Show us the money: time for transparency from The Disinformation Project

First published at HTL’s New Zealand partner site https://www.thelookingglass.co.nz/

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The public must be told who funds The Disinformation Project because it underwrites and legitimises the Government’s sinister ‘domestic extremism’ narrative. After the most recent storm in an ‘extremist’ teacup, it’s time to fess up.

A few weeks ago The Looking Glass wrote an article containing a screenshot of a media invitation to secret briefings by The Disinformation Project for journalists to discuss mis- and disinformation and diversity.

Since then it’s made the rounds online and sparked much discussion, particularly from Sean Plunket at The Platform.

On 3 November it was announced by Newsroom’s Marc Daalder that the secret briefings, set to take place last week, had been cancelled due to harassment, a security breach and a death threat.

It should be stated up front that I do not advocate or condone violence or violent rhetoric – death threats and the like – no matter how angry and scapegoated one may feel in the present environment.

All violence should be condemned, and I take no pleasure in Kate Hannah or anyone else losing sleep over receiving messages of this type. Given the vilification and pathologising that those of us in the freedom community are facing, it would be wise of us to continue to occupy the high ground.

However, at present, we have no way of knowing if she did indeed receive harassment and threats, except by trusting the reporter in question. Certainly comments on Twitter suggest an overall scepticism.

But we have plenty of evidence of the media pushing these stories, misrepresenting the freedom community at every opportunity and furthering sinister intelligence agency talking points that frame disgruntled Kiwis as extremists. Marc Daalder, who wrote the report, is particularly notable for headlines in this vein.

Both the fact that it came from him and the timing (report published 3 November) are worthy of note – this came in a week of hysteria about domestic extremism, with head of the SIS Rebecca Kitteridge asserting that the growth of “anti-authority” extremism had taken off in the wake of covid-19 and asking us to dob in our neighbours (31 October). We saw Jacinda Ardern ramping up the rhetoric, telling us disinformation was a top security concern at the annual He Whenua Taurikura hui on terrorism (1 November). This was also the week Web of Chaos was released (1 November): all of which strongly suggests a planned propaganda drive.

Given that I published my story nearly a month ago, and that the secret briefings have been discussed and critiqued in social and independent media in the subsequent weeks, why didn’t we hear about the alleged harassment earlier? Daalder’s report achieves maximum impact, providing ‘real world’ proof that anti-government extremists are a danger to us all, coming on the heels of proclamations from our leaders saying as much.

Show us the money

The Disinformation Project is an unaccountable organisation that has an extraordinary amount of undue influence on news reporters and therefore the general public. To use a woke term, TDP is ‘platformed’ frequently and uncritically. Yet we do not even know with certainty who is funding it. Daalder and his colleagues in the legacy media, to my knowledge, have never asked this question.

This information is crucial given the prominence afforded to their views, and should be clearly signposted in any report featuring TDP as a matter of transparency and journalistic integrity, given their main grift is to scare people.

The public has been treated to front row seats to Hannah’s views in both Fire and Fury, and the more recent Web of Chaos propaganda films, alongside numerous news reports and interviews, just as we once were to Government funded Siouxie Wiles and Sean Hendy (whose jobs were also to scare us), while alternative voices were ignored and dismissed. The arguments Hannah fronts are flimsy and full of holes, but prompt no challenge from reporters – TDP has even suggested that ‘freedom of speech’ is an American concept, and only people with ‘right wing’ views care about it.

The whole thing is just bizarre. Why has this question not been asked? Are legacy media content, knowing the enormous bias embedded in the messaging of the TDP, to let this go unanswered? Surely the funding ought to be straightened out. Surely? Forget about ‘follow the science’, how about our MSM reporters ‘follow the money’?

It is highly likely from what we know, that TDP is government funded. If confirmed, this raises serious questions about why and how a government can so freely act to propagandise (possibly illegal?) and influence the views of New Zealanders with no checks and balances in place. This is the meat and gristle that journalists used to live for.

Instead we see secret briefings. Has the TDP scrutinised the disinformation coming from Government? Have journalists?

This cosying up between journalists and TDP, Government and its intelligence bureaucrats will to a high degree of certainty, lead to the demonisation of everyday Kiwis for having dissenting opinions by striking fear into the hearts of the gullible. The likelihood that the credulous and fearful will enable and excuse further restrictions on freedom is the whole point – after all, we assured them of this when we rolled over and accepted lockdown without a squeak.

Hannah and TDP’s other major spokesperson, Sanjana Hattotuwa, are claiming that people in the freedom movement are drawing people in with appealing imagery – like Nordic-looking children with braided hair with flowers in it – to ultimately sell white supremacy. And it goes unchallenged.

The invitation posted at The Looking Glass was intended to draw attention to the way media are ‘handled’ by narrative pushers. The result is a fawning collaboration, rather than a challenge from journalists. Tova O’Brien, for example, reckons New Zealand needs more Kate Hannahs. She even wrote an oped arguing we need a Misinformation Minister. Her reasoning? Some people mistakenly believe a rumor that she used to flat with Jacinda Ardern. I mean, serious stuff.

The Platform’s Sean Plunket has invited Hannah on his show to grill her about TDP’s funding and claims. He was declined. Independent journalist Chantelle Baker attended a talk by Hannah last year and politely confronted her about the same. The only answer she got was that TDP was funded mostly by Hannah’s husband.

Plunket and The Daily Blog’s Martyn Bradbury both tried to register for one of the secret workshops but were given fake excuses why they couldn’t attend. Bradbury was told it was full, after only two days, and Plunket was told it was because he wasn’t a member of the Media Council. This isn’t credible. They weren’t welcome because they couldn’t be trusted to be on-side. They would have inevitably challenged the panel, done journalism.

These events were clearly for ‘on-message’, ‘friendly’ journalists – those who have already signaled their acquiescence to this narrative and who can be trusted to produce reams of reports and flood the public consciousness about this bogus threat of extremism – that “they are among you”, as Hattotuwa put it so creepily in the Web of Chaos hit-job film.

The public has a right to know how groups like this, described by propaganda expert Greg Simons as a front group, interact with the fourth estate – whose primary job used to be protecting the people from the government and predatory corporate agendas.

And look, even the Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, has joined the witch hunt. The failure of all of our public watchdogs in the covid era is another one of the great tragedies, more or less giving a pass to the authoritarians who are surely but steadily advancing their police state, with censorship and surveillance laws, and more.

As Glen Greenwald’s recent reporting shows, this is a global threat, backed by a consortium of state and corporate power, propped up by the fake disinformation industry. Our Prime Minister is the global spokesperson for this movement, as her UN speech in September made clear.

We are all in the storm now.

As I’ve said, I do not condone death threats or abuse against Hannah and her colleagues, or anyone, ever. Nor do I wish to censor TDP, despite the fact that I consider their rhetoric dangerous. It’s dangerous because it goes unchallenged.

I would like to see the legacy media clearly and unequivocally establish TDPs funding, challenge their talking points, and provide a wide range of views. Here’s an idea, they could offer right of reply to those being pathologised. Give it all a public airing – and allow the public the opportunity of an informed view, the chance to decide for themselves, instead of being told.

My story was cynically, cleverly – perhaps predictably – spun into a foil for alarm about domestic extremism. Just look at the tag sitting atop Daalder’s article. One could say it’s ‘extreme’ hyperbole. To advance the current push to demonise free speech and make censorship an acceptable proposition.

We should all be demanding transparency and explanations, because those who should are simply not going to.

Stay curious …

First published at HTL’s New Zealand partner site https://www.thelookingglass.co.nz/

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