Island Tides: Fake news, propaganda and motion 103

Fake News, propaganda and motion 103
by Elizabeth May
March 2, 2017

We are in a post-truth era.  President Trump denounces journalists as “enemies of the people” and any inconvenient truths as “fake news.”

There is such a thing as “fake news.”  I first encountered it back in 2009 in the midst of the disastrous climate talks in Copenhagen.  I knew immediately that it was a hoax and I thought it was brilliant.  It was a meticulously designed sting intended to expose Harper’s climate obstructionism.  It came in several parts: first, a news release that perfectly mimicked Environment Canada committing Canada to deep reductions in GHG; second, a further release carrying reaction from other delegations to the “news” from Canada, then, a link to what appeared to be Environment Canada’s website with more details, and lastly a link to a perfect replica of the Wall Street Journal’s home page, confirming the news.

Within hours, the “Yes Men,” a self-described “culture jamming activist duo,” claimed credit.  While I was revelling in their strategies, I should have been quaking in my boots.  What if such tactics were used, not as hoaxes to be unveiled by those seeking truth, but by those planning to cover the truth under mountains of lies?

“Fake news” in our current context is conveyed like a virus. It looks like the real thing and carries outrageous and untrue nonsense presented as fact.  In the US election campaign, the claims that President Obama had banned the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, that Hillary Clinton planned to limit Christian right to worship, and Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump appeared on the internet with the look of real news.  Not a shred of truth to any of the claims. The appropriation of mastheads of real news outlets was used to convey credibility. Who knows how much that trickery impacted the election.

But now in office, Trump is benefiting from the term “fake news.”  He has appropriated it, quite wrongly, to articles focussing on his administration’s ties to Russia.  Are the claims inaccurate?  He can dispute that.  But it is even more dangerous that he labels it “fake news.”  By definition, “fake news” is not what appears in newspapers written by reporters working for those papers.  That is real news, whether it contains errors or displays biases, it is not “fake.”

Reporters can make mistakes. Those mistakes are usually corrected with retractions. Where there is room for debate, traditionally, both sides of the story are given a voice.  The purpose of journalism is to inform an interested and engaged citizenry.  It is an essential element of a healthy democracy.

What is happening in the US is dangerous, but it is also happening here.

There is a growing number of websites that do not fall into the “fake news” category because they do not pretend to be the home pages of real newspapers.  They do pretend to be news sources.  They create an echo chamber where those who are interested in a topic of concern and feel the mainstream media is not giving them the “truth.”  Several of my constituents have sent me articles from US based webpages that were new to me- The American Thinker and the Gatestone Institute. The content was disturbing. The focus was on creating fear, distrust and hatred of “other” peoples, particularly Muslims.  Within Canada, Ezra Lavant and his so-called Rebel Media are doing the same.  And they have seized on an entirely innocuous, non-controversial motion in Parliament to create fear and division.

Motion 103 was put forward by Liberal MP, Iqra Khalid in December 2016. A motion is not a bill. It does not create laws; it does not bind governments. Khalid’s motion recognizes a rising threat of Islamophobia and calls on the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.”

It is clear, that whether caused by Trump’s ascendency or merely a free rider of newly empowered hate and racism, there is also a rise in anti-Semitism, with attacks even on the front doors of rabbis. But if anyone needed proof of an increased level of threat to Muslims, the murder of six men, killed while at prayer in their local mosque, is more than enough reason to reach out and assure Muslim Canadians of their place in our hearts and our society.   It was shattering to be at the Quebec City vigil, among the friends and families of those who were killed and of the many more who still lay in hospital.

Sensible conservative voices, such as leadership candidate Michael Chong and prominent columnist Andrew Coyne (who wrote: “the notion that this amounts to ‘singling out’ one religion for ‘special privileges,’ as some have claimed, is specious”) are drowned out by those claiming that Motion 103 will bring in Sharia law. Or that it will place Islam “above” other religions.

For those whose agenda is to attack decency with every tool available to them, Motion 103 was a gift. Ezra Lavant – who styles himself “Rebel Commander” – organized a rally in Toronto and trotted out the Conservative candidates willing to help him shovel his brand of filth.

I will vote for Motion 103, which, unfortunately, due to the hierarchy of private members motions, will not come to a vote for months.  I voted for a similar Conservative motion, decrying the rise in extremism and discrimination more generally, as it is entirely sensible and does not contradict anything in motion 103. So too did the entire NDP caucus.

Please, where you find a friend or neighbour drawn in by the propaganda of the fear-mongers, respond helpfully. Direct them to reliable news sources and Conservative voices with integrity. Do not denounce, for it only feeds the notion that free speech is at risk. But equally do not let lies go unchallenged.  As Kai Nagata wrote on this very issue (the National Observer) “Hate thrives when Love and Honour fall asleep.”

Originally published by Island Tides newspaper. See for more breaking West Coast news, views and enterprise.