Sunday 28 January 2018

Unreliable Sources.

Alarmist Images: As part of the Australian Government's effort to undermine Jacinda Ardern's outreach to Manus Island refugees, Australian Intelligence (oxymoron?) sources claim to have recorded a "spike" in people smugglers' attempts to land asylum seekers on Australian shores. These claims have been illustrated with images of boat-people headed for "Newsland". Few of those absorbing these images will realise they are 7 years old!

IS IT REAL NEWS, or fake news? In the end, it all comes down to sources. The people and the institutions we most trust, are the people and the institutions we most believe.

For those who lived through the Second World War, the words “London calling! London calling!”, which prefaced the BBC World Service’s news broadcasts, signalled accuracy, reliability and dignity in a world awash with bombastic propaganda.

President Donald Trump’s followers place their faith in the “fair and balanced” reporting of Fox News. His opponents rely on the Washington Post, whose intrepid reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, covered the Watergate break-in and contributed to the fall of President Richard Nixon.

Why were Woodward and Bernstein so sure of their ground? Because their most valuable anonymous source – “Deep Throat” – was none other than Mark Felt, the Associate-Director of the FBI! Good sources make for good stories. The rule is as old as journalism.

What, then, should we make of the latest stories, sourced to “Australian Intelligence”, of a “spike” in the number of “boat people” intercepted en route to Australia and, allegedly, New Zealand? Are such reports to be taken seriously? And should the National Party Opposition really be using them as a stick against Jacinda Ardern’s handling of the Manus Island refugee crisis? Just how good a look is it to rely upon leaks from a foreign government, in order to have a crack at your own?

The first thing to observe about these “intelligence” leaks is that they shouldn’t be happening. Just recall the repeated, blank-faced refusals of Helen Clark and John Key to share even the tiniest scraps of “operational” intelligence with the New Zealand news media. Even when the details of New Zealand’s involvement in special forces operations overseas were published in foreign newspapers, the politicians remained tight-lipped. As for the directors of our own intelligence agencies: the SIS and the GCSB; their mouths appear to have been sewn shut!

Which can only mean that “Australian Intelligence” is leaking information to the Australian and New Zealand news media under instruction and on purpose. Which immediately raises the question: What can that purpose be?

Before we attempt to answer that question, however, there are one or two other things to note about these Australian Intelligence-sourced stories. The most important of these is a disturbing lack of detail. Apart from the improbably precise figure of 164 intercepted asylum seekers, New Zealanders have been given precious little in the way of incontrovertible evidence.

The Royal Australian Navy and its Coast Guard are equipped with multiple video cameras to record any and every interception in Australian waters. If a small flotilla of “boat people” had indeed put to sea, inspired by Jacinda Ardern’s international displays of compassion, then it would be a straightforward matter to release the video recordings of its interception to the news media. What better way to make the Aussie Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s case, than to record an asylum seeker naming New Zealand’s prime minister as the reason she and her children are risking their lives in a leaky boat?

What we have been shown, instead, is a seven-year-old photograph showing Sri Lankan refugees displaying a sign which reads: “We like to go to NEWSLAND.” Interesting, but hardly relevant to the situation in 2018!

This promiscuous mixing of dated imagery, emotive language, and uncorroborated assertion is almost always evidence of an unreliable source. Which raises, once again, the question of whether or not there is any method to the Australians’ madness? Why is the Turnbull Government persisting in its attacks on New Zealand’s new prime minister?

The most probable cause of this spike in Australian pique is the deteriorating situation on Manus Island. There, the already deplorable conditions into which hundreds of male asylum-seekers were pitched, following the forcible closure of the New Guinea government-owned (but Australian government-controlled) detention centre, have continued to deteriorate.

The Turnbull Government’s latest leaks would, therefore, appear to be pre-emptive in intent. If Manus erupts in riotous violence, attracting global scrutiny and condemnation, as well as a reiteration of New Zealand’s willingness to take at least 150 of the refugees trapped on the island, then the Liberal-National Government has primed its trans-Tasman soulmates in the National Party to step forward and entertain Kiwi voters with “Australian Intelligence’s” grim fairy tales.

This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 26 January 2018.


jh said...

Think of it like a bottle of lemonade: you prize the cork a little and it starts to bubble.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
What publications does this photo adorn? To show such a blatantly unrelated image at the head of an article would seem to announce the article as a fake from the first glance. Do they not care for the discredit that the inevitable exposure must engender? What or who is the audience they are targeting? Is there one out there that doesn't care if they are being lied to ? Are people mostly only wanting to be superficially entertained rather than informed.
Liers probably imagine themselves cleverer than folks who tell the truth, but lies wouldn't work at all if most people didn't speak the truth as everyone would know to believe nothing, and communication would become pointless and effectively impossible . Is that where our news media is at?

jh said...

Rumour has it The Helen is advising Adern. Helen gave us the new "inclusive" New Zealand?

Polly. said...

Well Chris you may make as you wish, valid points as to the plight of Manus Island refugees.
They are all illegal refugees and I for one do not wish for them to land here.
The Labour party and yourself are wrong to believe that New Zealanders do.

Victor said...

Almost certainly spot on, Chris.

Kat said...

Its called propaganda. You may find answers in reading the Nazi Joseph Goebbels Principles of Propaganda by Leonard W. Doob, published in Public Opinion and Propaganda, a book of readings edited for The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

You can bet Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor have. What was their connection to the National Party again..............

greywarbler said...

Australian pique. That will be my sardonic phrase for describing the next unfriendly, or derisive, or hostile, or disrespectful move from Aussies.

I bought a second hand book on the 1970s now hardly mentioned boat people rush to Australia outlining the situation they fled from - they were mainly Vietnamese, and the troubles and traumas of it all. But there is much covering it on-line.

Here are some links, some referring to the golden age of refugees of Malcolm Fraser and to some extent Bob Hawke. But also to the use by John Howard of negative public feeling in the Tampa episode which used confused information and lies about boat people's behaviour and morals to propel John Howard up in his political career.

This item from The Diplomat refers to Vietnamese in the present:
People persecuted by the Vietnamese state in 2016 cannot easily apply for asylum. Like people escaping discrimination, forced disappearance, torture, or death in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, or Afghanistan, Vietnamese people cannot apply for refugee status from within their country. For many, getting on a boat is their only option to flee.

Vietnam has one of the most repressive governments on the planet. Leading international NGO Human Rights Watch has called its human rights record “dire in all key areas.”

Othr informative links:

Jayson said...

They have been offered resettlement in safe countries but are holding out for a sweetheart deal from the likes of Australia.
In this case theyes are no longer refugees (if they ever were) and can be driven into the sea for all I care.
As for the reason for all the leaks from Australia, the answer is obviously because Aderns big mouth has raised their heckles.

Nick R said...

You are right to be skeptical of the "leaked" Australian intelligence reports. The complete absence of any corroboration at all means these stories about boats intercepted are just as likely to be complete fantasies. In the absence of actual evidence, we are free to believe or disbelieve them as we choose. But that choice always reveals something about the chooser.

I like to remind people that the numbers of refugee boats arriving in NZ has been remarkably consistent over the last few decades, regardless of which party is in Government. Zip, zilch or nada, take your pick Not really surprising. Supposing they even exist, your average people smuggler in Sri Lanka wanting to get to NZ must first decide which way they will sail around Australia before they get here. A question worth asking next time the scare stories start up, as they inevitably will.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
You'v probably seen this but if not you might like to.

Cheers David J S

jh said...

Since the phone is off the hook:

The other big shift is in the Asian population, up from 13 percent to 38 in the same period.

Professor Paul Spoonley from Massey University's College of Humanities and Social Sciences said he expected Pākehā to fall through the 50 percent threshold in the late 2020s.

He said the shift was significant and would pose challenges, such as the need to change the political make-up of the Auckland Council and its 21 local boards, where there are few Asian members.

"Are local voters prepared to see a candidate who might be a different ethnicity to themselves, as a suitable representative to themselves ? " Professor Spoonley told RNZ's Outspoken programme.

Now when people complained about immigration from Asia as they weren't people like themselves, they were called racist. Now (however) it seems to matter a lot if representatives aren't like themselves?

The game (it appears) has always been about: move over Kiwis, we need your country for an international multi-ethnic project.

greywarbler said...

Something I just noticed. The dull coloured tshirt that the woman is wearing has the word Joker on it and a grotesque face under it. Not a nice thing to give her to wear, and the woman looks as if she understands English. Did this get enacted on April Fool's Day or was it just another example of robust Australian sensitive humour. Good old John Clarke had a field day over there, along with mate Brian Dawe.

Victor said...


"They have been offered resettlement in safe countries"

Which countries would those be?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Are local voters prepared to see a candidate who might be a different ethnicity to themselves, as a suitable representative to themselves ? "

A problem Maori have faced for years.