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Is it 'misinformation' when the Government does it?

Ben Espiner: To the perceptive Kiwi, this obsession with misinformation may seem a bit rich
Ben Espiner
Producer and Contributing Writer at The Platform
July 4th, 2022

OPINION: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took her global gallop to Madrid last week for the NATO Leaders Summit, fresh off the back of a widely lauded, star-spangled excursion to the United States.

Over the last few months, Ardern has received praise, both at home and abroad for her charismatic diplomacy and for the global spreading of the New Zealand image. She fraternized with American President Joe Biden, sat in a posh-looking chair in the White House and didn’t ‘reject the premise’ of any of Stephen Colbert’s questions.

Loath to take the world stage for granted, however, Ardern seems to be using her time in the limelight to double down on her concerns over ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’.

It’s an issue that has ramped up in coverage since the onset of the pandemic, and the last few months have seen even more of an uptake from media and Government alike. Abroad, Ardern has raised the issue at her Harvard commencement speech, brought it up with President Biden and spoke about it again last week. 

To the perceptive Kiwi, this obsession with misinformation might seem a bit rich.

At home, for example, we’ve seen the media frequently reference the ‘Disinformation Project’ - a research paper which makes outlandish claims about the intellectual capacity of the Parliament protestors and then tries to back them up by saying they ‘looked at memes’ online. 

The paper also coined a new term - ‘malinformation’ meaning -get this- ‘true information used with ill-intent’. In other words; ‘things that are completely true but make us look a bit bad’. Directors of this project have refused to front on The Platform on several occasions. 

We’ve also seen the Prime Minister announce the new publicly funded ‘National Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism’ or ‘He Whenua Taurikura' (a country at peace) -the chief academics for which claim to be promoting 'social cohesion' but seem quite happy hurling abuse at those with opposing views on twitter: 

He Whenua Taurikura Co-Director Prof. Joanna Kidman having a crack at 'promoting social cohesion' online

The word ‘disinformation’ appears drenched in hypocrisy - the Prime Minister's own Ministry of Health lied about Covid death rates for two years, and now she jets to Spain and tells NATO that misinformation is a ‘threat to global security’. 

Ardern and her caucus, along with much of the mainstream media have also openly and unapologetically mischaracterized the protesters at parliament - and continue to do so, in an attempt to demonize them for political gain. 

Is it a case, then, of ‘it’s ok when we do it’? Who decides whether a case of misinformation is bad enough to warrant being stuck with the pointy end of a trademark Labour working group? Or whether someone is being a nasty ‘malinformant’ and using true information to hurt the Government?

I certainly hope that Ardern’s consistent spouting of misinformation/disinformation rhetoric is not foreshadowing the formation of more ventures like ‘The Disinformation Project’ and He Whenua Taurikura, which seem to me to be set up solely to give the Government cause to ‘select’ the truth.

Ben produces the breakfast show on The Platform. He has a BA in Political Science and English Literature from Victoria University of Wellington.