Labour’s pot of cash to buy the media off is already flowing. And there is worse on the horizon. A recent report from the office of the Chief Censor is a prelude to media “regulation” or censorship…
The proposed hate speech legislation is a strong indication of the authoritarian impulses of the current Labour government. However, there are other concerning signs. A while ago, I discussed Labour’s authoritarian Sticks and Carrots strategy for New Zealand media companies, describing how they were using offers of funding as a carrot and restricting access to information as a stick. There is more authoritarianism coming down the pipeline.
First, the carrots are being deployed; the first money from the Labour government-funded media bribe fund is flowing, and it seems the first objective is to buy off Maori media:
Around 40% of the first funding round for Public Interest Journalism has gone to projects benefitting Māori journalism.
[and some examples of the funding are]
A boost in funding for Radio Waatea will enable the Auckland urban Māori station to deliver a breakfast current affairs show five days a week with a news team able to feed stories to the Iwi Radio Network.
Iwi radio station Awa FM will be funded to report news from the Whanganui Māori perspective in Whanganui dialect reo and English. The Rotorua Weekender will become the only newspaper in the country to print a weekly billingual section which will shine a light on issues for Rotorua iwi.
In addition to these examples, there is training for Maori journalists, funding for a Maori student magazine, and so forth. Although only time will tell, it would be a reasonable to assume that much of the content of this new funding will be to media which will be supportive of Labour’s divisive identity politics agenda. Not to mention that the first round of funding reflects that same agenda.
ACT, in a recent release, quite reasonably points out that the government providing $55 million of funding for journalism is hardly conducive to holding the government to account. After all, who will want to upset those who can dish out the goodies? However, it is a brave move of ACT to take on the press in this way as the press will presumably not wish to see any upset to this particular goodie cart. And they are not overly warm towards ACT in the first place.
The buying off of journalists is just one part of the equation. There is also a slow but sure drumbeat sounding off about so-called misinformation. The Classification Office, home of the medieval-sounding Chief Censor, has recently published a report titled ‘The Edge of the Infodemic’, with a subtitle of ‘Challenging Misinformation in Aotearoa: Additional statistics and information.’ The use of Aotearoa is always a giveaway that the authors are on board with Wokeism politics. After all, the country described in the report is called New Zealand so why not use the official name? It is an official New Zealand government report.
The Report is a Set Up for More Authoritarianism
As you would expect, the introduction to the report refers to the usual laundry list of topics of misinformation and conspiracy theories, even including the 6 January riot in the US as being a ‘threat to democracy’ – which is a gross exaggeration of what took place (no weapons and the only death was of one of the rioters). In other words, the authors of the report are peddling the partisan misinformation coming from US Democrat politicians. And therein lies the problem; so-called misinformation is often classified as such for various partisan agendas. This is not to say there is no misinformation out there, but what is and is not misinformation seems to be a topic of partisan choice.
Of course, what they also do not discuss is the occasions when misinformation is coming from ‘credible’ and ‘legitimate’ sources. One recent example is the lab leak hypothesis for Covid, which was widely decried as a conspiracy theory; until it wasn’t (see earlier post here). As one of the alleged conspiracy theorists on the topic of the lab leak, it has been both disconcerting and comical to watch so many media outlets backtrack on their allegations of conspiracy theory. But it is no laughing matter. The relegation of the lab leak hypothesis as a conspiracy theory had real-world consequences for research on the disease, for preventing future pandemics, and also for wider political and geopolitical questions.
As you might guess, coming from the offices of the Chief Censor, the findings of the report only go in one direction – more control. I will highlight some of the most concerning aspects of the report. The first is a survey question about the spread of misinformation as follows: ‘Overall, how concerned (if at all) are you about the spread of false or misleading news and information in New Zealand?’ The question fundamentally demands an answer of concern. The surprise is that anyone answered in the negative. Who is going to be unconcerned about the spread of misinformation? In other words, the question is designed to attain the maximum agreement. The problems really arise when looking at the answer to this question in conjunction with some very dishonest presentation of findings.
The report highlights the following research finding (in a big pink bubble) ‘84% expressed support for specific groups or organisations to take action’ on misinformation. The actual question in the survey is: ‘Who do you think is best placed to take action in dealing with the spread of false or misleading news or information?’ then lists various entities such as government, scientists, NGOs. The question is not about whether there is a desire for action but who is best placed to take action. The reporting of this finding is plainly misleading, and could also be called misinformation! I’m afraid it gets worse. On p.44, Key Findings, they double down on this dishonest presentation as follows:
- New Zealanders think more should be done about misinformation. The great majority (84%) expressed support for specific groups or organisations to take action.
- More than half (55%) of New Zealanders think government agencies and officials are best placed to take action, followed by the news media, and scientists or experts. Around a quarter see an important role for social media and tech corporations.
According to the survey question, nobody, not one person, expressed support for anyone to ‘take action’ of any kind. Also, note the way the second bullet point follows this by implying that people want the government to take action. And this is coming from the office of the Chief Censor. I think the title of the person is a give away, don’t you.
None of this would matter except for the fact that there is a call to action and some of this can be seen in the survey, in the following questions asking for agreement/disagreement:
- People and organisations should be able to say what they want on social media, even if it might be false or misleading.
- People and organisations should be able to say what they want on social media, even if it might offend or upset people.
- People and organisation should be able to say what they want on social media, even if it leads to violence or self-harm.
We can see where this is leading, which is social media censorship of some kind. If the questions are not enough to cause concern, then the discussions should rectify this, as in the following (p.51):
This is a global problem and there are no simple solutions. However, emerging thinking suggests that we can counter the more harmful effects by increasing access to accurate information; reducing the spread of misinformation; and improving resilience. This would require a connected-up approach amongst a broad range of stakeholders. This could include government agencies, NGOs, educators, news media organisations, social media platforms, and community leaders. At the same time the public will need to be supported and engaged.
From where does the ’emerging thinking’ come? This is left open, but it seems it might be the offices of the Chief Censor. And those who will control information, it is implied, are not the public who just need to be “supported and engaged.” And it gets worse still (note the parts that I have bolded):
Our research shows that more can be done. It also suggests that misinformation may influence people’s beliefs and actions in a way that could threaten the effectiveness of our public health response. This is particularly true for those who have become reliant on sources of information which promote distrust of official sources.
There it is – sources which promote distrust of official sources. In other words, information needs to come from “official” sources and action should be taken to prevent people seeing anything that might undermine the credibility of the sources. And then here it is; the review that will undoubtedly draw on this dodgy report as a key foundation:
A consistent regulatory approach across non-digital and digital misinformation alike is needed. The Government has announced that it is considering a broad review of media regulation, in the face of new types of harm that have emerged online, requiring new thinking and approaches. There could be scope to look at what a better coordinated, modern approach to misinformation may look like as part of that broad review.
It is very easy to see how this report will be used. Not only are the New Zealand public concerned about misinformation, but more than half also want the government to take action. The reality is that of course people do not want misinformation, but nobody answered any question which supports the idea that they wanted anybody, including the government, to take any action.
Labour are dangerous authoritarians
We can see here how the classification office has just served up an excuse, in the shape of a dubious report, for the government to implement more authoritarian control over the media. The only question remaining is how they will actually enact the control in any new legislation. In light of the hate speech laws, the bribing of the media, using the stick of access to information, and all the other actions of this Labour government, the direction of travel is clear. They are, to put it bluntly, authoritarians who want to control information, control what you may say, when you may say it and how you say it. In short, what they are proposing is the state taking more and more control over what can be said in New Zealand. This report did not come from thin air, it is designed to be used to enact control.
Next election, these nutjobs need to be thrown out and then need to be kept far from power, where they can do no harm. For what they are trying to do, they should be unelectable.
Some of the other questions in the survey were also extremely dubious. For example, in one question they ask participants to rate the truth/falsity of the following statement; ‘Climate change is mainly caused by human activities.’ This is a very, very odd notion with respect to the science of climate change. In consideration that there have been massive changes in the climate even before humans existed, the original question is an absurd question loaded with ideological baggage and, yes, disinformation. To illustrate, they might have asked the following question to better reflect the science from the IPCC: ‘The recent rise in global temperatures is primarily resultant from human activity.’ This statement would be scientifically defensible and fit with the IPCC science.
Interestingly, in a later section, they frame the same issue in more defensible terms when discussing the results, saying “the overwhelming scientific consensus about the influence of human activities on global rises in temperature” (p.33). Note here ‘influence’ in place of ‘mainly caused by’, thus given a more nuanced understanding. I would agree with the former, but not the latter, as was used in the question. But if a person said the original question was false, they would have done so, apparently, due to misinformation. Kind of comical that they present misinformation and then anyone who disagrees with it has supposedly been influenced by misinformation.