with just about nothing going right for one particularly wretched session of the oh-so-popular The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

It wasn't just that for the first 15 minutes the movie was soundless and the overhead lights still on. Or that, when that was fixed, management didn't know how to restart the movie from the beginning. Or that those people so fed up they decided to leave were told no cash refunds could be given if they had paid by eftpos or online. Actually, some patrons were insistent enough they did receive refunds even so, while others accepted tickets to later sessions.

That raft of problems was collectively galling for the customers and unimpressive all round.

But what's a great deal worse was the consequence of the movie having been seriously oversold - to an extent that manager Neville Cook says the staff were unaware of it.

Surely, though, with so much going wrong with that screening, it cannot have escaped notice that people were doubling up in seats and sitting in the aisles, to the extent that some said it was difficult to get up the aisles to the toilet.

Mr Cook would not comment on those reports other than to say that having people in the aisles "would be undesirable and probably illegal".

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No "probably" about it. Of course it was. And loath though staff or management may have been to further alienate people at what was already a terribly mismanaged screening, Mr Cook is simply not entitled to conclude as he did that the difficulties were "out of our control".

Cinema personnel chose not to face the fact that they had a situation on their hands that was illegal for very good reason.

This is something we can be supremely confident the Fire Service will be pointing out to the cinema when it delivers, if it hasn't already, what southern region fire safety officer Mike Cahill says will be "a good talking to".

Reading must be chastened. This not just a customer service fail, it was an abrogation of its duty to public safety.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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