As local elections approach, an independent New Zealand publisher is speaking out against those who have threatened violence against the media and want to make the country “ungovernable”.
But Christchurch Press publisher Stuff is facing a backlash of its own as readers use its related Neighbourly site to oppose its publicly-funded campaign.
In recent weeks, the Stuff website has been publishing results of investigations by its journalists into the backgrounds of some of those standing for election. Senior journalist Andrea Vance says the news site has specifically reported on those it says “share false information and baseless conspiracy theories”.
Focus of the “election transparency” project are would-be politicians – and some sitting councillors – accused of a track record in “spreading and amplifying a tide of falsehoods and social media lies, violent rhetoric or hate speech”.
A powerful hour-long video by Stuff’s publicly-funded Circuit documentary team, Fire and Fury provides a platform for some of these in order to let its broader audience know more about candidates it says are “incubators of lies and baseless information”.
A report by Vance this morning urging readers ‘Wake up, sheeple! Disinformation is the greatest conspiracy of all’ – outlining the project and linking reports and the video – has been Tweeted by Stuff’s chief executive Sinead Boucher.
Alongside the report – with links to stories such as one complaining about a “racist” neighbour – is one from a “gutted” reader taking Neighbourly to task for promoting the Fire and Fury “propaganda”.
Stuff says some candidates’ campaign profiles and statements are “much more palatable and sanitised than what they espouse online” with groups urging them to keep their affiliations secret.
In the video, writer-reporter Paula Penfold says producers followed advice that the tipping point was where candidates’ disinformation was reaching audiences beyond their own communities. In one quoted post, a conspiracy theorist makes threats against the media, adding that they “need f***ing burning”.
• In an INMA blog this week, Penfold tells of another Stuff investigation which uncovered connections to the persecution of Uyghurs in China.