Defend NZ’s ‘fragile democracy’ by tackling disinformation, says advocate

Anjum Rahman
Anjum Rahman, project lead of the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono . . . “If our democracy fails, all those other things fail as well.” Image: David Robie/Asia Pacific Report

David Robie also blogs at Café Pacific

A human rights advocate has appealed for people in Aotearoa New Zealand to take personal responsibility in the fight against disinformation and to upskill their critical thinking skills.

Anjum Rahman, project lead of the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono, said this meant taking responsibility for verifying the accuracy and source of information before passing it on and not fuelling hate and misunderstanding.

“Our democracy is very fragile,” she warned while delivering the annual David Wakim Memorial Lecture 2022 with the theme “Protecting Democracy in an Online World” at Parnell’s Jubilee Hall.

She said communities were facing challenging and rapidly changing times with climate change, conflicts, inflation and the ongoing pandemic.

“If our democracy fails, all those other things fail as well,” she said.

“And for those of us who are more vulnerable it is a matter of life and death.

“Who most stand to lose their freedom if democracy fails? Who will be on the frontline to be exterminated?”

TDB Recommends

Rahman is co-chair of the Christchurch Call Advisory Network and a member of the Independent Advisory Committee of the Global Internet Forum for Countering Terrorism.

Argued strongly for diversity
As an advocate, she has argued strongly for many years in support of diversity and inclusion and in 2019 was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

On the third anniversary of the 15 March 2019 mosque massacre, she wrote in a column for The Spinoff that “we don’t need any more empty platitudes of sorrow . . . we need firm action and strong resolve. Across the board.”

The David Wakim Memorial Lecture 2022.                      Video: Billy Hania

The recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry were more critical now than ever, and absolutely urgent, she wrote.

“In a world that feels chaotic, with war, rising prices, anger and hate expressed in protests across the world, our hearts seek a certainty that isn’t there.

“We need more urgency, and in many areas. I’m still disappointed with the Counter-Terrorism legislation passed last year, granting greater powers without evidence of any benefit. Hate speech legislation has been delayed, and we await a full review and overhaul of the national security system.”

A founding member of the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, Rahman gave a wide-ranging address tonight on the online challenges for democracy, and answered a host of questions from the audience of about 100.

“I’m really worried about trolls,” said one. “They affect government, they influence voters, they have an impact on all sorts of decision making – what can be done about it?”

Rahman replied that it was very difficult question – “I wish there was a simple answer.”

The audience at tonight's Pax Christi-hosted David Wakim Memorial Lecture 2022
The audience at the Pax Christi-hosted David Wakim Memorial Lecture 2022 at Parnell’s Jubilee Hall. Image: David Robie/APR

Removing troll incentives
She said there needed to be more education and greater awareness of the activities of trolls and the sort of social media platforms they operated on.

One problem was that the more attention paid trolls got, it often meant the more money they were getting.

A challenge was to remove the incentive being given to them.

Award-winning cartoonist Malcolm Evans asked Rahman what her response was to the global situation “right now” with the invasion of Ukraine where people were “under intense pressure to vilify the Russians . . . treating them as ‘evil’.”

He added that “we live in a time that is probably the most dangerous that I have experienced in my lifetime … we are facing an Armageddon and I blame the media for that.

“It’s a disgrace.”

This led to a discussion by Pax Christi Aotearoa’s Janfrie Wakim about how Evans lost his job as a cartoonist on The New Zealand Herald in 2003 for “naming Israeli apartheid” over the repression of Palestinians to the loud applause of the audience.

‘Quality journalism’ paywalls
In a discussion about media, Rahman said she was disturbed by the failures of the media business model that meant increasingly “quality journalism” was being placed behind paywalls while the public that could not afford paywalls were being served “poor quality” information.

Introducing Anjum Rahman, Pax Christi’s Susan Healy said how “especially delighted the Wakim whanau were” that she had agreed to give the lecture.

David Wakim was the inaugural president of Pax Christi Aotearoa, an independent section of Pax Christi International, a Catholic organisation founded in France at the end of World War Two committed to working “to transform a world shaken by violence, terrorism, deepening inequalities, and global insecurity”.

Growing up in a Sydney Catholic family, Wakim was an advocate of interfaith dialogue. His travels in Muslim countries strengthened his links with the three faiths of Abraham – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He helped establish the Council of Christians and Muslims in Auckland, but was especially committed to Palestinian rights.

Wakim died in 2005 and the annual lecture honours his and Pax Christi’s mahi for Tiriti o Waitangi, interfaith dialogue, peace education, human rights and restorative justice.

Anjum Rahman addressing the Pax Christi-hosted David Wakim Memorial Lecture 2022
Anjum Rahman addressing the Pax Christi-hosted David Wakim Memorial Lecture 2022. Image: Billy Hania video screenshot/APR


    • well pope elucidate you version of unbiarsed information, without mentioning fox, alex jones, soros, and or the great replacement….
      there is no objective truth just facts and bullshit and no not all interpretations are valid and yes facts trump opinions/feel feels every time.

    • And check out the audience demographics in a half empty venue – looks like Friday social night at an aged care facility.

  1. “Ban hate speech to save democracy!” – uh, yeah nah, let’s start with calling out disinformation right there.

    As for quality journalism behind paywalls, where exactly? The Herald is the biggest proponent of paywalls, and they seem to paywall content that’s trash and/or sourced from and freely available elsewhere.

    • Agreed. Evans has a darn cheek accusing the media of anti-Putin (not anti-Russian anti-Putin) bias. Would he have stuck up for Hitler in the 1930s? I rather think so!

      • “Would he have stuck up for Hitler in the 1930s? I rather think so!”
        Funny you mention that, agenda setting media did just that and more here’s a history of misinformation in the NYT.

        Agree with the need for greater critical thinking but it seems contradictory to ‘protect democracy’ by empowering the security state and hate speech legislation. If one wants to remove troll incentives, change the eyeballs-on-advertising business model of social media platforms. Stop arousing negative emotions to maximise attention time.

        The focus on and criticism of trolls while asking for better media is like the focus on and criticism of benefit cheats while asking multinationals to pay their fair share of tax.

          • @Gagarin yes arguably up to the former king. Also many of the british left wing intelligentsia were reluctant to entertain criticism of Stalin’s USSR until Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago was published.

            Whether left or right, giving establishment voices or corporate entities the ability to referee what is true/false and censor accordingly is always going to end badly.

            • indeed tui I think you’ll find though many leftists jumped the stalinist ship after the OGPU purges in spain(orwell for one) and the berlin workers rising of 1953…hungary just about putting the tin hat on it…it’s worth noting particularly in france how the intellectuals most vocally stalinist became overnight post modernists…..

  2. The diversity brigade is one of the biggest movements infected by disinformation and stupidity.

    By filling the woke into the human rights groups and unions they have joined forced with the right wingers into a post capitalism society, where human labour is moved around the world to reduce the cost of labour into a legalised, taxpayer subsidised activity in the name of diversity. Instead of fostering local communities to prosper and keep the assets that they live close to at affordable levels.

    Those behind post capitalist globalism, make so much money they can buy up global politicians, media, assets like water, food, sand, land, around the world and make gross profits out of it – while destroying the local communities around it. They tax system has been designed to have loop holes so that the richer globalists and those who know the system, don’t have to pay any local taxes while promoting more taxes to the middle classes.

    At the same time as capital globalists bought media and ‘donated’ to government officials who stand to make money by being a clog in the system to support and hide what is going on.

    The hate speech laws in the UK are a disaster, because they are not about hate speech but about shutting down freedom of speech. More terror and hate and dysfunction has occurred since then in the UK as well as poverty, because it weaponised opinion into a crime. Now even satire is banned and the so called ‘hate speech’ woke are out there knifing comedians just like the lone wolves and terrorists knifing and killing people they feel are against their religion or some view they hold. There is a difference between holding a view and acting on it. Weaponising and shutting down people holding a view and debate, while ignoring or missing those who are going to act on it, is a big part of the problem.

    They just cancelled Shakespeare in NZ schools by the look of it. Cancelling culture, cancelling debate (Green Party), cancelling everything they can.

    They cancelled council zoning and environmental debate around resource consents a while back in NZ.

    Apparently all woes of NZ are due to high rents – this discourse has been echo chambered by all and sundry to destroy democracy and to distract from the gross profiteering and sell offs in NZ and how local people through low wages and high interest rates will never be able to compete with outside capital – thus standards of living will decline.

    Rents in NZ are LOW by international standards and our wages are also LOW, but some things are extremely high in NZ to stop people buying property like bank interest rates (NZ banks are the most profitable in the world), high food prices (massive duopoly where supermarkets are now destroying the farmers and somehow control a lot of food production, while reducing nutrition to the population) and so forth.


    Rent Prices in Auckland are 24.80% LOWER than in Sydney.
    Monthly salaries after tax are 27% lower in Auckland than Sydney.
    Bank interest rates in Auckland are 37% higher than Sydney.

    Rent Prices in Auckland are 38% LOWER than in London.
    Monthly salaries after tax are 2% higher in Auckland than London.
    Bank interest rates in Auckland are 61% higher than London.

    Rent Prices in Auckland are 47.38% lower than in Singapore
    Monthly salaries after tax are 25% lower in Auckland than Singapore.
    Bank interest rates in Auckland are 107% higher than Singapore.

    If human rights activists want to have a peaceful, equitable world, they seem to be losing the plot and helping the biggest exploiters of labour, bankrupting western economies by neoliberalism, helping the rich and powerful to avoid taxes and advocating the same policy that seems to be destroying democracy and equality within countries.

Comments are closed.