Political parties ramp up attack ads – smart politics or fake news?

ANALYSIS: Part of being a good opposition is attacking when you see the opportunity, then making hay while the sun shines.

National has been ramping up its attack ads ahead of the Government’s first budget next week, its latest meme claiming the Government would spend $1 billion funding foreign diplomats, at the expense of cheaper GP visits.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has labelled it “fake news”. But National has cried foul, and accuses Labour of similar tactics.

The image which appeared on the National Party's page.
The image which appeared on the National Party’s page.

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National’s social media – particularly Facebook – has been heavily populated with memes and short videos opposing the Government’s policies, announcements, and calling into question its plans and ability to stick to promises.

Jacinda Ardern has called out National for spreading
Jacinda Ardern has called out National for spreading “fake news”.

So far, so normal if you’re the opposition. However, some of the ads are more than just the opposite political stance – they’re factually incorrect.

Clearly, no political party has the monopoly on circulating misleading messages for political gain, and Labour’s record isn’t clean of questionable claims against the former government.

When Labour was in opposition it applied the same attack tactics.

But are these ads smart politicking, or does it over-step the line into “fake news” territory?

The ads put a negative spin on things like taxes, and the Government’s slew of advisory/working/review groups – things National has consistently challenged Labour on since before the election.

More than 94,000 people like National’s Facebook page, and about 15,500 people follow it on Twitter. There will be some crossover between the different platforms, but the party has a massive reach across the country and is helped on by the its youth wing, the Young Nats, which usually shares the party’s posts.

US President Donald Trump isn't afraid to label media stories he disagrees with as fake news.
US President Donald Trump isn’t afraid to label media stories he disagrees with as fake news.

The term “fake news” – the spreading of propaganda or misinformation – has gained notoriety thanks to US President Donald Trump, who’s called out news outlets, including CNN, for publishing news he disagrees with.

During the 2016 US presidential election, the issue reached boiling point, with propaganda, and in some cases completely inaccurate claims, being published via traditional and social media.

National Party leader Simon Bridges has said he “rejected the claim we are misleading New Zealanders”.

“For a Prime Minister who claims to have taken offence at comparisons to US President Donald Trump it’s interesting that she chooses to use a term he made famous,” he said.

$1 BILLION FOR DIPLOMATS

The meme that sparked the discussion on Thursday was one relating to the Government’s foreign affairs and aid spending, which was posted on National’s Facebook page.

The meme said: “$1 billion for diplomats vs cheaper GP visits”, along with pictures of Winston Peters and Ardern.

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters announced almost $1 billion for foreign affairs and aid over the coming four years.

In reality, $150.4m of that will go towards Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (MFAT) operational expenditure, for things like diplomats, and an additional $40.3m in capital expenditure, which would allow for the new embassy that was closed by former National Minister Murray McCully in 2012.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has unveiled a major new funding package for the foreign service, most of which ...
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has unveiled a major new funding package for the foreign service, most of which is going towards aid and development t in the…

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