Countering misinformation report welcomed by Chief Commissioner

Countering misinformation report welcomed by Chief Commissioner

July 1, 2021

The Human Rights Commission welcomes the Classification Office report and survey The Edge of the Infodemic: Challenging Misinformation in Aotearoa.

Chief Human Rights Commission Paul Hunt said the report is extremely important given the rising tide of misinformation worldwide and in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“The report”, he said, “addresses vital human rights issues.”

“It’s a wake-up call for all of us. Reliable information, diverse perspectives, and a broad range of views are vital for a healthy society. Misinformation undermines democracy, corrodes the fabric of society, and makes our communities unsafe. The Classification Office’s excellent report shines light on this major problem in New Zealand,” Hunt said.

Hunt said that the Human Rights Commission hears people complain about misinformation, including troubling flyers in letter boxes.

“The survey shows that 82% of New Zealanders are concerned about the spread of misinformation and 84% think something should be done about it”, Hunt said.

“The report gives some helpful pointers for the way forward. Criminalising misinformation is not the way to go. Let’s learn from the print and broadcast news media which are required to ensure news is accurate, balanced, and fair – and they do a pretty good job. Should we extend similar requirements to digital platforms? As the report says, there are no simple solutions and we all have a role to play.”

Hunt explains, “human rights, including the right of access to reliable information and freedom of speech, need to be part of the discussion. Key human rights principles such as transparency and accountability extend to corporate platforms.”

He says that “Irene Khan, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, has recently published an important study on disinformation, misinformation, and human rights. She correctly emphasises that corporate digital platforms are “accountable not only to their users but to society at large”.”

Misinformation affects a wide range of human rights, including the right to health protection. The Human Rights Commission recently released a guide with answers to frequently asked questions on human rights relevant to the COVID-19 vaccine. The guide addresses the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, which human rights are relevant when making decisions about vaccines, and the government’s human rights obligations concerning the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Minister of Internal Affairs recently announced that the Government is reviewing the current regulatory framework.

“The Human Rights Commission encourages the Government to put human rights at the centre of its design of a modern regulatory framework to protect people from harmful or illegal content. Human rights are nuanced and help to strike appropriate balances. They embody critically important values, such as freedom and equality, and provide a way of holding powerful corporations to account.”