Alarm bells must bring out disinformation fire fighters


The cancellation of two disinformation seminars this week amid threats and harassment should be ringing very loud alarm bells.

The seminars, organised by the Disinformation Project and communicated through the Science Media Centre, were to allow journalists to discuss disinformation with a range of experts. However, details of the media-only events in Auckland and Wellington somehow appeared on extremist social media channels. Traffic on those channels suggested the events could be gate crashed and they were cancelled as a safety precaution.

The director of The Disinformation Project, Kate Hannah, told Newsroom political reporter Marc Daalder she had received a death threat after the decision to cancel had been made but before legitimate attendees had been notified. Members of the project had been scheduled to brief journalists.

What is disturbing about this episode – the latest in a string of intimidating actions – is that the invitations were privately despatched to individuals via the Science Media Centre. Like the Disinformation Project itself, the SMC is a highly reputable organisation (whose advisory board I had the privilege of chairing). The fact that a screenshot of the invitation then appeared on Telegram fringe channels raised the ugly possibility that one of the potential invitees shared it with someone connected to those channels, or that their email accounts have been hacked or otherwise compromised. Continue reading “Alarm bells must bring out disinformation fire fighters”

A shiver down the spines of the rich and famous

Justice Minister Kiri Allan’s call for a review of name suppression in New Zealand courts should send shivers down the spines of the rich and famous. And rightly so.

She was asked on TVNZ1’s Q&A whether the current system appears to favour them, and she agreed.

“If you’re well-funded, well-resourced, then you can seek to have your name suppressed for a range of different reasons,” she said. “I don’t think that leads to just outcomes.”

Allan told the show’s stand-in host Jessica Mutch McKay that she has sought urgent advice on this particular area of the law and added: “I don’t think it’s just, I don’t think its fair, and I don’t think New Zealanders looking in on the system think the system is working adequately either.”

The straight-talking minister deserves a rousing round of applause. Continue reading “A shiver down the spines of the rich and famous”

Time to heed warning signs on regional press

The disclosure that Stuff is to drastically reduce its regional newspaper local reporting staff came as a shock, but I fear that worse is to come for this sector of the media.

Our regional newspapers are following a path which, for counterparts in Australia, Britain and North America, has quite literally led to nowhere.

The pattern established here by both Stuff and NZME – staff cuts, shared content, reduced frequency, and closures – has a familiar ring to anyone in the regional media in other English-speaking countries.

But first, let’s recap on what emerged last week. Continue reading “Time to heed warning signs on regional press”

News media face distrust by association

A new study suggests that the news media’s tanking levels of public trust may made worse merely by association with social media.

The study, released this month by the Reuters Institute at Oxford University, has exposed gaps between trust in news via conventional delivery and the same thing consumed via social media.

It doesn’t matter whether people use social media or not: Levels of trust is lower if they simply associate news with the platforms.

The gap varies between platforms and between countries but the overall finding is that levels of trust in news on social media, search engines, and messaging apps is consistently lower than audience trust in information in the news media more generally.

And our media is becoming more and more associated with social media. Continue reading “News media face distrust by association”