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Government attempts to control the narrative: Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

OIA requests being stymied?

In a series of reports into the Government’s handling of Official Information Act requests, NZ’s Chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier suggests the Government may be gaming the system to control narratives. The Ombudsman said timely information from government agents helps combat disinformation, something he saw as problematic during COVID-19.

DART and Chantelle Baker 

The Platform recently covered the findings of an OIA request by the group Operation People, led by independent journalist Chantel Baker. This request covered emails between the Government’s COVID-19 Disinformation and Assessment Response Team (DART) and Netsafe – the government funded agency focused on online security – between August and September 2022.

Emails between the two organisations indicate efforts to remove Baker from social media by ‘nudging’ Facebook to take Baker and groups related to her off the platform. The admittedly humorous analogy was made with how you might use a rolled up newspaper on a dog. Of course they would be much more conscious of animal welfare in real life!

Also revealed was a report about Voices for Freedom by DART to the Ministry of Health and a graph of ‘disinformation’ that included VFF, Daily Telegraph NZ, and others. 

Recent revelations that the Government enjoys direct access to Facebook’s takedown portal, as well as the pattern of political interference through social media censorship in the US, has also raised further concerns around censorship.

“Mission creep” of the Christchurch Call and the Disinformation Project 

In a recent article, former District Court Judge David Harvey notes how organisations like the government-led Christchurch Call and the Disinformation Project experience “mission creep” as their mandates expand. In the case of the former, Harvey notes policing ‘violent’ speech was changed and broadened to ‘extremist’ speech. In the case of the latter, their brief expanded beyond COVID to consider mis- and disinformation ecosystems in New Zealand, including ‘dangerous speech’.

Harvey goes on to conclude “In this way, perhaps unintentionally, the Disinformation Project becomes complicit in the Government as the sole source of truth narrative.”

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