CARE Directors Blog On Gandhi Jayanti: Deception and the Hindutva way of life by Prof. Mohan Dutta, CARE, Massey University

October 02, 2023

On Gandhi Jayanti: Deception and the Hindutva way of life

CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation Director, & Massey University Prof. Mohan Dutta pens down his latest blog on this Gandhi Jayanti.

Indian spiritual and political leader Mohandas Gandhi circa 1935.
Image Source: Getty Images

On this Gandhi Jayanti, reflecting on the ways in which Gandhi’s experiments with truth resist and challenge the communicative infrastructure of deception that forms the discursive basis of the fascist politics of Hindutva.

“As a fascist ideology, Hindutva thrives on the production and circulation of lies, continually at work to vilify India’s Muslim minorities.

This deception, communicating contradictory and conflicting messages internally and externally, actively producing misinformation, and mobilizing violence on the basis of the misinformation, lies at the crux of the organizing of hate as a technique for rule.

Gandhiji’s assassination.
Image Source: Google Search

Deception forms the everyday habits of Hindutva, drawing from the Brahminical hierarchy that gives it its conceptual formation. Brahminism as the underlying feature of Hindutva mobilizes the practices of deception.

From the active production of disinformation in the form of conspiracy theories to practices based on lies in everyday life, the communicative infrastructure of Hindutva thrives on deception.”

Link to Article :

#CAREMassey #CARECCA #masseyuniversity #GandhiJayanti #culturecenteredapproach #hindutva

CARE Opinion: This is how we fight back: The academe’s resistance to the far-right’s culture war

By Professor Mohan Dutta

Wednesday 30 August 2023

This opinion piece is the fourth of a five-part series on the intertwined webs of the far-right mobilised to attack communication and media studies pedagogy. This piece is written in solidarity with other communication and media studies academics, researchers, and practitioners who have been targeted by the far-right.

The far-right’s reactionary culture war, cooked up by the Trump-Bannon-Infowars-Fox infrastructure, materialised by extremist groups such as Proud Boys, and legitimised by the right-wing political machinery, has been and will continue to be vigorously resisted by academia.

The Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie testified to the role of Bannon who, “saw cultural warfare as a means to create enduring change in American politics,” in shaping the strategy of gathering and leveraging information about 87 million Facebook users to drive Trump’s hate-based political campaign. Critical to the campaign was the targeting of African-American communities promoting voter disengagement, and collaborating with Russian intelligence services.

In three earlier essays crafted for this series, I have discussed exactly how the United States-far-right’s culture war is mimicked here in Aotearoa by the right-wing ecosystem working incessantly to pump out fear as an organising tool, as a photocopy of Bannon’s political strategy of deploying hate as a marketing tool. The manufacturing of a culture war as a strategic issue generates leverage, and more specifically votes, for right-wing political parties while simultaneously working to disenfranchise communities at the margins.

I have also outlined how these attacks are directed at silencing academic voices, particularly those working on issues of social justicedisinformation, and hate. Although academics are often the direct targets, the ultimate goal of the far-right is to silence the voices of the marginalised communities we partner with. The force of the attacks is particularly violent when directed at those of us in academia who engage in public scholarship.

In this piece, I will turn to strategies for countering the far-right and outline some of the powerful ways in which academics are resisting these targeted hate campaigns across the globe. Because the far-right’s cancel culture originates from the hate ecosystem linked with Donald Trump in the US, I will also draw upon US-based examples of academic resistance as instructive lessons.

Holding institutional processes accountable

When brilliant Black journalism educator and former editor of the New York Times, Professor Kathleen McElroy, was appointed to lead the new journalism programme at Texas A&M University, the fringe far-right organised a campaign targeting her because of her history of promoting diversity. A conservative website seeded the campaign, building the “DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) hysteria” around the hiring of Professor McElroy.

The various pressures from these outside forces, mediated through the interference from the Regents, tampered with the university’s hiring process, resulting in Professor McElroy’s offer being altered, with multiple iterations walking back the tenured position initially offered.

The attacks were organised amidst the Republican Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, signing a bill attacking DEI offices at public colleges, one among similar such concerted policies introduced by Republican lawmakers across the US. Note here that these fringe policies are built around the “Woke culture” and “Critical Race Theory (CRT)” frenzy that has been concocted by the far-right as political fodder, as a direct offshoot of Bannon’s political strategy of mobilising culture war as a campaign tool. As I have noted earlier, this hysteria around CRT is networked, traveling from the Trumpian ecosystem to the far-right ecosystem in Europe to Australia to Aotearoa.

A message from Jay Graham, a member of the Board of Regents on the McElroy hiring, depicting the underlying far-right reactionary agenda (reference to then President Katherine Banks).

The targeted campaign, materialised through the interference by the Regents and a timid administration lacking leadership, led to several institutional processes being violated.

A story published in the Texas Tribune first revealed these process violations and the change in the job offer to Professor McElroy. The story was picked up nationally, covered by major news media.

Responding to the events, the A&M Faculty Senate Executive Committee called for the Chancellor to meet with the full Faculty Senate to discuss political influence in faculty matters. The Faculty Senate met with then-President Katherine Banks, asked questions about the botched hiring, and initiated an investigation. An internal report examining the hiring process outlined several violations that took place during the appointment process.

Leaders of the Black Former Student Network wrote to the University System Chancellor John Sharp, saying:

“How this University treated this respected, honored, qualified, experienced, successful, and tenured fellow Aggie is unacceptable and would have been unthinkable yet for her race and gender… The fact that this University outwardly promotes very laudable principles in the Aggie Core Values, yet you don’t have the character nor the courage to follow these Core Values as the leader of this University reveals the deep chasm between your words and your actions.”

The fiasco led to the president’s resignation. The university separately settled with Professor McElroy for US$1 million and she stayed in her position at the University of Texas, Austin. The Texas A&M leadership released a statement, apologising “for the way her employment application was handled.”

In the backdrop of the organised campaigns of the far-right, coupled with the large-scale neoliberal transformations of universities that have foisted an overarching professional-managerial-consultant ideology, it is vital that academics across institutions globally work to strengthen faculty governance and oversight over decision-making processes, attending closely to the threats to academic freedom externally and internally, anticipating them, and responding to them pro-actively. In the US, elected bodies such as faculty senates carry out this powerful role of holding university managers accountable.

It is also critical that academics work alongside university leadership in developing institutional pedagogies around the threats posed by the far-right, mapping the pathways and sites of attacks, and developing and institutionalising strategies for responding.

For instance, one of the core strategies of the far-right is to pose as aggrieved students and concerned community members to carry out attacks targeting academics, often operating through fake social media accounts, anonymous email addresses, fake websites, sock puppet accounts, automated bots, troll farms, and instant messaging apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp. Email campaigns and university complaint portals are co-opted as tools for carrying out such swarm attacks, with influencers manufacturing grievance to mobilise such campaigns and directing followers to lodge complaints, working alongside automated bots and troll farms.

Educating staff in front-facing roles in sifting through and identifying spurious complaints, in detecting far-right disinformation-based narratives in the complaints, in raising the appropriate security alarms, and adequately responding to these narratives, is critical. Similarly, given the deployment of Official Information Act (OIA) requests to feed far-right propaganda, responding proactively to the propaganda and debunking it is critical. Also crucial is building the capacity of university managers in detecting potential instances of foreign interference and raising these through appropriate channels within the university. Such pedagogy needs to be built preventively across institutions, given the message swarms that far-right campaigns build, often funded by powerful political and economic interests, including right-wing think tanks, lobbies, astroturfs, and foundations.

Moreover, relevant state structures and institutional processes ought to be able to support universities with addressing the concerns raised, given the threats to institutional processes and democracy, and critically in the context of foreign interference into academic freedom through organised campaigns.

Building legal infrastructures

In the case presented above, Texas A&M reached a $1 million settlement with Professor Kathleen McElroy. The report released by the University General Counsel demonstrated egregious process violations. During the hiring process, university officials initially pushed for a delay until after the state legislative session adjourned, anticipating potential backlash from conservative lawmakers. Following complaints about her hiring raised by university regents, officials changed the terms of her contract.

As the process unfolded, with the terms of her contract changing significantly, Professor McElroy responded to the university, asking it to communicate through her lawyers.

In a similar high-profile case, Black journalist, Pulitzer-prize-winning author for the New York Times, and founder of the New York Time’s 1619 Project, a long-form journalism endeavour that documents the intertwined histories of slavery and the founding of the United States and was earlier labelled by Trump as “ideological poison,” Nikole Hannah-Jones, was initially offered a tenure track position by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, that was then changed to a five-year contract.

Documenting the far-right backlash against her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project and targeting of critical race theory education, Hannah-Jones noted:

“Journalism schools reflect the same reality we see in the rest of the country…Why it’s especially troubling in journalism is that journalism is the firewall of our democracy. Journalism is what’s supposed to be exposing the way power is wielded. If that story is being filtered through an almost exclusively White lens, it’s not accurate. It’s not capable of helping us… understand the country we live in.”

She was supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund in seeking justice through the legal framework. The university reportedly reached a settlement on the tenure dispute for less than $75,000.

The Hannah-Jones settlement is instructive because it includes several structural changes, proving the “correctness of critical race theory.” It outlines an inclusive search process for new employees in conjunction with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; mental health counselling placed within the Multicultural Health Programme, complemented by the hiring of an additional trauma-informed therapist; and a $5,000 annual funding to the Provost’s Office to coordinate meetings and events sponsored by the Carolina Black Caucus working alongside UNC-Chapel Hill Vice Provost.

The far-right often directs its attacks on academics identifying with diverse marginalised positions. For instance, as with the examples of the organised campaigns targeting Professor McElroy and Hannah-Jones, the far-right interferences into university processes are racist, violating the fundamental human rights of academics having a protected characteristic. Building legal infrastructures such as the NAACP is critical to resisting the interference of the far-right into university processes.

Seeing and materialising connections

The organising structure of far-right hate produces its effect through the creation and amplification of fear. The mobilisation of fear results in swarms that target and attack academics and universities. These swarm-based campaigns have chilling effects, threatening the livelihoods and lives of academics.

The effects of these campaigns are amplified by the individualising processes that often place the onus of securing safety on individual actions to be taken by those being targeted. Consider the targeting of the University of Auckland academics, Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles and Professor Shaun Hendy. The pair became the targets of attacks directed at their work explaining the science behind COVID-19. In a complaint to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), they noted the university had failed its duty of care to them.

Attacks such as these call for the allocation of institutional resources to support academic freedom for public scholarship.

However, amidst the ongoing cuts to university funding globally including here in Aotearoa, finding the resources and allocating them to security (including digital security), legal support, mental health support, and media support is a challenge for leaders. Making provisions for security on funding applications and allocating funding resources for security to universities are two policy responses that can offer meaningful safeguards. The inclusion of community and social impact in the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) ought to be combined with funding allocated to building safeguards around public-facing impactful scholarship. To advocate for such policy-based support, it is important that academics, unions, students, university leaders and policymakers work together.

Academic solidarities globally have been crucial to challenging the attacks by far-right campaigns. Letter writing campaigns and petitions have been vital in both responding to and developing preventive infrastructures for addressing the threats posed by far-right campaigns targeting individual academics, programmes of research, and academic departments.

Academic organising across institutions is a critical resource in mapping and responding to the interplays between institutional racism and far-right attacks. Disciplinary associations here can play central roles in responding to the organised attacks, developing both preventive measures as well as effective responses. Responding to the far-right attacks on communication education and scholarship, my disciplinary association, the National Communication Association (NCA), issued the following statement:

“As the preeminent scholarly society devoted to the study and teaching of Communication, NCA recognizes that professional educators, including Communication scholars and teachers, are best equipped to determine what is appropriate for their classrooms and curricula. Among other theories that plainly acknowledge the histories and impacts of race, Critical race theory (CRT) is foundational to effective communication teaching, learning, and practice. Simply stated: Educators cannot effectively teach communication without teaching about systemic racism and its impact on our institutions and policies, including teaching about CRT and its principles. Students cannot adequately learn about effective communication without exploring systemic racism in the history of the United States. To restrict freedoms to engage in the teaching of, and communication about, CRT and other theories which examine the historical and current impact of their principles is inconsistent with the principles of democracy. NCA opposes legislation that would censor content within the curriculum or classroom based on political disagreement or contrived controversy, particularly when such legislation curtails or prohibits teaching about the role of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the United States historically and today.”

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is an example of an organisational structure that is critical to safeguarding academic freedom in the US. Tracking the far-right campaign attacking Critical Race Theory in the form of bills passed across various states to Trump and the Make America Great Again (MAGA) campaign, noted the AAUP in its report:

“Language in these bills draws from Trump’s 2020 executive order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotypes and can be found in model legislation being pushed by MAGA lobbying arm Citizens for Renewing America. Both the executive order and model legislation are influenced by Russ Vought, Trump’s former budget director, who founded CRA. CRA is funded by the Conservative Partnership Institute, which is an effort by Trump allies to formalize extremist, far-right politics in the think tank sphere. Other organizations included under the CPI umbrella are the American Accountability Foundation, which attacks President Joe Biden’s Cabinet and judicial appointees, and America First Legal, which is run by former Trump speechwriter Stephen Miller and focuses on litigation that “oppose[s] the radical left’s anti-jobs, anti-freedom, anti-faith, anti-borders, anti-police, and anti-American crusade.” According to 2021 tax filings, CPI had an annual budget of $17.1 million, and revenues of $45.7 million.”

In the instance of the process lapses and racist institutional biases in the hiring of Hannah-Jones, the AAUP noted in the report titled, Governance, Academic Freedom, and Institutional Racism in the University of North Carolina System:

“In the case of retention of faculty members and administrative officers of color, while the individual motivations for their departures may be unclear, what is clear is that in one way or another a culture of exclusion, a lack of transparency and inclusion in decision-making, the chilling of academic freedom, discounting certain kinds of scholarship and teaching, and the constant threat of political interference have combined to fuel what some have called an “exodus” from the UNC system.”

Across global registers, it is critical to consider the possibilities for building academic associations committed to safeguarding scholarship. In Aotearoa for instance, such an organisation would among addressing other elements critical to academic freedom, track the funding flows of far-right hate and map potential foreign interference both discursively and materially, assess the risks to academia posed by disinformation campaigns, and respond robustly. Building partnerships with university leadership and relevant ministries are equally important in delineating the foreign interference at work (such as in the example of the “culture war” hysteria) and in developing preventive strategies to respond to it. Mobilising unions to address the threats to academic freedom is another potential avenue.

In addition, building solidarities with communities, civil society, and social movements is vital to resisting the forces of the far-right. The recognition that the attacks on universities are part of a broader pattern of attacks mobilised by the far-right ought to serve as the basis for crafting solidarities that witness and challenge the pernicious narratives and hate campaigns at societal levels. Connecting with activists and lending solidarity to those who are targeted by the far-right are critical to creating the broader infrastructure for resistance.

In the attacks I have experienced recently mobilised by the racist disinformation campaign launched by far-right networks here in Aotearoa, I have been humbled to be supported by collectives of activists, anchored in Māori leadership. When I discussed these targeted attacks with activists Tina Ngata and Sina Brown-Davis, they wrapped me up in a collective network of care. Within a few hours of our conversation, I had an email from The Manaaki Collective, offering a blanket of support, from security to legal assistance.

Te Tiriti and global leadership

The principles of Te Tiriti, foregrounding the values of participation, protection, and partnership offer powerful registers for resistance to white supremacy.

In Aotearoa, Māori have historically challenged racism and white supremacy in transformative ways, dismantling the hate politics of settler colonialism with the values of manaakitanga (caring about each other’s wellbeing, nurturing relationships, and engaging with one another) and whanaungatanga (forming, maintaining, and nurturing relationships and strengthening ties between kin and communities). Māori struggles for Te Tiriti justice have historically offered inspiration and hope to diverse struggles for social justice in Aotearoa and globally.

The Māori activists who have participated in the Activist-in-Residence programme at the Centre for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), Tame ItiTeanau TuionoDr Ihirangi HekeMarise Lant, and Tina Ngata each outline the transformative power of connection as the organising basis for approaching relationships among human beings, in and between communities, and with land and the ecosystem. This meta-theory of “connection as organising” lies at the frontiers for pushing back against white supremacist hate.

The sustained resistance to white supremacy offered by Māori activists and communities position Aotearoa as a leader for global progressive struggles against white supremacy, and for interconnected struggles for climate justice, racial justice, Indigenous rights and migrant rights. Amidst the disenfranchising effects of white supremacy that seek to silence activist and academic voices, the inspiring work of The Manaaki Collective offers a global model for Indigenous leadership in securing safe spaces for organising “for racial, social, environmental, and Te Tiriti justice.”

As a university aspiring to be Te Tiriti-led, Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University has articulated the commitment to sustaining “a reputation for caring, inclusion and equity, and commitment to our people, our environment, and our places,” a commitment that speaks directly to the principles of Te Tiriti. I am proud of our university which puts forth a justice-based framework for academic freedom, in dialogue with the commitments of Te Tiriti, leading globally with a model that can sustain universities in safeguarding against disinformation campaigns by the far-right.

In conclusion

I wrap up this opinion piece by directly addressing the propaganda infrastructures of the far-right. Our message to the far-right reactionaries, in politics, in the media, on digital platforms, and in various hate formations, is loud and clear.

Backed by powerful economic forces, often hiding behind astroturfs, sock puppets, instant messaging apps, automated bots and fake websites, the far-right have launched propaganda campaigns that deliberately distort scholarship to suit the white supremacist agenda, confident that the targeted attacks can ban the teaching of critical concepts of social justice, and thus erase the powerful waves of voices emergent from the margins mobilising for transformational change.

And in spite of the economic power and political influence, replete with a digital infrastructure fuelling the dissemination of disinformation and hate, exponentially magnified by the globally linked hate networks, the far-right will continue to fail in securing hegemony.

The hate and divisive narratives that seed and propagate fear will fail because, as articulated forcefully by Martin Luther King, Jr, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The far-right threats to stalk us, get us fired, get us and our families deported, incarcerate us, rape us, dox our families on social hate platforms, and kill us will not silence the conviction of our scholarship, and the public impact this scholarship creates. We will continue to, along with the communities we partner with, carry out our research, generate empirical evidence that empowers communities in their struggles for justice, and transform the status quo.

Our public scholarship will continue to build registers for hope. Communities at the margins will continue to rise up, raise their voices and challenge the marginalising processes that seek to silence them.

In not cowering to the fear-based campaigns of the far-right, we will continue to be inspired by the words of Indigenous activists. In the words of activist Sina Brown-Davis, “Be unafraid, be powerful, we have everything to fight for and nothing to lose.”

Link to Massey News page:

Professor Mohan Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right. He is a member of the board of the International Communication Association.

Professor Mohan Dutta appointed Chair of the Ethnicity and Race in Communication (ERIC) division of the International Communication Association

CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation congratulates Professor Mohan Dutta for his role as incoming Chair of the Ethnicity and Race in Communication (ERIC) division of the International Communication Association

The Ethnicity and Race in Communication Division is concerned with methodological approaches and research that apply, extend, or develop communication theory and analysis through an examination of race and ethnicity within local, international, and transnational contexts.

The division also works to advocate for the improved status, representation, and opportunities for underrepresented scholars in communication. Professor Dutta will serve as the 2023 conference planner for the 2024 ICA conference, themed “Communication and Global Human Rights.”

Follow CARE on X: & Facebook :

#CARECCA #CAREMassey #CAREUni #MohanDutta #ICAHDQ #ICAConference #Ethnicity #Race #CommunicationDivision #InternationalCommunicationAssociation #Communication #GlobalHumanRights #ICA2024

CARE Activist In Residence Programme (AIRP)-Anjum Rahman | 21st – 24th August 2023 @ Massey University

CARE ACTIVIST IN RESIDENCE PROGRAMME 21st – 24th August 2023 | Islamophobia and Digital Regulation: Responding to the Christchurch Call with Anjum Rahman (MNZM), Founder and Project Co-Lead- Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono. Presented by Center for Culture Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation & Palmerston North City Library

Hosted by Prof. Mohan Dutta & CARE, Manawatu campus Massey University & Palmerston North City Library

Tue, 21st Aug – 12 PM | CARE Lab BSC 1.06
CARE AIRP Workshop

Tue, 22nd Aug – 7 PM | Facebook PREMIERE
CARE In Conversation with Anjum Rahman & Prof. Mohan Dutta

Wed, 23rd Aug – 12 PM | Mezzanine Floor, Central Library
CARE AIRP- Public Talk

Thurs, 24th Aug – 12 PM | BSCB1.08 COMMS Lab
CARE AIRP White Paper Launch – LIVE ON Facebook and YouTube

RSVP on Facebook @CAREMasseyNZ

*More details to follow.

Bio: Anjum Rahman is the founder of the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono. She is a chartered accountant with over 25 years’ experience, working with a range of entities in the commercial, farming and not-for-profit sectors.

She also commits to various volunteer roles in the community. She was a founding member of the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, an organisation formed in 1990 to bring Muslim women together and represent their concerns, and is currently the media spokesperson. She has also been a founding member and trustee of Shama, Ethnic Women’s Trust, which supports ethnic minority women through its social work service, life-skills classes and community development. She has worked in the area of sexual violence prevention both as a volunteer and as part of Government working groups. Anjum is a Trustee of Trust Waikato, a major funder in the Waikato Region.
Anjum has been an active member of the Waikato Interfaith Council for over a decade, a trustee of the Trust that governs Hamilton’s community access broadcaster, Free FM. She is a member of international committees dealing with violent extremist content online, being the co-chair of the Christchurch Call Advisory Network and a member of the Independent Advisory Committee of the Global Internet Forum for Countering Terrorism. She is also a member of the Charities and Not for Profit Commitee of Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand.

#CAREMasseyNZ #CAREAIRP #MasseyUni #CARECCA #Christchurch #Islamophobia #Aotearoa #NewZealand

Professor Mohan Dutta to delivers 2023 G. Jack Gravlee Lecture on Decolonizing Democracies at Colorado State University

Professor Mohan Dutta, Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication and the Director of the Center for Culture-centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) will deliver the 2023 G. Jack Gravlee endowed lecture in the Department of Communication Studies at Colorado State University on September 19, 2023.

Professor Dutta’s lecture, titled “Decolonization as organizing radical democracies: Centering health, resisting climate colonialism, securing food systems, and resisting hate” will be delivered in conversation with the University’s theme this coming year (2023-2024), Democracy and Civic Engagement.

The lecture will draw upon two decades of ethnographic fieldwork carried out by Mohan Dutta in struggles for Indigenous rights, migrant rights, transgender rights, anti-racism, and working-class politics, exploring the everyday habits of democracy that are sustained through community action.

The talk will outline the key tenets of the culture-centered approach as an organising framework for decolonizing democracies, attending to Indigenous, Black, and various Global South traditions for organising democracies. It will attend to the ways in which white supremacy shapes the infrastructures of settler colonial/postcolonial/neocolonial democracies, with hegemonic notions of democracy scripted into practices of extraction, expulsion, and displacement through the mobilisation of violence.

Professor Dutta will wrap up the talk by offering insights into the organising work of building transformative democracies through the co-creation of community voice infrastructures that work toward achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, addressing the challenges of climate colonialism, food insecurity, poverty, and digital colonialism.

Massey News:

Professor Mohan Dutta delivers Gravlee Lecture at Colorado State University

#masseyuniversity #CAREMassey #CARECCA #GravleeLecture #ColoradoStateUniversity #MasseyUni

CARE Opinion: The far-right’s cancel culture and communication studies

By Professor Mohan Dutta

This opinion piece is the third of a five-part series on the intertwined webs of the far-right mobilised to attack communication and media studies pedagogy. This piece is written in solidarity with other communication and media studies academics, researchers, and practitioners who have been targeted by the far-right.

The far-right want to cancel communication and media studies. The entire discipline!

A platform titled The Centrist published the article, “Abolish communications and media studies (Karl du Fresne)”, stating “Writer Karl du Fresne says abolishing the department of communications and media studies at every university will vastly ease the financial crisis of those unis while neutralising a key source of division in the culture wars.”

The irrational rant would be comical if not for the violence the rhetoric promotes, the direct effects of which are experienced by academics in the public sphere. Increasingly, the far-right has launched attacks targeting academics and universities, both in digital and public spaces, resulting in violence on campus. For obvious reasons, its obsession with academics and journalists studying and covering misinformation and hate, have made carrying out research and sharing it publicly unsafe. Attend here to The Platform’s targeting of AUT journalism academic, Dr Greg Treadwell for his public writing on harmful disinformation, and similarly du Fresne’s targeting of The Disinformation Project’s Dr Sanjana Hattotuwa and Kate Hannah, and Radio New Zealand’s Susie Ferguson.

personally have witnessed pile-on hate from far-right groups, including receiving death threats and rape threats. Academics across institutions in Aotearoa who have written to me in response to this series have shared the intimidation, threats and harassment they have experienced, resulting from similar attacks targeting them, documenting the chilling effects.

Du Fresne’s article holds the entire discipline of communication and media studies responsible for the divisiveness in New Zealand society, accusing the discipline of stoking “culture wars.”

The conspiracy theory debunked earlier is recycled:

“There seems to be no purpose to those studies other than to promote neo-Marxist theories about oppressive power structures, racism, misogyny, white supremacy, social and climate justice and decolonisation. The faculties are infested with zealots and activists with ideas inimical to values such as free speech. Not to mention, they’re useless studies in their own right. Cutting them will help shed weight.”

Theories that challenge oppression, misogyny, and white supremacy, and seek to promote social justice, climate justice, and decolonisation are conspiracies. A racist version of this propaganda concocts Māori elite conspiracy to attack Kaupapa Māori theory and research practice. Topics that critically interrogate white supremacist power and control are conspiracies in this ideological universe, fuelled globally by the Trumpian attack on Critical Race Theory and the far-right’s reactionary attack on tertiary education.

Far-right attacks on academic freedom

The call to dismantle the discipline of communication and media studies tars academics in the discipline as “zealots and activists with ideas inimical to values such as free speech.”

So, what is the far-right’s free speech? It is on one hand the unfettered right of white supremacists to spout hate targeting Indigenous communitiesethnic and religious minorities (including migrants, and especially Muslim migrants), and gender-diverse communities (particularly transphobia). On the other hand, communicative practices that empower those at the margins to resist white supremacy are portrayed as dangerous. Academics researching and studying practices of empowering the marginalised are radical elites conspiring to disrupt New Zealand society.

Elsewhere, du Fresne whimpers about the right of Christian lobbying organisation Family First to place its advertisements on mainstream media infrastructures, blaming these media organisations for colluding to suppress and participating in a conspiracy to silence speech.

What du Fresne seems to have a problem with are critical studies of entrenched white supremacist, settler colonial, patriarchal power and resistance to this power. Elsewhere, he laments the New Zealand he once knew is rapidly changing, almost becoming unrecognisable to him!

Critiques of “oppressive power structures, racism, misogyny, white supremacy,” and ideas espousing “social and climate justice and decolonisation” are “ideas inimical to values such as free speech.” Du Fresne’s problem is that entrenched forms of white supremacy are being challenged, brought about by the increasing participation of marginalised communities in naming oppressive practices, witnessing them, and resisting them. For white supremacists, free speech as a value is specifically organised to safeguard their right to spout hate while brazenly silencing the voices of marginalised communities who are the targets of hate.

Consider here the recycling of the neoliberal trope of utility to define academic freedom, suggesting that academic disciplines can have academic freedom to the extent they have utility. The framing of communication and media studies as useless, without any semblance of empirical evidence, shows his ignorance about what the discipline actually is. Contrast this vacuous claim with the empirical evidence pointing to the diverse career pathways offered by communication studies and the global demand for jobs with communication skills and training in communication (more on this in the last piece in this series).

Far-right and “cancel culture”

One of the key advocates for academic freedom put forth by The Free Speech Union wants to cancel a discipline and dismiss entire departments of academics while preaching about academic freedom.

The far-right has had a long history of targeting speech that threatens the status quo.

Consider the organising of the far-right in the United States to ban books such as Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr; The Best Short Stories of Negro Writers, edited by Langston Hughes; Go Ask Alice by an anonymous author; Black Boy by Richard Wright; and Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver, mobilised since the 1970s. The National Coalition against Censorship in the US observes, “Books by Black authors are among the most frequently banned.”

In the last seven years, with the global rise of white supremacy, rallied by Trump and his hate ecosystem, the far-right cancel culture is turbo-charged, mobilised through online networks.

This takes the form of organised attacks on libraries, curricula, and public programmes that are anti-racist and that seek to promote spaces for diverse voices at the margins.

Across Aotearoa, Rainbow Storytime events have been targeted by the far-right, framing the events as propaganda tools for brainwashing children and youth. Worse, the events are depicted by the far-right as grooming sessions, a narrative that perpetuates fear and violence directed at transgender women. In the current cycle of far-right hate, the targeting of transgender communities forms the rallying infrastructure for growing the hate movement.

Note here the far-right’s targeting of the transgender activist Shaneel Lal, and the actual acts of violence that have been directed at Shaneel. Also consider simultaneously the elaborate defense that du Fresne launches for the free speech rights of activist Posie Parker, aka Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, and the escalation of anti-transgender hate that was mobilised by Parker’s recent visit to Aotearoa.

Observe the convergence with Trump’s mobilisation of the term “cancel culture” in his July 2020 Independence Day speech, with the term being deployed to depict the resistance to white supremacy offered by marginalised communities as dangerous. As he accepted his party’s nomination during the Republican National Convention, Trump declared, “The goal of cancel culture is to make decent Americans live in fear of being fired, expelled, shamed, humiliated and driven from society as we know it.”

This is a classic example of communicative inversion deployed by the far-right, turning the status quo into a victim of resistance from the historically oppressed margins.

This narrative flow is well reflected in how du Fresne’s targeted attacks are picked up by the far-right network, weaving in conspiracies with hate.

See all 14 photos

What these far-right mobilisations around cancel culture have in common is their organising to silence voices from the margins who are targeted by white supremacist hate, communicatively inverted as “free speech.” On a variety of platforms, the far-right’s hate infrastructures attack Māori, Pacific, migrant (including refugees), transgender, and Muslim activists, labelling these activists as dangerous and mobilising violence directed at them.

When the margins speak, the status quo (white, settler colonial, cisnormative, patriarchal) is threatened, and it is this status quo that the far-right seeks to hold intact. Mobilising around this status quo offers rich electoral dividends for right-wing political parties and the funders that uphold the political economy of hate.

Critical literacy is a core resource in empowering communities to identify misinformation, to challenge it, and in that process, counter the discourses that produce fear, a key organising tool of the far-right.

The rhetoric of fear that du Fresne circulates to target communication and media studies departments exists alongside his free speech advocacy for hate groups such as Family First and far-right white supremacist extremists such as Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux. In this vision, hate speech is unchecked while the infrastructures to cultivate capacities for critical literacies to critique and challenge the hate speech are dismantled. An ideal ground for white supremacists to flourish.

Facts too much, Mr du Fresne?

The attack on communication and media studies is based on a caricature:

“It was no accident that the emergence of these courses coincided with the long march through the institutions by which radical academics, hostile to democratic capitalism, have sought for several decades to subvert the established social and economic order. Communications and media studies provided an ideal incubator for their agenda because no empirical foundation was necessary. Academicians were free to make it up as they went along because what they taught was based almost entirely on theory.”

The tried and tested red scare is recycled, reducing communication and media studies to a monolith, without empirical evidence to back up this claim.

Du Fresne is wrong. Much of the ongoing scholarship and pedagogy are shaped by the ideology of democratic capitalism, although there are paradigmatic challenges to this dominant framework and the discipline continues to witness robust inter-paradigmatic debates. Communication and media studies is a dynamic discipline, one where ideas are seriously contested and debated upon. For a journalist-turned-blogger who laments the loss of journalistic objectivity, I say, “Do your research.”

His historic account of the discipline is equally incorrect because the disciplinary origins and growth in the Cold War decades are directly shaped by the project of liberal capitalism.

He then offers the absurd description that communication and media studies academics “freely make it up” as they go, wrongly assuming what is taught in the discipline is based “almost entirely on theory.” For a large portion of the discipline, theory building is shaped by empiricism, and there are diverse paradigmatic approaches to the question of the relationship between data and theory.

The rant ends with nostalgia for journalism practice, free from the diktats of the university:

“One ruinous consequence is that the training of journalists has been subjected to academic capture. Not all journalism courses are taught by universities, but the threshold for entry to the profession has been progressively raised to the point where a degree, if not mandatory, is at least highly desirable. That brings budding journalists into the orbit of lecturers who are, in many cases, proselytisers for the neo-Marxist far Left.”

This paragraph gives away the source of du Fresne’s angst, wanting to hold on to a past that’s long gone. Before I turn to journalism education, let’s note that preparing students to be journalists is a small part of what the discipline does. Communication degrees prepare students for a wide range of jobs that include communication design, advertising copywriting, media planning, production management, digital strategy, brand management, human resource management, risk and crisis management, and policy analyst, to name a few.

Why journalism schools are important?

Since my first piece appeared, a number of communication and media studies colleagues have reached out and shared their stories of being targeted by du Fresne and the far-right ecosystem (including The Platform that carried the original opinion that I critiqued) with similar targeted campaigns.

When he launched a similar uninformed attack on my Massey colleagues Dr Craig Prichard and Dr Sean Phelan, Dr Phelan, in his eloquent analysis, schooled du Fresne, writing:

“Now, I’m not sure what the rest of you make of this [i.e. du Fresne’s suggestion that most people would find Sean’s ideas “obnoxious” and “peculiar”], and, unlike du Fresne, I won’t claim to speak for you. But I’m pretty confident that most newspaper readers would be open-minded enough to realise that we may as well close down our universities now if they had to comply with the repressive dictates of people like du Fresne. His reaction is essentially that of a scared child, who lashes out at anything that is different from their perception of ‘normal’.

“The irony here is that du Fresne’s denunciation of me was in response to my suggestion that there is an intellectually repressive element in the New Zealand journalism culture. There’s hardly any need to make a counter-argument, therefore, since he himself does such a superb job of re-illustrating my argument.”

In a peer-reviewed article, Dr Phelan offered a theoretical lens (that dirty word again!) to analyse the fiasco.

He has similarly targeted Victoria University colleague Dr Michael Daubs for his public presentation of his work on misinformation. Dr Daubs was harassed during this public event. Du Fresne frames that harassment with a both-sides trope:

“I thought his talk was both laughable and contemptible. It’s hard to imagine a more vivid example of the leftist elite’s contempt for any opinions other than its own and its determination to demonise the expression of legitimate dissent.”

Note how casually du Fresne discards the evidence-based argument about misinformation as “elite’s contempt for any opinions other than its own” and “its determination to demonise the expression of legitimate dissent.”

He then goes on:

“He talked about “the truth” and “false stories”. He used these terms as if their meaning is settled. But who defines what’s true and what’s false? Why, people like Daubs, of course. Under the pretense of protecting us, he and others of his ilk want to control what we can say, and by extension what we think. The purpose is to extinguish all and any opinion that stands in the way of their radical, transformational agenda.”

Note here the deliberate production of doubt, a classic strategy for spreading misinformation, communicatively inverting empirically-based research on misinformation as extinguishing opinion (ironic for a journalist who accuses woke journalism education of being devoid of empiricism). Attend to the conspiracy web that frames misinformation researchers as conspiracists. The attack on Dr Daubs and the Disinformation Project peaks with the following statement:

“It made me wonder just who the real conspiracy theorists are. Is it the far-right, or are the real conspiracy theorists people like Daubs and the shadowy Disinformation Project, which feverishly promotes moral panic over phantasms of its own creation?”

In this warped universe of communicative inversions, disinformation researchers become conspiracists with a shadowy agenda of subverting democracy. Contrary to the propaganda spun by du Fresne, the scientific evidence on strategies for countering conspiracy theories points to the importance of critical education and analysis, with a focus on prevention. One of the recommendations made by an international team of scientists I had an opportunity to collaborate with on managing the COVID-19 transition documented the critical role of anticipating and managing misinformation.

Here’s du Fresne’s prescription for journalism education:

“There is little about the theory and principles of journalism that can’t be taught in a six-month Polytechnic course. The rest comes with experience. Generations learned it by doing, and served their readers (sorry, “consumers of content”) well.”

He sees the practice of journalism as hampered by theoretical preparation for critical thought and analysis. This is elucidated well in another post that appears on the platform of the New Zealand Center for Political Research in 2021:

“Objectivity in journalism is fashionably denounced as a myth, thereby giving reporters license to decide what their readers should know and what should be kept from them. The worthy idea that journalists could hold strong personal opinions about political and economic issues but show no trace of them in their work, which used to be fundamental, has been jettisoned.”

So what precisely is the challenge to objectivity in journalism as he sees it? Attacking the guidelines for the application to the Public Interest Journalism Fund, du Fresne makes it clear:

“All applicants must show a “clear and obvious” commitment to the Treaty and te reo; no exceptions.”

“Another of the guidelines (drawn up by New Zealand on Air, which is administering the fund) requires that applicants must “seek to inform and engage the public about issues that affect a person’s right to flourish within our society and impact on society’s ability to fully support its citizens”. Insofar as this gibberish can be interpreted as meaning anything at all, it suggests a leaning towards activist journalism that seeks to improve the status of disadvantaged groups. Identity politics, in other words. This interpretation seems to be supported by a further suggestion – no, let’s call it a very unsubtle hint – that applicants are likely to be regarded favourably if their journalism proposals “meet the definition of Maori and iwi journalism” or “report from perspectives including Pacific, pan-Asian, women, youth, children, persons with disabilities [and] other ethnic communities.”

This warped interpretation of the tenets of journalism committed to equity and inclusion frames journalism that seeks to improve the conditions of historically marginalised groups as activist, and therefore, not objective. What du Fresne takes issue with is the attention to Te Tiriti and inclusion of Māori journalism. Note here the empirical evidence in the scholarly literature that documents anti-Māori themes in New Zealand journalism (and you wonder why the far-right has problems with social science!).

He writes elsewhere:

“Unfortunately such people are now outnumbered by university-educated social justice activists posing as journalists who consider it their mission to correct the thinking of their ignorant, bigoted or misguided readers. This would be marginally more tolerable if they could write, but many of them can’t.”

The archaic notion of journalism as the pursuit of objectivity (as if objectivity is defined outside of values and politics) is placed at odds with journalism in the pursuit of justice. For du Fresne, university education prepares students to ask questions of social justice and bring these questions into their journalistic practice, and this is a danger to journalism. This gives away his idea of objectivity in journalism, one that upholds and perpetuates the status quo, and doesn’t interrogate the power and control that perpetuate it.

As Dr Phelan notes, du Fresne does an excellent job of (unintentionally) illustrating the value of robust journalism education. Fortunately, global trends in journalism have long moved far beyond the silly binaries du Fresne spins. Journalism education is here to stay and grow! Academic research is going to continue documenting the biases and erasures in journalism practice, and drawing on that to educate students toward inclusive and decolonising journalism practice.

How a communication and media studies education prepares you!

After graduating with a Bachelor of Technology (Honours) in Agricultural Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (the IITs has produced leading tech entrepreneurs and top leaders in global tech including Sundar Pichai at Google and Arvind Krishna at IBM), I pursued a degree in communication studies because I saw the value communication offered to building effective engineering solutions to address the needs of communities.

I am not alone in making such a career switch. You will see in communication many such career transitions, including engineers going on to study communication, with a desire to solving societal challenges.

I am proud of my PhD from the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. The University of Minnesota has educated excellent journalists such as Michelle Norris, host of All Things Considered, National Public Radio’s longest-running news service programme in the US. Norris has been nominated four times for the Pulitzer Prize and has received numerous awards for her work, including the 1989 Livingston Award, an Emmy, and Peabody Award for her contribution to ABC’s coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Another J-School alum was Eric Sevareid, who worked with Edward R. Murrow on CBS radio, and went on to become a commentator on the CBS Evening News for thirteen years, being recognised with Emmy and Peabody Awards.

Other significant journalists with journalism degrees include the pioneer of investigative journalism, Carl Bernstein, University of Maryland (think Watergate); Emmy and Peabody-winning journalist Connie Chung: University of Maryland; famed sportscaster Bob Costas: Syracuse University, and Pulitzer-winning, former Editor-in-Chief of the Wall Street Journal Matt Murray: Northwestern University, to name a few. This is a tiny fraction of journalism graduates who have gone on to become award-winning journalists.

In Aotearoa, the widely respected journalist Kim Hill has a degree in French and German from Massey and Otago Universities and then studied journalism at the University of Canterbury‘s Postgraduate School of Journalism.

Globally, as journalism responds to a rapidly transforming digital context, journalism schools are the go-to places for the education of the next generation of journalists. Fortunately, Aotearoa has rapidly caught up with this global trend.

I am humbled to teach in a School with a strong journalism programme at Massey University accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) and located within a programme that is consistently ranked first in Aotearoa New Zealand. ACEJMC is the main global accreditation body of journalism education, and this speaks volumes for our excellent programme. Ours is New Zealand’s longest-running journalism qualification. Our graduates are highly sought after, with 85 per cent securing employment within six months of graduation.

Journalism education, and more broadly, communication and media studies education are here to thrive. Communication research and teaching are the best antidotes to the far-right’s fringe cancel culture and its attempts to seed disorder by co-creating voices infrastructures in partnership with marginalised communities. Our research partnerships and students will continue to build justice-based communication solutions for sustainable futures, tackling the sustainable development challenges of zero poverty; no hunger; good health; good education; gender equality; reduced inequalities; sustainable cities and communities; climate action; and peace and justice etcetera.

Professor Mohan Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right. He is a member of the board of the International Communication Association.

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CARE White Paper Launch: White Paper On Hindutva Organizations In Aotearoa on Monday, 14th August 2023 with Prof. Mohan Dutta, Balamohan Shingade & Richa Sharma.

Joins us LIVE at 7 pm NZST via Facebook and YouTube to learn more about this important CARE White Paper on the Hindutva.

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CARE White Paper Launch | Issue #18: Māori-Migrant solidarities in resisting white supremacy with Tina Ngata & Prof. Mohan Dutta

Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation is proud to launch CARE White Paper Issue #18: Māori-Migrant solidarities in resisting white supremacy with Tina Ngata & Prof. Mohan Dutta in two versions including the community version1.0 as below.

The White Paper Issue #18 is the result of the collaborative work of Tina Ngata & Prof. Mohan Dutta during the Activist In Residence Programme (AIRP) 15th – 18th May 2023 @ CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation.

CARE Opinion: The Far-Right, Misinformation, and Academic Freedom

Community fairs as spaces for disseminating health health information – Indiana Heart Health, 2012.

Opinion: The Far-Right, Misinformation, and Academic Freedom

By Professor Mohan Dutta | Tuesday 1 August 2023

This opinion piece is the second of a five-part series on the organised attack of the far right on communication and media studies pedagogy. This ecosystem has picked me as a sample case for all that is wrong with the discipline as a propaganda instrument of what it terms the “Left Woke Agenda.”

The far-right thrives on hate.

Hate is both a political and an economic tool. It drives profits, both for the producers of hate and the platforms carrying the hate.

Hate delivers an ever-expanding global market of readers/viewers/listeners.

Moreover, it delivers a political market. That’s why hate proliferates in election cycles, building up to elections. Whether it is Modi’s Hindutva, Bolsonaro’s Brazilian Christo-fascism, or Trump’s white supremacist Christian nationalism, far-right authoritarian strategies depend on hate to take over democratic processes and spaces. One of the cornerstones in the political mobilisation of the far-right across these movements is the attack on education and learning, seeking to replace critical education with propaganda upholding the majoritarian ideology (consider here the convergence in the attacks on history curricula), activated around drummed-up fears of what the youth are being fed in schools. Moreover, the ideology seeks to redo learning as a vocation and technique, framing critical pedagogy as propaganda that doesn’t belong in the classroom.

At its core, the mobilisation of hate to attack pedagogy seeks to retain power in the hands of the elite.

Hate lies at the core of the neoliberal attack on public resources. Conservative political parties, think tanks, and media work hand-in-hand to mobilise hate as a strategy for organising systemic attacks on public services, public education, and public pensions etcetera. Consider the mobilisation of attacks on critical race theory as part of this broader agenda of attacking public schools, catalysing the privatisation of education, an agenda aggressively pursued by right-wing think tanks in the United States, and globally, with key ideas originating from the US right-wing infrastructure.

In a speech delivered at the National Archives Museum in 2020, Trump attacked critical race theory by stating that it encourages “deceptions, falsehoods and lies” by the “left-wing cultural revolution”.

Suggesting that students in US universities are inundated with what he terms “critical race theory propaganda,” Trump said, “This is a Marxist doctrine holding that America is a wicked and racist nation, that even young children are complicit in oppression, and that our entire society must be radically transformed. Critical race theory is being forced into our children’s schools, it’s being imposed into workplace trainings, and it’s being deployed to rip apart friends, neighbours, and families.”

The Trump ban on critical race theory, formally known as Executive Order 13950, catalysed systemic attacks on the teaching of critical race theory across institutions by far-right politicians in all but one US states, threatening schools with the loss of funds. Higher education institutions are at the core of the targeted attack by the far-right because research and teaching around critical thought and analysis, reasoned argumentation, and informed public discourse are seen as originating from these institutions. This organised attack on Critical Race Theory, funded by dark money, forms a core infrastructure of the far-right, mainstreamed into right-wing policies targeting Critical Race Theory globally (see examples of the attacks in the UKAustralia, and in Aotearoa New Zealand). Here, the agenda is pushed by various far-right groups, including the group Family First, finding its way into mainstream political rhetoric.

The global mobilisation of right-wing attacks on critical race theory is reflective of the influential role of the US in disseminating the far-right ideology, offering the discursive infrastructure for potential US interference in democratic processes across spaces. Atlas Network, a US-based global network of right-wing policy infrastructures, actively pushes policies promoting privatisation, interfering with political processes and inserting right-wing neoliberal frames into electoral systems. Atlas Network receives funding from a range of actors including the US State Department, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the infamous Koch Foundation. Consider here the role of the Atlas Network in shaping Latin American politics, and in shaping the wholesale privatisation of the public sectors.

Professor Mohan Dutta
Professor Mohan Dutta

Why communication studies threatens misinformation

The infrastructure of hate is built on misinformation.

As I have documented in my scholarship, a core strategy for crafting misinformation is communicative inversion, the mobilisation of symbols to turn materiality on its head.

For example, in the hideous communicative infrastructure of the far-right, the beauty of organising in communities that have been historically marginalised by settler colonial structures to secure better health outcomes, growing food gardens, advocating for safe play areas, and participating in preventive activities is turned on its head, projected as part of a nefarious radical agenda.

For the far-right, historically marginalised communities having a say in policy-making, undoing the erasures that have been carefully scripted into settler colonial structures, is part of a global conspiracy for radical takeover. The conspiracy web of the Alt-Right sees Neo-Marxist agenda in spaces where racially marginalised communities are empowered to participate in health decision-making processes to transform the unconscionable health inequities that white settler colonies are plagued by.

Some of the profound contributions made by the discipline of communication studies include the examination of the underlying processes that drive misinformation, strategies for countering misinformation through digital literacy and community-grounded approaches, and communication solutions for building social cohesion. Communication scholars are the frontiers of developing practical solutions that address global inequalities, poverty, hunger, and climate change, among many other grand challenges. During my tenure serving as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Applied Communication Research, I came away awed by the quality of scholarship in the discipline, across paradigms and theoretical orientations, across sub-disciplinary spaces, contributing to solving practical problems.

In our team of researchers spread across seven countries, I am impressed by the power of communication in solving problems experienced by the marginalised. When those who have been systematically erased hold the power to tell their stories, dominant forms of disenfranchisement are challenged and transformed, creating spaces for solutions that are sustainable.

It is this transformative power of communication (especially research that maps and responds to misinformation) that threatens entrenched power structures that produce misinformation and profit from it.

Alt-right’s attack on diversity, equity and inclusion

The organised white supremacist attack on social science research on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) reflects the ways in which entrenched power is threatened by impactful scholarship. Empirically-based community-engaged scholarship, built on painstaking social science research embedded in communities, is communicatively inverted, portrayed as an elaborate conspiracy hatched by an elite cabal threatening white civilisation.

Through layers of communicative inversions, scholarship on and pedagogy of DEI is labelled as racist and anti-white by white supremacists, finding a core audience base of voters organised around hate.

Academics researching and writing about inequities have been targeted with the “racist” label.

Now turning to the hit piece targeting communication and media studies I analysed earlier, I demonstrated that journalist and blogger Karl du Fresne seems to have very little understanding of the scholarly process. His construction of a global elite promoting a radical agenda is a communicative inversion of the propaganda such attacks on social justice scholarship perpetuate to protect the interests of political and economic elites. I also note here the communicative inversions that have been performed by du Fresne in attacking experts studying disinformation and hate in Aotearoa (I’m purposefully not linking those pieces here to avoid feeding the disinformation flow). Pay attention here to the online misogyny and violence, including death threats, that have been directed at the Director of the Disinformation Project, Kate Hannah.

Representing the people?

Referring to my research programme, du Fresne writes:

“The poor working schmucks whose taxes fund these institutions have no knowledge of, and even less control over, the radical agendas they enable. Unfortunately the same is true of New Zealand taxpayers who involuntarily fund activist academics and their tireless promotion of a world view that’s at odds with that of the majority of New Zealanders.”

This strategy of “speaking for the people” is often mobilised by the far-right in organising attacks on academics. In fact, across the globe, emanating largely from the US, the organised far-right attacks on academic freedom are shaped by populist rhetoric. Propagandists draw on majoritarian appeal to mobilise outside attacks on expertise, in the process seeking to destroy internal processes of institutional checks and balances within democracies. Paradoxically then, the language of accountability to taxpayers is mobilised as a critical tool by the far right in the systemic attack on institutions.

Far-right media and politicians assign themselves the role of speaking for taxpayers, concerned community members, and concerned parents (these are the three key stakeholders that the far-right assigns itself as representing) as they have taken over boards of educational institutions and passed laws directly threatening academic freedom.

Simultaneously, the far-right represents the agendas of the political and economic elite, and actively seeks to silence the voices of communities at the margins organising for change. Note the communicative inversion that erases the agency of everyday people as the discourse sets itself up to speak for the people.

Consider the condescension with which du Fresne approaches everyday citizens, whom he labels as “poor working schmucks.” This is the irony of populist far-right rhetoric that seeks to mobilise popular sentiments by fundamentally undermining the public’s capacity to know. Note also the target of the attack on institutions of democracy, specifically universities in this instance.

Far-right propagandists assign themselves the role of safeguarding ignorant publics from a sinister plot by elites seeking to take over power while actually silencing the voices of communities at the margins and safeguarding elite power and control. Note the convergence with the Trump propaganda machine that actively works to project Trump as a representative of the people in opposition to elite power, inverting the large-scale economic power held by him and his network.

The far right’s attack on education, specifically humanities and social science education, is shaped by a broader strategy that sees critical questioning as threatening to entrenched power structures. The organised attacks specifically on critical humanities and social science knowledge in the US, emergent from the Infowars-Trump-Bannon-Fox ecosystem seek to protect and perpetuate the entrenched power structures, performed as a grievance.

Moreover, du Fresne’s paragraph assumes that the “majority of New Zealanders” are at odds with a justice-based worldview (assuming that’s what he is referring to). Du Fresne doesn’t back this fairly large claim with evidence. It is worth interrogating which is the majority du Fresne is referring to.

Xenophobic hate speech in response to du Fresne’s blog.

Two worlds of credentials and academic freedoms

The article then goes on to undermine my credentials – whatever du Fresne can gather up from his google search! Including:

“Dutta also appears to be good at bigging up his CV with awards and appointments – obligingly conferred, no doubt, by people who share an interest in pushing the same agendas. Demonstrations of mutual admiration are an essential part of the academic career path.”

That he doesn’t really understand how the academic community works is evidenced once again. The silly caricature of the academic community demonstrates that du Fresne has no empirical understanding of the ways in which academic awards are organised, the peer review processes that constitute academic impact, the metrics used for evaluating academics, and the nature of the evaluative processes. Once again, to actually learn about academic evaluation processes would require doing research, having an open mind, and being willing to learn.

In du Fresne’s conspiracy web, the awards I have received (not sure which ones he is referring to) have been “obligingly conferred” without a doubt “by people who share an interest in pushing the same agendas” (i.e. radical “left woke” agendas). Note how with one broad stroke he fits the entire discipline of communication (having erased sub-disciplinary areas, differences in paradigmatic approaches, etcetera.) and its major associations (mostly the National Communication Association and the International Communication Association, the two key international associations of communication academics that have conferred awards upon me) within this conspiracy web that is seemingly pushing a global agenda.

The global associations of communication studies and the standards of recognition of scholarly impact within the discipline become part of du Fresne’s conspiracy web. Note then the blanket statement about mutual admiration that apparently drives academic career paths.

I can’t help but note the hypocrisy in the framing being used here and contrast it to an earlier article I came across on his blog where du Fresne is advocating for academic freedom.

On July 29, 2021, he penned a support letter titled “dismal setback for academic freedom” defending the Listener Seven, the academics who had penned the letter stating mātauranga Māori is not science and had then received pushback from academics across the globe for the racist tropes reflected in the letter. In that defence, de Fresne depicted the Listener Seven letter writers as “respected academics.”

Within the same piece, he launched a vitriolic attack on the esteemed Māori sociologist Professor Joanna Kidman, referring derisively to the fact that she is a sociologist. Du Fresne has carried out this obsessive attack on Professor Kidman on diverse platforms. He seems to be concerned about the reputation of New Zealand (among global academics) which apparently has taken a hit because of the critiques of the Listener Seven letter, largely led by tangata whenua academics.

So who among us academics in du Fresne’s world is worthy of earning the label “respected?”

Take as one example Associate Professor of Education Dr Elizabeth Rata, one of the Listener Seven letter writers. By measures of academic impact, Dr Rata’s google scholar citation states that she has an h-index of 25 and total citation of 2347. Note also that her publications are largely in the social sciences. Communication and sociology as disciplines don’t belong in du Fresne’s vision of the academe in Aotearoa, but apparently education does!

For du Fresne, Dr Rata is counted among heretics for her uninformed critique of mātauranga Māori (in the world du Fresne inhabits, academics critiquing its position in science are performing their role as “critics and conscience”), earning her the title “respected,” while the rest of us are lumped into a radical cabal, as part of a conspiratorial elite. The same global community that is apparently losing respect for Aotearoa because of a counter letter written by academics critiquing the Listener Seven is part of a radical cabal when it comes to social justice scholarship.

Paradoxically, I note here that none of the Listener Seven academics being defended by du Fresne are qualified mātauranga Māori scholars – here’s an excellent analysis of Dr Rata’s attack on Kaupapa Māori by Dr Leonie Pihama.

It is not surprising at all that du Fresne, with his bald-faced hypocrisy, is the face of advocacy for academic freedom on the website of the Free Speech Union. Here’s his defence of the Listener Seven on the union’s website:

“In the latest outbreak of the speech wars, the action has shifted to a new and worrying arena. Seven respected university academics found themselves effectively blacklisted in July after they wrote a letter to The Listener challenging the notion that matauranga Maori – which can be defined as the traditional body of Maori knowledge – should be accorded the same status as science, as proposed by an NCEA working group preparing a new school curriculum.

“In an unprecedented pile-on, more than 2000 fellow academics, urged on by Professors Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles, signed a letter denouncing the Listener Seven and implying they condoned “scientific racism”. The response went well beyond legitimate disagreement. The sheer weight and vehemence of the denunciation sent an unmistakable message to the academic community: express dissent at your peril.”

By du Fresne’s standards, unsubstantiated claims by academics unqualified in a subject area is academic freedom and academics challenging those unsubstantiated claims are silencing dissent. Note here also the communicative inversion of power – the hegemonic ideology of colonial whiteness that continues to erase and denigrate Indigenous knowledge is turned into a dissenting view at the margins.

What this makes amply clear is that the version of academic freedom subscribed to by the Free Speech Union is one that doesn’t really understand the concept of academic freedom, and instead promotes a far-right agenda. His mobilisation for academic freedom is thoroughly uninformed, selective, and dangerously aligned with the global Alt-right’s strategic deployment of free speech to attack social justice scholarship in universities, destabilise universities and other democratic institutions, and promote conspiracy theories that mobilise majoritarian hate to uphold hegemonic power.

The foreign import scare

Du Fresne’s article then wraps up with this:

“Fourth, and perhaps most important, we can reasonably deduce that Dutta is yet another import who has embedded himself in the tertiary education system and uses his privileged position to white-ant the society that provides his living. Explicit in his profile is a commitment to radical change; whether New Zealanders want it or approve of it is immaterial.”

His deduction here is that I am an import of the wrong kind (of course, ignoring his status as manuhiri in Aotearoa). Observe closely the language that constructs me, an ethnic migrant, as embedding myself in the tertiary education system with the supposed agenda of corroding New Zealand society from within.

The anti-immigrant hate reflective of white supremacy is exaggerated and amplified by the racist audience of the blogpost.

Note here the anti-immigrant hate that is shared, replete with the dehumanising construction of foreigners as “monsters prowling and devouring our culture.” Also note the ways in which this narrative exists in continuity with the mainstreaming of anti-immigrant hate in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The scare-mongering foreign import narrative targets social justice scholarship (erasing the actual history of organising for social justice in Aotearoa) while obfuscating the US-led far-right agenda. Note here the influence of the US government as well as organisations such as Koch Foundation that deploys hate to mobilise large-scale privatisation of economies globally. It creates a seductive trope for recruiting members organised around the fear of foreign ideologies contaminating the minds of children and youth.

That this hate percolates into the mainstream of New Zealand media and politics is of grave concern to democracy here.

Professor Mohan Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right. He is a member of the board of the International Communication Association.

Link to Article:

CARE Opinion: The far-right’s attack on communication and media studies

Tuesday 25 July 2023 | By Professor Mohan Dutta

This opinion piece is part of a five-part series on the organised attack of the far right on communication and media studies pedagogy. This ecosystem has picked me as a sample case for all that is wrong with the discipline as a propaganda instrument of what it terms the “Left Woke Agenda.”

I had not heard the name Karl du Fresne. Apparently he’s a New Zealand journalist and blogger writing opinion pieces for The Platform – an outlet that has in the past circulated misinformation, hosted conspiracy theories, and participated in practices that might be considered unethical by journalistic standards.

Karl du Fresne, a key propagandist in this attack
(Image source: Robert Kitchin/stuff; website)

Earlier this month, a journalist reached out to me on Twitter, sharing that du Fresne had written a hit piece for The Platform targeting me. They commiserated with me, sharing how they were also the target of an attack carried out by du Fresne earlier, directed at their employer and attacking their livelihood.

Fairly certain what the attack might look like, given the organised campaign by the far-right infrastructure targeting the academic freedom of scholars writing on issues of social justice (particularly racial and gender justice) and challenges around the Sustainable Development Goals (specifically gender equality, reduced inequality and climate change) across the globe (largely imported from the US-Infowars-Bannon-Trump-DeSantis-Tucker-Carlson hate machinery), I was curious to explore what a New Zealand take on this ecosystem would look like.

Unfortunately, what I found when I dug up the article was a shabby hit piece, replete with its uninspiring tediousness, parroting the far-right conspiracy themes from the Infowars-Trump-Bannon universe, and demonstrative of the organised attack on critical literacy directed at silencing the questioning of entrenched forms of power in society.

The article begins with the title “A blank canvas for stokers of the culture wars.” The framing of the title, portraying Aotearoa as a blank canvas, juxtaposed against the “stokers of culture wars” phrase gives away the racist ideology that drives the article.

To frame Aotearoa as a blank canvas for supposedly imported conspiracists like me (more on this later), du Fresne has to erase tangata whenua and the history of Māori activism against colonisation, racism, and white supremacy. The suggestion that stokers of culture wars are bringing in our “outsider” and therefore, impure ideologies of social justice in Aotearoa is racist, both in erasing long-held Māori leadership in struggles for justice here and globally, and in marking me, an ethnic migrant, as the wrong kind of migrant bringing in dangerous ideas that are corrupting Aotearoa by “stoking culture wars.”

Du Fresne also strategically obfuscates his own familial history as Tangata Tiriti, as manuhiri (visitor or guest) to this land.

As the article rolls on with its rhetorical fallacies, it seems obvious that what du Fresne seems to have an issue with is the fact that I teach and research at a University in Aotearoa. As a way to set up his attack, he targets the language that describes my programme of research on the Massey University website, suggesting the language used on the website is part of a radical conspiracy. He copies and pastes extensively from the website, stating that the description is “written in a dialect that most people would find almost incomprehensible.”

In democracies, it is the work of journalists to do the critical work of translating scholarship for the public. Of course, for bloggers such as du Fresne speaking to a right-wing conspiracy web while posing as a journalist, that would be too much work. Such work would entail doing research and learning, calling on critical pedagogy that is cultivated through rigorous journalism education, grounded in communication and media theory, participating in critical analyses of power (especially when reporting on social science and humanities scholarship), and drawing on critical engagement with questions of ethics in reporting.

Suggesting that making the language incomprehensible is purposeful and part of a larger conspiracy, du Fresne then goes on to write:

“Elite groups have always used their own coded jargon to project (and protect) their power, to enhance their aura of exclusivity and to impress the impressionable. The object is not to explain, as most language strives to do, but to obscure, presumably in the hope that no one will detect its phony portentousness. No one does this stuff better than neo-Marxist academics.”

Note here the slippery slope du Fresne embarks on, placing me as part of an elite group and implying that this group is part of a global conspiracy web to uphold and perpetuate power. This elite group does so through propaganda. In the conspiracy web that du Fresne cooks up, this elite group seeks to establish a Marxist global order, and it does so through the use of “coded jargon.”

His conspiracy draws directly from the misinformation-based discursive frames weaved by the Alt-Right. In this conspiracy web woven together by white supremacists, a global Communist conspiracy is being ushered in by Marxists, working alongside and/or being funded by the Chinese Communist Party, and intertwined with the agendas of the World Economic Forum, United Nations etcetera to secretly rule the world.

Critical to the propaganda woven by the far-right is mobilisation against knowledge and the university, and by extension, academics. Also worth noting is the specific targeting of social justice scholarship within the academe as an exemplar of the Neo-Marxist conspiracy.

For the far right, the framing of the teaching of theories of social justice in the academe as Marxist conspiracy works as a strategy for silencing the voices of Indigenous, Black, and migrants of colour communities. The white supremacist hegemony of the far-right sees the organising for justice from the margins as threatening to the status quo. Its conspiracy web therefore communicatively inverts materiality, inverting historic processes of racist marginalisation on their head to portray voices advocating for social justice as the elites occupying power.

Another communicative inversion performed here by du Fresne is the framing of social justice scholarship as an imported idea, all along inverting the direct replication of American far-right talking points in the article. The actual “culture wars” that are imported into Aotearoa are the far-right mobilisation of white supremacist cultural nationalism to attack academic freedom, in direct violation of the Education Act 1989, section 268 of the Education and Training Act 2020, and in continuity with the racist settler colonial infrastructure of Aotearoa.

Du Fresne then goes on – “The university system is awash with this gibberish – a fact that would be comical if we weren’t paying for it.”

Accountability to the taxpayer is one of the key resources in the mobilisation of the far-right. Designating themselves as gatekeepers, as representatives and advocates of the voices of the tax payer, far-right individuals and organisations launch their attacks on academic freedom by claiming that the research and teaching on questions of social justice are a waste of taxpayer money.

In portraying an entire body of scholarship (in this case, my research programme exploring the structural determinants of health inequalities and the communicative strategies for addressing these inequities) as gibberish, du Fresne demonstrates his lack of credibility as a journalist. He doesn’t really understand the scholarly process, much like other demagogues in this category who seek to find relevance through organised attacks based on heuristics.

The process of academic peer review, albeit with its multiple limitations, based on the participation in a rigorous peer review process by a community of scholars, establishes the credibility of knowledge. Within the academic community of experts, knowledge is contested, theories are offered and tested, and concepts subjected to empirical examination in an ongoing process of scholarly engagement. Any journalist writing about academic research programmes is expected to do the homework to understand how scholarly knowledge is produced, be ready to study the research programme, and equip oneself then to report on it. This process of engagement calls for deep reading, based on rigour. Of course, for bloggers such as du Fresne, this sort of painstaking and rigorous work is not conducive to generating superficial memes that speak to the conspiracy web.

Du Fresne cherry picks some examples from my research programme:

“The second conclusion we can reach on the basis of his profile is that Dutta is adept, like many of his ilk, at tapping into public funds – in this case from the AHRQ, which is part of the US Department of Health, and the National University of Singapore (NUS). The poor working schmucks whose taxes fund these institutions have no knowledge of, and even less control over, the radical agendas they enable.”

Once again, to comment upon specific research projects would call for actually educating oneself on the nuts and bolts of the research (not just google a webpage!). The US$1.5 million grant, funded by the Agency for HealthCare Research and Quality that he refers to, built on my research programme on the culture-centered approach, a framework I have developed over two decades of community engaged-health communication research that is recognised as a significant programme of research that has shaped the discipline, was designed to co-create a framework for disseminating the evidence-based comparative effectiveness research on heart health medications among the underserved African American communities in Lake and Marion Counties of the US. African American communities in the US experience disproportionate burdens of heart disease.

In this backdrop, the community-led culture-centered intervention, co-created through partnership with a range of African American organisations, and evaluated through a quasi-experimental community-based design, was effective in building community knowledge of heart health prevention and treatment. This intervention is an example of the sort of social impact generated by theory-driven scholarship. It is therefore both ironic and absolutely reflective of the disenfranchising agenda of white supremacy that du Fresne would target the AHRQ funded programme, framing it as being driven by a radical agenda (more on this in a follow-up piece).

You might ask, ‘Why does du Fresne pick on the AHRQ-funded intervention?’ For propagandists in the Alt-Right ecosystem, community health initiatives led by racially marginalised and historically oppressed communities is radical agenda. For these propagandists, reducing inequities in health outcomes is radical agenda. For the propaganda infrastructure of hate, historically marginalised communities having a voice in decision-making is radical agenda. Because the social order they so miss and would like to continue perpetuating is one where white supremacy rules, uncontested and unchallenged.

As I noted earlier, such propaganda in Aotearoa also has to erase the history of organising against health inequalities by Māori and the extensive body of Kaupapa Māori-based literature challenging these health inequalities to somehow make up the propaganda narrative that such ideas of health justice are imported ideas from the US, all the while parroting the US-based white supremacist agenda.

Professor Mohan Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right. He is a member of the board of the International Communication Association.

Original article: source: by Prof. Mohan Dutta

Article source:

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