I see Stuff’s feverish witch-hunt for malignant local government election candidates has claimed a victim.
The Dominion Post reports today that Jordan Milburn, a candidate for Upper Hutt City Council, has quit his job at the Civil Aviation Authority “after allegations he had ties with neo-Nazi group Action Zealandia”.
Who made these allegations? According to the Dominion Post, a group calling itself Paparoa. And who is Paparoa? Good question. The paper doesn’t bother to tell us.
I found what appeared to be Paparoa’s website and it offers no clue whatsoever to the identities of the people behind it. Neither does a link to it from a UK-based website called Hope Not Hate.
All the Paparoa website reveals is that it “researches the far right in Aotearoa and works with journalists, academics and activists to counteract their hate”. No names, just an email address. A “spokesperson" for Paparoa was quoted in an earlier Dominion Post story but not identified.
So on the basis of “allegations” by this anonymous group – a group every bit as shadowy and conspiracy-obsessed as any on the far-Right, judging by its website – the Dominion Post “outed” Milburn last week. And now it reports that he’s lost his job, the clear implication being that he was forced to quit - or the CAA felt pressured to get rid of him - because of what the Dominion Post revealed.
Is this what we’ve come to? A once-reputable newspaper hounding citizens on the basis of accusations by conspiracy theorists whom we’re supposed to regard as credible even though the paper doesn’t identify them?
What makes it even worse is the note of satisfaction in today’s Dominion Post story about Milburn losing his job. I’m surprised the headline didn’t read “Gotcha!”
The Dominion Post apparently sees no contradiction in describing Action Zealandia as a “secretive ethno-nationalist group” - whatever that may mean - while simultaneously giving credence to unsubstantiated claims by a group that’s just as furtive.
The paper outed Milburn on the basis that his voice sounded similar to that of someone calling himself Zane who featured in an Action Zealandia podcast. A Jordan Milburn was also reportedly identified as an editor of an Action Zealandia document in May 2021 (presumably supplied by Paparoa, though the paper doesn't make that clear) which contained "anti-Semitic slurs and comments". We're not told what the comments were, so can't decide for ourselves whether they were malignant or breached any law.
No further evidence needed, apparently; guilty as charged.
What’s not established is whether Milburn has expressed any opinions that can’t legally be held and which therefore might make him ineligible for public office. I suspect the same is true of many, if not all, the council candidates targeted in Stuff’s sustained crusade against supposedly sinister influencers contesting council elections. (As an aside, how often do you see alarmist media references to the far Left? Evidently they’re okay.)
Also unexplained is how the CAA was compromised or threatened by employing Milburn as a software engineer. Yet when the Dominion Post dobbed him in to his employers last week, a CAA spokesman obligingly said: “We can assure you we’re looking into this". Why? Even assuming Milburn is “Zane”, how did his private views affect his ability to carry out his job? We're not told.
Local government election candidates targeted by the Dominion Post and other Stuff papers are broadly accused of spreading misinformation, promoting dangerous conspiracy theories and threatening democracy. Any association with groups such as Voices for Freedom or the Destiny Church is presented, ipso facto, as incriminating, But I wonder where the real threat to democracy is coming from.
I fear for New Zealand’s future when the mainstream news media, which not long ago championed free speech, are instrumental in creating a climate of fear, suspicion and denunciation that resembles something from George Orwell. It becomes even more dangerous when government departments appear to have been frightened or bullied by the media into succumbing to a moral panic.
I may or may not be right in suggesting the threat posed to society by fringe extremist organisations such as Action Zealandia has probably been greatly magnified, no doubt to their immense gratification. But as to the question of who represents the bigger threat to democracy in New Zealand right now, I’d have to say it’s the Dominion Post.