Discover more from J.R.Bruning Talking Risk
Is the catastrophic crisis in journalism taking democracy down with it?
2022 Tauranga by-election – fair and balanced journalism – or biased and defamatory?
LONG READ (SEPARATED INTO SECTIONS). 20 MINS.
‘News and information are part of the scaffolding of democracy itself… in a democracy journalism has three key jobs: to provide trustworthy information; to hold those with power to account; and to provide a space for trustworthy debate.’ Bunce, M. The Broken Estate 2019.
This post outlines as a case study firstly, the active promotion of minor parties as ‘anti-government’ by Newshub (part ); and secondly, the deliberate exclusion of minor party candidates from the majority of debates in the Tauranga by-election (part ). The effect, thirdly, was that minor parties and independent candidates in election coverage had no voice. Their messages and policies were supressed (part ).
Perhaps the media coverage of the June 2022 Tauranga by-election should be examined by civil society; and analysed as a case study; and then queried as to whether it serves as a highly disturbing precedent for the 2023 general election.
I consider that if the conduct of the media over the June 2022 Tauranga by-election serves as a precedent, there will be no free and fair coverage of candidates and political parties in the 2023 general election.
As well as this Substack, I discussed the Tauranga by-election with FreeNZ recently.
Because the role of powerful institutions in framing what we know, shaping what is politically and socially acceptable to say, and then providing the ‘town square’ to say it, is as old as human society.
Debate is critical. Without reasoning our ideas atrophy. The socio-political and historic backdrop to wicked problems is deemed superfluous. Nuance, and the grey, textured places where truth resides, becomes somehow too unwieldy, too hot, or just too plain uncomfortable, to handle. Yet this is the stuff - the matter - that underpins fair and reasoned judgement.
Democracy and journalism are both dependent on the upholding of principles.
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.
Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission. In articles of controversy or disagreement, a fair voice must be given to the opposition view.
However, it appears that if you are a registered candidate for a New Zealand election, but your position somehow contradicts or contests current government policy, you will be shamed and pilloried, and you will be excluded from nationally televised debate.
No longer the Fourth Estate?
The foundations of journalism that gave the Fourth Estate the resources and ethical backbone so that it could hold that space as that ‘scaffolding of democracy’ have been shaken and crumbling for decades.
Media behaviour over the course of the 2022 Tauranga by-election has been presaged by a cataclysmic rift in media operating models.
The effect has been to asymmetrically shrink the autonomy of the average journalist while increasing the power of editorial management and media owners. Then - budgets for government ‘communications’ - spin and PR, have ballooned.
There was a 50% decline in journalists in the period 2006-2018. Public sector communications staff increased by 50% in the period 2017-2021, while ‘communications’ budgets increased 64% to $55 million. (See parts  &  for more).
Journalists simply will not and cannot afford to contest or contradict management policy if they want a job in mainstream media, nor do they have time to explore the claims, the policy, the statute billowing from government agencies. Jobs are scarce and precarious.
Therefore, and unfortunately, while the brand names (the ‘livery’) of our legacy media might look the same to the average person; behind the scenes mergers, takeovers and funding trajectories have fundamentally realigned media purposes and values across the media environment.
J.R.Bruning Talking Risk is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
1. TAURANGA BY-ELECTION - BACKGROUND
On 18 June 2022, a parliamentary by-election was held in the Tauranga electorate (a small sub-section of the much bigger Tauranga City).
Tauranga has historically been a National party stronghold. National politician Simon Bridges had held the seat for 14 years (2008-2022). His abrupt departure resulted in the calling of the 2022 by-election.
In 2022, a total of 20,784 votes were cast out of the 51,706 enrolled voters, resulting in 40.5 of the electorate voting. Most votes were cast in advance. National candidate Sam Uffindell won by 6,354 votes.
ACT nominated Cameron Luxton. Labour’s Jan Tinetti stood as a candidate. Tinetti, who is a list MP, was elected from Labour’s party list prior to the by-election. The Green Party did not nominate a candidate.
Five minor parties, NZ Outdoors & Freedom Party, New Nation, One Party, Legalise Cannabis Party, New Conservative stood candidates alongside 3 independents.
As a by-election, the result was always understood to be temporary, as an election will be held in 2023. This may explain why the voting figures dropped substantially from previous years to only twenty thousand. In 2020 for example, 44,267 votes were cast, in 2017, 39,600 votes were cast.
2. ‘ANTI-GOVERNMENT’ ACCUSATION
Newshubs’ action to widely promote the minor parties as ‘anti-mandate and anti-government’ on June 11, occured just one week before the Tauranga by election day, June 18, 2022.
I consider that it is highly unlikely that political candidates striving for a Parliamentary seat would be anti-government. No analysis was provided by Newshub to justify this throwaway claim. This is an example of misinformation.
I would consider that the writer, a political journalist and former foreign correspondent would be distinctly aware that there is a difference between using the upper-case Government and lower-case government. Upper-case usage signifies the political, decision-making Government, while lower-case g is whole of government, the government agencies and departments.
Newshubs’ actions in this respect appears to act as disinformation. They informed the public that these minor parties were anti-government. While they may have not liked some policies and laws, it was not apparent the minor parties wanted to jettison the whole of government. But such claims by Newshub, effectively cast doubt on whether these minor parties could be trusted as a candidate.
In addition, the moniker ‘anti-mandate’ acted firstly as a signal to viewers that these minor parties were not safe to vote for, while also, secondly, serving as a warning against the questioning of mandates. There was no reasoning which provided justification as to why the candidates had elected to be anti-mandate, just an inference that they were wrong to think like this. Newshub has provided no journalistic pathways for questioning the ethical and practical consequences of medical mandates, particularly for healthy adults and children.
The final sentence in the June 11, 2022 article which called the minor parties
‘anti-mandate and anti-government’.
has, I believe, since been removed.
However, anti-mandate and anti-government slogans remain on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Newshubs’ website.
Newshub deliberately selected thumbnail images which viewers could click on. In every case the image selected, for YouTube, Twitter and Facebook were of Outdoors & Freedom Party candidate Sue Grey.
The anti-mandate and anti-government article and videos was released just 7 days before the election. The video posted on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, secured thousands of views. The YouTube post has 6,000 views, and the Facebook post has 8,000 views.
Grey is a seasoned, highly respected lawyer. She has represented issues and cases on behalf of clients, to judges in courts of law, all over New Zealand. Many cases concern complex legal, scientific and health-based issues. I would be curious to know if the judges who have got to know her over this time, would consider Grey to be ‘anti-government’.
To every-day kiwis, anti-government might be interpreted as anti-democracy.
3. TAURANGA BY-ELECTION – PUBLIC DEBATES
Minor parties and independent candidates were excluded from 80% of the debates that were held in the run-up to the by-election.
Five debates were held, hosted by Tauranga Business Chamber; local media Sunlive; the Warner Bros. Discovery owned Newshub; Waikato University and Matua Residents Association.
New Zealand public media RNZ and TVNZ did not broadcast any election debates.
TVNZ’s Jack Tame, on Q&A interviewed Uffindell, Tinetti and Luxton (it was called a debate) in a hotel room. In the June 12, 14 minute interview none of the minor parties nor independent candidates were discussed, nor their names referred to.
Radio New Zealand published one article which included the names of the minor parties and independent candidates over the May-June 2022 election period. RNZ stated that 12 candidates were standing in a couple of other articles, but did not elaborate.
Neither TVNZ nor RNZ discussed or broadcasted discussion from the Matua Residents Association debate, the only debate where minor parties and independent candidates were invited.
Minor parties and independent candidates were excluded from four of the five - 80% of the debates.
23 May 2022. Tauranga Business Chamber, Trinity Wharf. Minor parties not invited. Sue Grey refused entry.
24 May 2022 SunLive, Sun Media Offices. Minor parties not invited. Sue Grey refused entry.
8 June 2022. Uffindell, Tinetti and Luxton were the only candidates invited to Newshub Nation’s private studio-based interview.
9 June 2022. Matua Residents Association meet the candidates forum. 8/12 candidates attended with a ‘full house’. (No coverage on legacy media).
14 June 2022. University of Waikato candidate debate. Minor parties not invited. Sue Grey on expressing frustration at being excluded was escorted (with other minor party candidates) from the auditorium.
(NB. I was unclear on which other candidates were refused entry to the debates, and can update this if other candidates contact me.)
4. TAURANGA BY-ELECTION – SUPPRESSED VOICES OF MINOR PARTIES
The problem of media and coverage was not only that 80% of the debates excluded the majority of candidates. It was that the non-coverage was accompanied by aggressive media tactics and the posting on multiple social media accounts, of statements that actively maligned the minor (parties part ).
Together, the non-coverage and the mis- and disinformation ensured that national media would not be the vehicle form transmitting messages and policy from the minor party and independent candidates enrolled in this by-election.
The June 4, 2022 Newshub coverage showed Act, National and Labour candidates at the Tauranga Business Chamber event at Trinity Wharf. Newshub extensively covered the candidates, presenting the platform upon which they were running, positioning them positively. The coverage did not disclose to Newshub viewers that the minor party candidates where deliberately excluded from the event.
We can see from the video that, major parties were granted extensive talking time, while Grey was not granted talking time in the June 4 coverage. It was known she was a popular minor party candidate, and I was curious to hear how she would present. So, it was strange that her face would be seen, but her voice not heard in this interview.
I’m focussing on Grey because she was specifically highlighted in the thumbnail images.
Grey informed me that she had a friendly and collegial interview with Conor Whitten. On walking around the streets of Tauranga she was often stopped by friendly locals to talk.
In the June 4 coverage following the interview Whitten referred to Grey as
‘a prominent leader of the anti-mandate protests at Parliament’.
The June 11 Newsub coverage occurred after Grey objected that she had been interviewed but only permitted to be seen but not heard – she was shown talking but with no voice. Newshub acknowledged that it was an omission to not have her voice heard.
Following another interview where a wide range of issues were discussed, and where Grey noted that locals had again greeted her when Whitten and Grey were out walking, Grey was represented as ‘lawyer and leader in the anti-vax movement’.
The June 11th article and 5 minute video Tauranga by-election: Fifth of voters would consider supporting an anti-mandate party focussed on COVID-19, rather than the policies of the minor parties.
The video focussed on COVID-19 rather than minor party policies, stating
‘they each have a range of values and policies but they are united by COVID-19.’
Media attention focussed overwhelmingly on the anti-mandate issue; and the potential for the minor parties to unite in the next election, a year from now.
The segment of Whitten’s interview with Grey which was broadcast focussed on the controversial content. This video excluded discussion of the platform that Grey was running on as a candidate which Grey maintains had been discussed. (Videos of Grey discussing policies can be viewed on the Sue Grey Tauranga YouTube Channel established for the campaign).
Newshub zeroed in Grey calling the extension of the vaccine rollout to teenagers ‘government mandated genocide’. As Grey noted, genocide is an unwanted death. At this date June 2022 – a large body of science, including Pfizer’s own data suggested that healthy young men could be more at risk of hospitalisation and death from the bnt162b2 gene therapy.
Connor Whitten asked how many deaths Grey suspected there had been (2.40). Grey responded that there were close to 500 post-vaccine deaths recorded on the peoples register, that has been carefully followed through and monitored. Whitten responded to insist that there were 3 deaths in New Zealand associated with the vaccine. Grey emphasised that close to 500 deaths have followed the vaccine.
The peoples register (Citizens’ Database) is stewarded by Lynda Wharton. New Zealand’s legacy media appear to have entirely ignored the work undertaken by civil society group The Health Forum . An interview with Wharton might have provided substance for the interview.
Newshub have consistently failed to exercise journalistic curiosity on public claims of harm, nor recognised the problem of under-reporting of medical injury.
We can see from the video, that there was no attempt to reasonably and fairly discuss the policies of these candidates. The coverage contrasted sharply with Whitten’s earlier collegial by-election coverage of the National, Labour and ACT candidates.
This coverage also contrasted sharply with TVNZ’s collegial June 12 interview which made no attempt to dig into politically controversial issues.
I don’t believe that civil society has been exposed to journalism that is accurate, fair and balanced.
* My collegial association with Grey stems from our mutual interest in the regulatory status of environmental chemicals, including pesticides in New Zealand. Grey is known as being a lawyer who often takes on challenging environmental and health-based cases. During the Tauranga by-election I took part in discussions and debates on democracy and public health that were hosted by the Outdoors and Freedom Party. I was not aware of the other candidates hosting similar events. These events were not attended by media, nor covered by local media.
NB. Today (21/4/23) I was made aware that the Outdoors & Freedom Party website had been hacked today, to redivert visitors to a fashion page, and that members are working to rectify the problem.
The editors of Grey’s Wikipedia page are clearly scathing of Grey. The Wikipedia page does not pay attention to the non-controversial bread and butter common good work Grey undertakes, nor reflects that both global and domestic vaccination campaigns and mandate laws continue to be the subject of controversy. Undisclosed paid editing (sockpuppet accounts) are a recognised problem that continues to plague Wikipedia.
5. CANDIDATE DEBATES CAN BE INCLUSIVE
The minor party candidates in the Tauranga by-election were excluded from nationally televised debates and granted less than 5 minutes on national media. In that coverage, they were covered in a significantly negative way. Their campaign policies, unlike the policies of the central parties, were either addressed in a rather trite manner, or not at all.
It can be argued that it is practically impossible to ‘be everything to all’. However, I consider digital media radically increases the capability to scale up civic democracy. It is relatively simple to schedule a 2-hour debate in an electorate, publish it digitally, and then cover it for 30 minutes or one hour on publicly owned media TVNZ and RNZ.
Digital communications can scale up and facilitate common good political debates on publicly owned platforms. We shouldn’t have common good broadcasts posted on commercial formats such as Facebook, which is what Parliament elects to do.
I hope to draw attention to the methods by which New Zealand’s public, but commercially advertiser-paid television station, TVNZ, might have played a stronger role in informing the public on all candidates and their policies in this by-election.
The 2023 elections will soon be upon us. With the precedent of the Tauranga by-election established, I consider that it is incumbent upon civil society to deliberately search out information regarding local candidates in their electorate, so as to promote and uphold democratic debate.
I believe that it is important, for the common good that local communities ‘wrap around’ all candidates, and demand that all voices are heard equally and that debates are publicised nationally.
Because it is plainly evident that neither the publicly paid, nor corporate legacy media will make any effort to do this.
6. TRUST IN LEGACY MEDIA CONTINUES TO DECLINE
Last years’ Tauranga events infer we should not trust legacy media. But there are more reasons to be sceptical of these large, powerful media institutions.
Trust in media is low. In 2018 the Acumen Edelman Trust Barometer in an online survey of 28 countries, with 33,000 participants found that both the ‘informed’ and the ‘general’ public in New Zealand trusted media less than the global average.
In April 2023, JMAD released its fourth Trust in News in Aotearoa New Zealand report. The AUT press release stated:
In 2023, general trust in news declined from 45% to 42%, continuing a downward trend that was already evident in 2020 when the survey was first conducted. However, in 2023, the trust in news people consume themselves increased from 52% to 53%.
For the first time, the survey asked about news avoidance and found news avoidance in New Zealand is at a high level, when compared internationally. While New Zealanders are interested in news, approximately 69% of us avoid news often, sometimes or occasionally.
In 2023, all the major New Zealand news brands suffered a considerable decline in trust. Trust in RNZ fell 14.5%, Whakaata Māori 14.3% and Newstalk ZB 14%.Smaller brands such as interest.co.nz, BusinessDesk and Crux were less impacted.
The survey asked whether news media was independent of the political and government influences most of the time.
Approximately 32% agreed that news media is independent of the political and government influences whereas 43% strongly disagreed with this view.
43% of those surveyed strongly disagreed with the statement that news media was
‘independent of undue political or government influence most of the time.’
7. BACKGROUND – MEDIA ENVIRONMENT
The shift to digital media environments has produced an economic crisis in journalism. Online platforms disrupted historic print advertising models. Monetization of digital formats has been predominantly unsuccessful. The decline of revenue has resulted in crisis for journalists who seek to bring controversial issues to the forefront of public debate.
‘What has changed is the media ecology, which has been destablised by disruptive technologies and rapacious financial interests’ (Ellis and Thomson, 2016)
Numbers of journalists in New Zealand declined by roughly 50% in the period 2006-2018. The remaining journalists are well aware of their job precarity. It is unlikely they will challenge management or discuss issues which challenge the interests of advertisers or media owners.
Long-form investigatory journalism in legacy media has abruptly declined. There is increasing failure to verify or contradict the claims of information that arrives in a newsroom. At the same time managerial control has aggregated and most small local publications are jointly owned by larger firms. Newsrooms heavily depend on information that arrives in the newsroom as press releases, whether from industry lobby groups, the private or public sector.
The so-called fourth estate does not have time or money to sit in Parliamentary press galleries, and then research and verify contradictory, misleading or incorrect statements by MPs. Nor do they have time to sit in council chambers, and bear witness to policy development at the local and regional level.
Election debates appear to be little more than performance and a game of winning and losing. University of London Professor Mel Bunce, after researching New Zealand’s 2005 election campaign stated in her book The Broken Estate that she:
‘became disenchanted with the quality of political debate as I recorded interjections, ad hominem attacks and a failure to discuss policy, time and time again.’
Bunce drew attention to NBR former media commentator David Cohens suggestion that
‘Election debates today are ‘basically parallel press conferences, episodic exercises in brevity and the regurgitation of market-tested lines that have little to do with sustained political discussion.’’
As Palmer and Butler noted in Towards Democratic Renewal that:
‘Political reporting, long-form journalism on policy, and detailed reporting of public documents and legislation have declined noticeably.’
Current claims of misinformation and disinformation fail to draw attention to the role of legacy media in persistently failing to comprehensively cover controversial issues in an unbiased manner, particularly when such issues concern public outcries regarding government policy.
As criticism has increased, so has offshore institutional ownership. where the owners can’t be focussed on the long term, common good of Aotearoa New Zealand.
8. IN WHOSE INTEREST? OFFSHORE OWNERSHIP
JMAD’s 2022 Media Ownership report provides an updated snapshot of the news media landscape.
Radio and newspaper readership continues to decline, while use of podcast and content streaming services have increased. Television continues to be watched by 3 million New Zealanders each week, with NZ on Demand platforms growing. Streaming services, including Netflix, Sky, Neon, ThreeNow, Apple and Amazon Prime are now watched by 2.9 million Kiwis, with Netflix currently holding top position.
2019, the year COVID-19 was first detected, appears as a watershed year, when domestic financial vulnerability were peaking, and the domestic media environment was particularly vulnerable.
‘commercial broadcasters made losses, and multiple news companies – TVNZ, Sky TV, NZME – were unable to pay dividends to their shareholders.’
Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) research centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD) reported that 2019 had resulted in the biggest changes in New Zealand’s media environment since the JMAD first produced their New Zealand media ownership report in 2011. As the 2019 report stated:
In 2019, recent trends in global media ownership continued: media firms continued to consolidate, private equity firms strengthened their influence in the media sector, and billionaires continued to add media assets to their portfolios. These ownership patterns partly reflect the “downward spiral” of newspapers which have long struggled to make money in the shadow of the internet (Pew Research Centre, 2019). Additionally, China has increased its influence outside China by buying media companies, and by extending content agreements with news outlets. As private equity companies strengthen their ownership in the media sector, news companies have speeded their cost cutting and selling of digital media assets. For some media companies, consolidation has become a business strategy for survival as it allows for cost-cutting (Smith, 2019)
By 2022 New Zealand Herald and radio stations owner NZME was owned predominantly by US and French interests. American multinational investment bank and financial services corporation Citicorp held roughly 20% of shares, whilst French International banking group BNP Paribas held roughly 24%. Shares are also held by HSBC, JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch.
Big radio station owner MediaWorks is jointly owned by distressed debt investor Oaktree Capital Management (60%) and Quadrant Private Capital (40%). Oaktree Capital Management is owned by the Canadian investment management company Brookfield Asset Management. The private equity investment firm Quadrant is a proprietary limited company.
Warner Bros. Discovery owns Three, ThreeNow, Bravo, Discovery, 7 Days, Newshub, The Project, AM, and The Nation. U.S. entertainment conglomerate Warner Bros. Advance Publications, The Vanguard Group and BlackRock all hold shares of Warner Bros. Discovery.
In contrast, Stuff NZ, which includes The Dominion Post and The Press, and the highest circulation weekly, Sunday Star-Times, is owned by Irish-born New Zealand journalist Sinead Boucher.
Other independent companies include Allied Press, NBR, interest.co.nz, Newsroom, The Spinoff and Scoop.
9. GOVERNMENT FUNDING … POLITICAL ENTRAPMENT?
I support publicly paid media, and consider RNZ’s recent funding boost following the government’s dropping of the proposed RNZ/TVNZ merger as positive.
However, I am well aware that there is little capacity for journalists working in these organisations to cover content that contradicts government policy positions (this is different from drawing attention, e.g., to corruption or bad management practices).
In April 2020 the government announced a $50 million support package for media which included basic funding and advertiser content for government departments. The largest revenue streams supported freeview and FM transmission fees, TVNZ, Stuff and NZME
The New Zealand government sits alongside commercial industry as a dominant advertiser. The website StopPress drew attention to Nielsen Ad Intel rankings, which revealed that the New Zealand ‘Government Departments, Services & Community’ 2021 advertising sat at $525 million, second only to the retail industry at $548 million. It appears that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment have greatest oversight with regards to advertising.
COVID-19 advertising between 1 March 2020 and 31 March 2022 amounted to $106,107,468 million.
The $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF) is administered by the NZ On Air. The PIJF has a stated goal to ‘preserve and enhance public interest journalism that will otherwise be at risk or lost due to the impact of COVID-19 on newsrooms’.
I question whether funding for documentary and investigative reporting of subjects that contradict government policy, particularly on the stated safety of technologies, the appropriateness of trade agreements and the power of global institutions, and the effectiveness of regulatory agencies would be able to be funding through the PIJF.
10. AGGREGATION OF POWER VIA TECHNOLOGIES
Why do I draw attention to all of this?
Our children and young people today do not study the underlying social, political and economic ruptures and failures that lead to revolutionary activity, and worryingly, the entrenchment of communism, totalitarianism and fascism. They study the atrocities of what came after. Not before.
What can be observed consistently in cataclysmic breakdown of culture, society and the rule of law, is human response to both pervasive institutional corruption and demonstrated hypocrisy in the actions and statements of elite groups and individuals. We see the protests and extreme abuse of power, after the injustices have piled up.
All too often, struggles end up with lesser freedoms. These occur after the aggregation of power in an elite few; and shocks such as disaster, war or famine; and the close entanglement of governors with other powerful institutions, be they military, commerce or religious authorities.
Aggregation of power can be particularly acute after the consolidation of new technologies, crises and/or the relaxing of rules and norms in favour of powerful interests. Bronze and iron metallurgy and chariot warfare and weapons development from c.3000 BCE onwards paved the way for conquest. Today technology ensures warfare may occur remotely. From armed robot dogs and target seeking drones that are part of a complex control and kill chain, to poorly regulated and opaque digital environments that keep forgetting about human rights, it is not obvious that the creative output of humanity is designed to serve the best purpose for humanity.
The injustices are piling up.
The 1980 Bayh-Dole Act gave universities rights to intellectual property from government funding. Then the encouragement of private-public partnerships by government innovation policies shifted universities towards market, rather than public-interest led research. The chilling effect on public good and basic science research, and the disinterest of university research environments in criticising corporate power, continues today.
This science trajectory ensures that journalists will find it difficult to find meaningful, supportive research when they are faced with complex socio-scientific dilemmas.
The 2008/9 financial crisis saw massive failures across small and medium sized business, while funding injections (through digital money, i.e., quantitative easing) into the financial sector. This was amplified by a failure to regulate ‘too big to fail’ institutions. Industry and media ownership is often entangled, such as when shares are held by powerful index fund managers.
Market power then aggregated in larger and larger industries. These industries, as monopoly or cartel-like structures are then not broken apart in anti-trust or anti-competition action by governments.
These shifts are happening as household debt increases, children and young people are far less healthy than previous generations, and people are more stressed.
In 2023 the rapid advancement of digital technologies, the application of AI in decision-making processes by governments, social media companies and the commercial sector, has not been accompanied by concurrent laws and regulations to protect human rights. As lawyer and scholar Elizabeth Renieris states in Beyond Data:
“we need to replace this data-based approach to technology governance – and its near-exclusive emphasis on privacy and free expression – with one based on a wider array of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
We are in a period of government-corporate entanglement (for example, with digital services) and digital enclosures via digital ID and social credit systems. The Oxford traffic fine system provides but a taste of future ‘arrangements’ between central and local governments and corporations, which are firmly established in China. Reserve Banks, who have no business in politics, are actively promoting A.I. driven programmable currencies, ‘CBDCs’.
When personal information and access is secured through a single, digital ID, to surveillance, and when fines and black marks are directly linked to the digital ID, the power balance between civil society and our governing institutions will end.
Because across it all, there is an absence of stewardship, of regulators with teeth, who might have power to protect the common good and prevent abuse of power.
11. THE DPMC ARBITER OF TRUTH: THE DISINFORMATION PROJECT
We keep being reminded that the government does not want to be contradicted.
That same legacy media recently, unquestionably and in lock-step, repeated (here and here and here) claims by the (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet paid) Disinformation Project, who support greater surveillance of non-legacy media.
The recent Chicken Little sky-is-falling tactics were republished without question by a compliant media. Where no data, no research methods - indeed, no underpinning information, had been supplied.
The Disinformation Project persistently forget or ignore the damage done by the legacy media or the way information was handled by the Ministers in the department that funds them.
Wikipedia advises us that the Disinformation Project is ‘independent, interdisciplinary and non-government’. But the Disinformation Project was established and funded by MBIE and later the DPMC. In fact, from 2021/2022 to 2022/2023 the budget for $6.7 million for COVID-19 Response—Epidemiological Modelling, Disinformation Monitoring and Risk Assessment doubled to $6.7 million.
Hardly independent Mr Wikipedia.
The Disinformation Project has no mandate to probe the claims of the New Zealand government and identify where there is abuse of power. They are more interested in understanding to what extent social media information contradicts government policies and ideologies and how angry we are when contradict such content.
In black and white land, it is far easier to set aside moral values, or claim morality for one issue, while quietly downplaying the ethical hornets’ nest that arises from an act, and the practical consequences of a state that fails to make a space for science, research, regulatory power, and ethical debate that might contradict state policy.
The Tauranga by-election coverage was a moral disaster.
The media coverage of minor parties cautions us to consider the influences apon legacy media, and why they may hesitate to step into fora where powerful interests have much to win, and where the impact on human rights or human health is murky.
Oceans of Official Information Act responses, the scientific literature, and personal anecdotes, suggest that the G/government has been neither transparent nor accountable. Media have been demonstrably unwilling to engage in debate about the human right to control what enters a human body. Such debate has been suppressed.
The Tauranga by-election serves as a warning that legacy media will not only suppress, but will actively malign those that seek to draw attention to policy failures, corporate bias and injustices.
Therefore, we can expect candidates to the 2023 election who wish to draw attention to complex issues with relation to democratic sovereignty, autonomy, technology (including CBDCs) and power might also be pushed aside, shamed, and othered, just as ‘anti-mandate’ candidates were.
The anti-government and anti-mandate slogans may still be viewed (unlike, for example, the New Zealand documentary Silenced, which was taken down from Vimeo; as well as a draft version being removed from YouTube after a second view of a private link.)
It’s evident that the more truth is supressed, the more civil society will seek to look more deeply into why truth might be supressed. It’s evident too, that if people are hurting from government policies, or can see how instruments of tyranny in place in other countries will easily be weaponised in New Zealand, that they will be angry.
The Disinformation Project’s role is simply to identify inconsistent content, including angry content, and anger’s far more dangerous and polarised cousin, hate. Its’ role is not to look upstream and consider the underlying social, political and economic ruptures and failures that drove such anger. Nor is there role, to identify hypocrisy and corruption.
The failure of legacy media to question, and open forums to discuss controversial and politically polarising issues, is a failure to act as the Fourth Estate. Particularly when we have scalable digital platforms which can be scaled up, to slander and to steward.
I believe institutional frameworks can uphold the purposes and principles described by Bunce - to provide trustworthy information; to hold those with power to account; and to provide a space for trustworthy debate.
And if legacy media won’t do it, and the government won’t provide at-arms-length pathways, perhaps civil society will step into the trenches.
J.R.Bruning Talking Risk is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.