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The freedom to lie during an election campaign

Written By: - Date published: 6:55 am, December 11th, 2019 - 75 comments
Categories: election 2020, electoral commission, electoral systems, labour, making shit up, national, same old national, Simon Bridges, spin, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags:

The trend is becoming clear.  And many of us on the left are trying to understand the the background and the motivation for what is happening.  But the right have a new game plan when it comes to campaigning and damn it but it may work.

The old rules no longer apply.  The media is that compromised, that bereft of resources and that fearful for its future that it will not and cannot question the crap that is coming out of the right.

There have been two recent local examples.

First there was this attempt to graphically (and statistically) lie about the actual change in fuel taxes.

It received a real trashing on Twitter.  So what does the Government paid Opposition Leader’s propaganda squad social media team do?

They repeat it.

This is not some random Hamish Price type attack.  This has been focus grouped to within an inch of its life and it will have a robust business case.

Maybe the reach is more important that the truthfulness of the message. And spats on social media increase the reach. Our righteous angst against the content may just mean that more people get the message.

This issue has been brought into stark relief by the release of the Justice Select Committee Report into the 2017 election. The report canvasses an intense debate about how the law should handle deliberate lies during an election campaign.

Labour wanted to extend the time it is an offence to publish a false statement with intent to influence voters. Currently the relevant period starts two days before election day but with the advent of early voting it is rational to increase the time. They wanted it to be two days before the start of advance voting.

It seems so rational. There are so many votes now cast during the lead up period that this period should be included in the protection. After all if the intent is to stop the illegitimate influencing of votes surely all votes should be protected, not just those cast on election day. Last election 40% of votes were advance votes. Why should these voters have less protection?

National’s response? Nope. Seems they want the ability to lie safely for as long as possible.

This is National’s view as set out in the report:

The purpose of the tight and tough constraints in section 199A that apply just to the two days prior to the election is because of the reduced opportunity for scrutiny or rebuttal so close to an election. They were introduced to stop scandalous claims being made in the last moments before an election. They come with a very high penalty. A person being declared guilty of a corrupt practice is liable to imprisonment of 2 years, a fine of up to $100,000, and inclusion on the Corrupt Practice List, removing their right to vote or hold elected office.

But with so many early votes nowadays why should these voters be treated differently?

The key legal test in section 199A is that the person has published a false statement. The issue is “what is” and “who determines” what a false statement is that becomes subject to the penalty of a “corrupt practice”. There will be different views from Election 2017 on whether National’s claims of a $12 billion fiscal hole or Labour’s of 100,000 Kiwibuild homes
are false statements, but these are best contested in the context of freedom of expression and not being shut down by this draconian “corrupt practice” provision.

What strange examples. The only defence for National was that the $12 billion fiscal hole comment was made through a complete lack of understanding of basic accounting. Labour’s Kiwibuild Homes proposal was aspirational and would never have breached the test.

The proposed amendment to section 199A is hugely significant and poses major risks for the free expression of views in the three weeks prior to a general election. National views this proposal as a further worrying erosion of free speech by the current Government that will compromise free and fair elections.

How much of a threat would the change be to National’s advertising?

The relevant section of the Electoral Act says this:

A person is guilty of a corrupt practice if the person, with the intention of influencing the vote of an elector … first publishes or republishes a statement, during the specified period, that the person knows is false in a material particular; or … arranges for the first publication or republication of a statement, during the specified period, that the person knows is false in a material particular.”

My initial impression is that false graphics, like those above, may well get the publisher into trouble.  The graphic is a material particular of the statement.  No wonder National is so worried at the proposal.

Get ready.  This could be a brutal election year.

75 comments on “The freedom to lie during an election campaign ”

  1. tc 1

    It was always going to be this way as bridges is hopeless and nats have immense resources to play this deception game.

    Probably fine tuning the chat bots now.

    The more they can do without him and pullya etc the better will be the hollowmen approach.
    Let’s not forget their incredibly helpful msm players like hosk, hdpa,rnz etc

  2. Ad 2

    The left will win again when they become more creative liars.

    Catch up people!

    • bwaghorn 2.1

      You’re part of the problem if that's your attitude.

      • Ad 2.1.1

        Prepare to keep losing then.

        Theres now no regulation of campaign speech in strong democracies.

        Rules won't save the left.

        • UncookedSelachimorpha 2.1.1.1

          Theres now no regulation of campaign speech in which is one of the reasons there are no strong democracies.

          FIFY

          Copying the lies of the right is the last thing we should do.

          • Ad 2.1.1.1.1

            There are plenty of strong democracies. You're commenting from one of them.

            And the only reason Labor won here last time is because we got a good leader at the last minute. Not because of our policies or our campaign tactics.

            Copying winning strategies from others within a strong democracy is just common sense.

            • Incognito 2.1.1.1.1.1

              IIRC, Jacinda Ardern took over the leadership 7 weeks out from Election Day. Her skills as Party leader (and potential PM) were untested.

              • weka

                also, there was so much going on at the last election it's hard to tell what were the contributing factors. But a big chunk of the left votes on policy and has values around lying, so Labour using campaign tactics that ignore policy and lie like National is likely to increase the non-vote. Might increase the Green vote of course, so maybe Ad is on to something there.

                • Incognito

                  Sure, Ad could well be right but I don’t endorse lying to win an election. Why stop once sworn in?

                  Politics is not a contest of lies, it is a contest of ideas. Using rhetoric or the art of persuasion does not equal lying. Lying is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

                  • Ad

                    And there's no such thing as truth in an election either.

                    Stop trying to find it.

                    If Labour had had a better ad campaign than Dancing Cossacks we'd have about the same retirement wealth as Australia right now.

                    The purity contest for ideas can be found at the manifesto workshops. They're down the hall; you go left, then left, then left again. You can't miss it.

                    • Incognito

                      False dichotomy there, Ad. I don’t like lies and I don’t endorse them, but this doesn’t mean I advocate some kind of pure perfection and only seek and accept the Truth. I’m enough of a realist to know that ideas, intentions, aspirations can be relatively pure but that implementation and putting these into practice requires compromise at many different levels. None of that, however, makes a plausible argument for straight out lying or lying from the outset. By analogy, a comedian can only be ‘funny’ by telling crude vulgar sexist and racist ‘jokes’. I’d like to think that politicians should be more imaginative, creative, inventive, and courageous in getting their message across and countering the message of the (their) opposition. You put it as lying or losing. Maybe you were trying to be provocative? What do all those comms people do for a living?

                  • weka

                    He's not right, I was being facetious about the Green vote (I think it's true, but it's still not a good idea).

                  • Gosman

                    But you think anyone holding a view further than slightly right of center must be lying as they want policies that don't benefit society only themselves

                    [Letting this one through so that you can show where I said that or face a ban. I’m tired of your trolling – Incognito]

              • Ad

                She generated a huge popularity surge and that's why we got the win. She personally changed the campaign slogan to "Let's Do This".

                Social media just exploded.

                There's no other factor.

                Of course we could just go along and presume a leader like her will always emerge at just the right time.

                Best of luck with that, but from experience over the John Key era, it's hard work.

                • Incognito

                  I don’t disagree with all that but before you said it was because “we got a good leader at the last minute” and you saw no role for policies or campaign tactics. You now seem to be contradicting yourself.

                  Sloppy wording or simplistic reductionist thinking, take your pick 😉

                  • Ad

                    Well obviously last time our campaign tactics were shit until we got a better communicator on board. She now runs the country.

                    She led the communications shift through the digital space herself (with help of course). No need to discuss what is truth or mistruth or untruth there: it's simply better campaign leadership.

                    • weka

                      I don't think it is obvious. Part of the reason why Labour's support picked up was because a chunk of swing voters wanted to vote for someone they like and could feel good about (and Little wasn't it, for a range of reasons). Also, the shift from the Greens because of the post-Turei welfare speech fallout.

                      Like Incognito, I find your argument here a bit uneven. That JA is also good with social media doesn't mean that Labour need to lie as well as National.

                    • Incognito

                      You lost me here (wouldn’t be the first time though). We won in 2017, assuming that’s what we’re talking about, because of good or better campaign leadership; before Jacinda Ardern took over (the campaign), the campaign tactics were shite lacking. However, at 2.1.1.1.1 you were saying it was down to good leadership and “[n]ot because of our policies or our campaign tactics”!? I also struggle with your presumed irrelevancy of (our) policies. Surely, you’re not suggesting that NZ politics are so superficial that any figurehead with a good mouth and SM skills could win the election for just about any party. It is tempting to accept that because it would mean that National stands no chance as long as Simon Bridges is their leader 😉

              • Rastus

                It was enough that she wasn't Andrew Little.

        • McFlock 2.1.1.2

          If both sides lie as bad as each other, there's no difference.

          A victory in those circumstances is still a loss.

          And we can win without being the most copious liars on the block. Case in point: our PM.

  3. Jimmy 3

    All politicians lie and make ridiculous promises that sound great in theory but are not possible. Once elected the excuses come out. Don't forget Kiwibuild said it would build 100,000 houses!

    As for the graphs…there are lies, damn lies and statistics

    • Sacha 3.1

      All politicians lie

      That is what the lying ones want us to believe.

      • tc 3.1.1

        Key's greatest political achievements IMO was via DP and smearing through the MSM he got the sheeple thinking they're all the same.

    • michelle 3.2

      Some lie more than others Jimmy and at the moment the national party are winning that race ( the liars race)

    • weka 3.3

      "Don't forget Kiwibuild said it would build 100,000 houses!"

      That wasn't a lie. It was an ambitious plan that failed. The difference is important.

      • Jimmy 3.3.1

        I will have to disagree with you on that one. They were told it was over ambitious and not achievable before they were elected and the results to date have confirmed it. When does an over ambitious plan become a lie? Another example of planting a billion trees also comes to mind……

        I think political parties need to be more accountable (other than every three years when we vote) on what they "promise". If National say if they are elected and for example said they will make a two lane highway with median barrier the length of the country, Labour could say, we will make a four lane one.

        • weka 3.3.1.1

          A lie would be 'we know this isn't going to work, but we're going to do it anyway and pretend it will'. I don't think this is what happened. They fucked up (with the policy from the start), but that's different.

          It looks to me like Labour (and Ardern) thought a number of things were going to be easier than they have been. The issue for me is whether they are learning from that experience.

          I agree about the accountability. The Greens Policy Costings Unit policy would be a start. Afaik it didn't make it through coalition negotiations.

          https://www.greens.org.nz/policy/fairer-society/policy-costings-unit

          Planting a billion trees seems more doable to me, the problem there is that it should have been given to the Greens to do. Much of what happens with this govt is tradeoffs between the three parties. With this I wish we had a system where they could be more honest about it.

          • McFlock 3.3.1.1.1

            What I love is that during the campaign the tories said that both KB and the billion trees were totally crazy talk.

            Sure, KB has been a bit of a fizzer, but they're srangely silent about the trees lol

  4. Sacha 4

    Monbiot on lying for political gain in a context of toothless media regulation: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/10/break-embargo-expose-press-lies-labour

    If elections are won by lies, we find ourselves governed by liars. They won’t hesitate to ramp up their deceptions when in office.

  5. Bill 5

    Can I… You write – The media is that compromised, that bereft of resources and that fearful for its future that it will not and cannot question the crap that is coming out of the right.

    Media isn't compromised in the way you suggest Micky. Our political discourse is in the shit can because (and this applies to Labour too) politicians are really struggling to defend the indefensible. They all want to see the indefensible persist because they all merely want 'their shot' at governing the status quo and making 'their shot' last as many election cycles as they can.

    Media's very much a part and parcel of the whole shenanigans that passes for politics these days – keep it dumb and very "Oh my gosh!!!" and preserve the notion that there's nothing out there bar this.

    Filling news space with wonky graph scandals and bullshit tittle tattle with either a red hue or a blue hue keeps things trucking along just nicely. Media isn't compromised. Media's a central player.

    • Gosman 5.1

      What is this nonsense about having to defend the indefensible? Ultimately your massively left wing bias has lead you to take a belief position which seemingly blinds you to the reality that people can quite easily have a different political view and can defend it.

      • Wensleydale 5.1.1

        Don't take the bait, people. Just pretend this comment never happened. Nothing to see here. Move along.

      • Tiger Mountain 5.1.2

        Ker splosh!… Gosman drops another one in the pool…

      • michelle 5.1.3

        Gosman can you please stop making lame excuses for the lying brigade national party

        • Wayne 5.1.3.1

          I have noticed the Standardnistas are getting really wound up. Basically loosing all perspective and can only see Labour’s political opponents as the devil incarnate who could only be supported by evil people.

          Yes, the petrol price ad was seriously wrong (even David Farrar said so so he clearly was not behind it) but it was hardly the worst possible political sin.

          I would say, chill a little.

          • Ad 5.1.3.1.1

            Based on the polling shifts this year, National's campaign tactics are right on the button.

          • weka 5.1.3.1.2

            Sometimes people get wound up because there is something seriously wrong.

            If you don't want to be seen as a trolling, dirty politics, wind up merchant fool like Gosman I suggest putting some effort into rebutting what micky is saying in the post about National instead of inane comments telling Standardistas to chill. Because that comment looks exactly like what I would expect from the dirty politics movement that is now rife within the left (ignore the substantive points, instead have a go at undermining at the people objecting).

            You have a long history here of bringing serious conversation to TS. I don't know what's happened in the past few years but increasingly your comments look like astroturfing.

            • Gosman 5.1.3.1.2.1

              What do you mean by rebutting? Do you want him to rebutt the fact that National are using politically spun attack ads?

          • Psycho Milt 5.1.3.1.3

            I would say, chill a little.

            But you would say that. From our perspective, we've seen right-wing electoral success from campaigns of lies (USA and Australia maybe the foremost examples), we've seen NZ trolls-for-hire Topham Guerin promoted as leaders in running right-wing social media lying and smear campaigns, we can figure out that the trolls for hire are likely also working for National and we're now seeing an increase in lying, smearing attack ads from National. Don't expect us to assume it must be just our imaginations.

          • McFlock 5.1.3.1.4

            can only see Labour’s political opponents as the devil incarnate who could only be supported by evil people

            It's odd, but my own impulses swing back and forth on that one. Some things I can understand as being from a different perspective, but then there's shitbirds like farrar and hooten and williams, willing to immediately make political capital out of every possible tragedy. The fuckers took barely hours to start blaming the government handling of the eruption.

            And some responses to child povertyy information are equally as sick.

          • tc 5.1.3.1.5

            yes dear, wow DPF eh lots of integrity there.

          • Climaction 5.1.3.1.6

            Losing their shit as any shit sticks to an incompetent government With more failures than wins in 2 years.

            cant think the last time we saw a post on the standard lauding a transformational left leaning policy, that succeeded

            • Incognito 5.1.3.1.6.1

              That’s because you have a selective memory.

              • Climaction

                First year fees free – enrolments drop

                kiwibuild – .297% off it’s total goal achieved after 20% of the time has elapsed

                trees planted – a little higher, at around .578% of its target.

                One successful major policy achieved in two years of government? Anyone?

                [Do you enjoy trolling here? If so, please continue. Thus far, your comments have helped tremendously with robust debate and it would be sad to lose your contribution. Please provide links to show that you did not make up shit. I think you might be on thin ice with your assertion about enrolments but we’ll see what you come up with and it had better be good. I’m tired of your trolling here – Incognito]

                • weka

                  Zero Carbon Act.

                  But there's always this to peruse.

                  https://www.labour.org.nz/progress-2yrs-2019

                  Much more likely is that the left are sick of the right wing trolls lying and being dicks.

                • Incognito

                  See my Moderation note @ 5:48 PM.

                • Climaction

                  Sorry fees free enrollement are up slightly but overall tertiary numbers are down.

                  Whether that’s a success or not depends on your point of view I guess

                  [You are not out of the woods yet, two more links to go. In fact, I asked for three links as you made three assertions and I have not seen any yet. We cannot discuss merits or success of stuff that you made up so we first need to make sure that you got your facts right. So far, you are on the back foot and I am serious about this – Incognito]

                  • SPC

                    FFS. The purpose of free fees is to enable a no fees cost education, so people get jobs and save for a home without that debt.

                  • Sacha

                    Tertiary enrolments always fall when unemployment does.

                  • Incognito

                    See my Moderation note @ 7:25 PM.

                  • Climaction

                    I posted a link from kiwiblog, again not the least biased of commentators but he's usually good on the stats front. this seems to have disappeared though.

                    I got trees wrong too, they're at 2.5% with 24.6 million out of one billion planted.

                    but I was right about kiwibuild. 279 house out of 100,000 is .279%

                    the numbers reflect an abject failure to deliver on major, election winning, policy announcements by this government.

                    [You made three assertions and I challenged you to provide three links. As it turns out, you were wrong on two out of three. I requested you to provide links and so far you have only produced one link. You make up shit, you correct it, with links. You make correct assertions, you support them, with links. What don’t you understand about the request for links? Your comments are held up in Pre-Moderation until you comply with the request for links. Your comments don’t disappear, they are held up until they are approved (or not). I don’t know why but I’ll give you one more chance or you come back after a long break because I have had enough of this and next time you make an assertion without link you’re out for even longer – Incognito]

                    • Incognito

                      See my Moderation note @ 2:56 PM.

                    • McFlock

                      Umm – no, you're wrong. The one billion trees policy was to lift total output to 1 billion trees by 2028. 100million a year, on average.

                      So far, 150-odd million have been planted, and of that 25 million were direct grants of government funding. You missed out partnership funding and the current status of the private sector.

                      So 15% achievement in 15-20% of the allotted timeframe. Not far off target, given that nothing magically appeared on the day the coalition was signed.

                    • That's a scam that the Right's been running since the election, led by DPF who still has a "Government Tree Deficit" counter running on Kiwiblog. The grift is that they pretend the policy was for the government to plant 1 billion addtional trees. Looks like Climaction is one of the suckers the scam is aimed at.

                • Climaction

                  It's kiwi blog, but a neat summary.

                  turns out i was wrong about the trees promised target

                  https://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2019/10/labours_year_of_delivery-2.html

                  it was 1,00,000,000 but they've achieved 24.6 million. which is 2.5% of the deliverables.

                  Still not amazing numbers though

      • Bill 5.1.4

        Liberalism isn't defensible from a working class perspective. That's not an exclusively left position btw. You think Trump was only voted in by people holding left wing political views? Of course he wasn't. The bulk of his formerly disenfranchised support came from people who were simply over having the liberal status quo imposed on them and their lives. And in Trump, they grasped at a forlorn hope for something different and perhaps better.

        But hey. If you can provide a link that offers up a robust defence of liberalism from a working class perspective in the 21stC , then I'd be keen to peruse it.

  6. Wensleydale 6

    I'd love to see Newshub or some other media outlet spend 30 minutes going, "Look at this! It's National! And they're telling lies again! Look at their dodgy statistics, hilariously skewed graphs and gratuitous hyperbole! They appear to be lying liars who tell lies! Could it be they have a history of this sort of behaviour? Why, yes… let's delve into that a little more thoroughly."

    Probably never happen though.

  7. pat 7

    There's lies…and then there's lies (and there's statistics)

    https://www.quickbase.com/blog/know-when-someone-is-lying-7-types-of-lies

    The problem is the shift in the type of lying….sadly a scrupulously honest politician seldom advances in his/her career
    P.S. and the apparent lack of consequence when exposed is extremely problematic

  8. Enough is Enough 8

    "It will not and cannot question the crap that is coming out of the right"

    I think there is a clear an obvious reason why they won't question it. Other than the tiny minority of people who read twitter (100% of whom are politically entrenched), no one in the real world sees this crap.

    National is wasting time and resources on advertising to their followers and their sworn enemies. The people who decide elections (people who aren't reading twitter all day), don't see that shit. So why would the media waste their time on that same shit when there are real issues to be discussed.

  9. Stuart Munro 9

    Wayne wrote:

    an only see Labour’s political opponents as the devil incarnate

    The Devil is smart and sophisticated – no-one could mistake National for that.

    • I feel love 9.1

      He also wrote "loosing" instead of "losing".

    • McFlock 9.2

      The Robbie burns poem comes to mind.

      On John Morine, laird of Laggan

      When Morine, deceased, to the Devil went down, 'Twas nothing would serve him but Satan's own crown: Thy fool's head, quoth Satan, that crown shall wear never; I grant thou'rt as wicked – but not quite so clever.

  10. SPC 10

    When you intend to govern in the interests of a minority lying is a necessity.

  11. Roger 11

    Sean Topham (28) and Ben Guerin (24) (former Young Nats who specialize in social media-dirty-tricks) are currently spearheading Boris Johnson's social media campaign and will likely be behind National's current social media lie-fest. Topham and Guerin maintain offices here and will be back for the next elections. Topham and Guerin were instrumental in handing Scott Morrison and unexpected win.

  12. Irene 12

    Crikey, didn't Hamish get it so wrong with his tweet, what a loser.

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