How civic participation and independent thinking are being sold as dark arts

More pearl clutching from ‘misinformation experts’ over the freedom community’s political engagement.

One of VFFs memes ahead of last week’s local body election. The professional and organised nature of the freedom movement has media actors very concerned.

Pathologising dissent has been a perennial theme at The Looking Glass, but now media actors are moving beyond targeting pesky protestors and dissidents to cast a shadow over entirely pedestrian activities.

Activists in the freedom movement are now being called by MSM journalists and their ‘experts’, ‘the misinformation and disinformation community’.

Yes, the biggest purveyors of actual mis-and-disinformation are in a panic about people who have come to different conclusions about this whole covidian clusterf**k. It all has a very McCarthyite undertone. ‘Reds under the bed’ is now conspiracy theorists attacking woke tropes, with some good old Russophia thrown in for good measure.

Two examples from the last two weeks are salient. First, the head of journalism at AUT penned an op-ed in favour of ditching the right of reply for groups pushing back against government overreach. Second, an academic from Orwellian ‘The Disinformation Project’ described normal civic participation by members of the freedom movement – an interest in voting for representatives who reflect their values – as something the wider public needs to be fearful of.

Derangement syndrome on steroids

In his op-ed, titled Fury under fire: anti-vax complaints loom over documentary, Treadwell says journalists have a duty not to empower lies and propaganda.

Well I would generally agree – but reporters and editors have spent that last two and half year peddling the most egregious and obvious lies and propaganda put out by governments. It has been appalling to watch, and worse because parsing the actual facts is not particularly hard to do.

When people with enough nous to smell a rat began to speak up, the establishment rounded on them like a pack of wolves, labelling them conspiracy theorists and mis-informants and has continued this campaign relentlessly ever since.

But what is startling about Treadwell’s piece is that he actually advocates for ditching long standing rules of journalism. Rules put in place to ensure the public is in a position to take an educated view of an issue, because they have received a balance of information.

This new ‘ethos’ started in the Trump years and came to be known as Trump Derangement Syndrome. Essentially the democratic establishment in the US, and the liberal media globally abandoned journalistic norms in favour of activism in order to destroy Trump.

Now, I am no fan of Trump, a narcissistic opportunist at best, but he is quite far down my personal shit list. I am even willing to give him credit for the occasional moment of lucidity, while recalling that he was also responsible for Operation Warpspeed, the disastrous programme to fast track the covid jab rollout.

But his Presidency broke a lot of people’s brains, and the liberal media allowed themselves to become completely de-moored from bedrock principles of journalism in order to oust him.

Recently, liberal pundit Sam Harris laid this bare in an interview with the UKs Triggernometry, in which he shamelessly admitted the liberal media conspired to bury the Hunter Biden laptop story so that Trump would not be re-elected. He went so far as to say Hunter Biden could have murdered children in his basement and it would still have been the right thing to do to keep Trump from another term in office.

The lead journalist on Stuff’s hit piece film Fire and Fury, Paula Penfold, more or less gave a nod to these new journalistic norms when she admitted they did not offer Voices for Freedom et al. the right of reply.

We are now living an era where derangement syndrome has become the dominant mindset of legacy media. Alarmism, fearmongering, omission and supression are acceptable if it produces a particular outcome.

Outrageously, Treadwell argued that the Media Council should not uphold the principle of ‘right of reply’ when it comes to grassroots activist group Voices for Freedom’s recent complaint about the Fire and Fury film, a group which has the support of well over 100,000 very normal, very average, everyday kiwis.

Treadwell wrote:

“Such a finding, despite any immediate logic to it, would be simply unthinkable.

“It would allow purveyors of disinformation to cast themselves even further as victims of the “mainstream media” and perhaps even force Stuff to provide a platform for their mistruths and conspiracies.

“It would open the gate wider to proto-fascist movements seeking to pollute our public sphere and thereby wound our democracy.”

It’s worth reminding readers here that the so-called ‘misinformation and disinformation’ put out by groups like VFF is never identified, and always left intentionally vague so news consumers are not able to judge for themselves what might be the case.

And that a bunch of people who are trying to uphold freedom of speech, civil rights and the liberties democracies base themselves on are described as ‘proto-fascists’ is either intentionally deceitful or deeply ignorant. These values are the literal antithesis of fascism.

What is characteristic of fascism is the desire to control the information landscape totally – can you smell the hypocrisy here? It reeks.

I was grateful to see Sean Plunket enthusiastically challenge this thinking on the Platform (I’m not usually a fan, particularly of his disgraceful ‘nutter test’ and his recent rude interview with a whistleblower undertaker), while his colleague Ben Espiner wrote a great rebuttal here. Espiner says:

“I think we should be concerned about what our young journalists are learning about their role in a democracy from people like Treadwell. People who are supposed to be raising our next generation of reporters, yet appear increasingly to be abandoning their duty to convey the principles of balance and fairness in favour of drilling fear into their students over the entirely imagined danger of ‘platforming’ views they don’t like.”

Disinformation ‘experts’ attempt to stigmatise perfectly normal behaviour

Screenshot of Sanjana Hattotuwa of The Disinformation Project, speaking to Breakfast TV last week.

The Disinformation Project’s Sanjana Hattotuwa said on Breakfast TV this week:

“The most interested in exercising their franchise, from what we study, come from the mis and disinformation communities. They are the most motivated, they are the most intentional, they do the most research and they really want to go out and vote and they are … by order of magnitude exceeding what we have studied are campaigns put out by LGNZ and the Vote 2022 Campaign … So it’s not good: they are instrumentalising the voter apathy and the most interested voting is coming from the mis and disinformation communities.”

Did you do a double take there? By exercising your political right to vote, you are taking advantage of all the people who don’t bother. It used to be considered a virtue to be motivated and informed, but now we’re told that this is ‘not good’.

I have said before mis and disinformation experts aren’t real experts on anything. They are propagandists in sheep’s clothing. A fake discipline, probably covertly funded by governments. The Disinformation Project is not upfront about its funding, but claims it is independent, while being linked to government funded Te Pūnaha Matatini (TPM) by its lead researcher, Kate Hannah, and publishing its non-peer reviewed papers on TPM letterhead.

The Disinformation Project has published papers on government funded TPM letterhead, but says its an independent research group and does not disclose its funding.

Earlier this year assistant professor at Uppsala University and propaganda expert Greg Simons, someone who has spent decades studying the machinations of political communications, said of The Disinformation Project:

“The project is run in a classic front-group style of information operation and influence activity. They attempt credibility by not disclosing their financial and political conflicts of interest. The underlying reason is that they want to be seen as being more credible at a time when the New Zealand government is increasingly (and rightly) seen as being less trustworthy and credible.”

Ardern’s free speech problem

The timing of these two pieces of commentary is interesting, and I do not believe coincidental, coming on the heels of two major signals from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about the direction of travel. While in New York last month, Ardern announced she was heading up a global task force to tackle mis and disinformation, which was quickly followed by a remarkable speech at the UN, in which she claimed access to information online was a ‘weapon of war’, and called for a global censorship regime.

She has been widely criticised, mocked and derided abroad for her outrageous attacks on the bedrock of democracy, but the legacy media in New Zealand has only applauded her, and as we have seen, appear fully committed to her agenda.

Muriel Newman at Victoria University’s Centre for Political Research wrote an excellent critique this week, titled The New Face of Authoritariansm.

Newman remarked that the Prime Minister’s UN speech signalled how far she intends to go to control what Kiwis can and can’t see and read, by controlling internet algorithms, with the result that it will soon take a lot of effort and determination to find alternative, unofficial, views.

“What this means is that algorithms are being changed to ensure that internet searches no longer give you what you want, but what “they” want you to see. George Orwell’s age of Big Brother really has arrived. Its name is Jacinda Ardern.”

Grooming journalists

Following on from these global announcements, journalists are being targeted again with more misinformation propaganda.

The Disinformation Project has just announced in-person media resourcing sessions to be held early next month, in which journalists and producers are invited to discuss disinformation issues with the project team.

These sessions will follow Chatham House Rules, meaning what is said will remain undisclosed outside of the room, apparently in order to allow free and frank discussion.

The TDP sessions for journalists have a focus on disinformation and diversity – is a new narrative about to hit the headlines? One possibility is that the freedom movement, inconveniently broad-based – politically, socially and ethnically – will be sold to journalists as racist at some level. Or, perhaps the fact that it brought such a diversity of people together to stand up for their rights and freedoms will be used to push a narrative about how the ‘mis and disinformation community’ are exploiting people’s emotional weaknesses and need for belonging to ‘radicalise’ them. We’ll have to wait and see.

The sessions will be run with the support of the Science Media Centre, a global PR outfit that curates science stories and scientist comment for reporters, and also trains journalists on science reporting, thus majorly skewing science journalism towards corporate interests. It has had a very pernicious impact on science journalism in the last decade or so.

“A decreasing pool of time-pressed UK science journalists no longer go into the field and dig for stories. They go to pre-arranged briefings at the SMC … The quality of science reporting and the integrity of information available to the public have both suffered, distorting the ability of the public to make decisions about risk,” said head of the science journalism programme at City College of London, Connie St. Louis, back in 2013.

Yes, we really do have a new Pravda on our hands. Rather than interrogate The Disinformation Project about its funding and origins, I’m betting the legacy media will continue to legitimise it by regularly quoting its spokespeople and publicising its ‘research’.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that such things are going on in New Zealand when the country’s leader is at the forefront of a global project to implement mass censorship. It makes one wonder whether Kiwis will be the first victims of Ardern’s experiments, the guineapigs? Hasn’t New Zealand often been the test case for global technology roll outs? Will we also be the first people in the west to have our access to information curbed and the right to speak our minds limited?

Fun times! Watch out for a volley of new ‘mis and disinformation’ reporting come November, with a ‘diversity’ twist.

Stay curious.

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