Police want to know about anti-vaccination and Covid-19 misinformation that has arrived in letterboxes, saying it appears to be a breach of the Health Order limiting movement to “essential personal travel”.
It follows a Herald report that pamphlets produced by the Voices for Freedom group had been delivered to people in two Wellington suburbs.
Readers in Auckland have now come forward to say they have received the same flier.
One reader told the Herald “it upset me to receive and read that garbage” while another declared: “I was ropeable!”
Today, police said the pamphlet delivery during alert Level 4 “would likely be classed as non-essential personal movement”.
At the current alert level, people were only able to leave their homes for “essential personal travel”.
As a result, pamphlet delivery would be a breach of the current health order, a spokeswoman said.
Police had a responsibility to “maintain compliance” of the health order and “police would be interested in any information that is able to be provided about who is involved”.
The Ministry of Health has said it will not comment on the deliveries after advice from its lawyers, saying responsibility lies with police.
The leaflets appear to be part of a Voices for Freedom campaign to distribute two million pamphlets pushing against Covid-19 public health messages.
Voices for Freedom has now told members to stop delivering the leaflet during lockdown.
The group’s co-founder Claire Deeks has not responded to questions from the Herald or taken up an invitation to be interviewed.
This morning she sent a text message saying the group had updated its frequently asked questions in line with Herald queries.
The website’s frequently asked questions section addressed the deliveries directly, telling members to stop distribution because of the risk of vigilante attacks.
It stated “misinformation and disinformation”, including by the media, had created the “erroneous belief” it was not legal to do letterbox deliveries.
It then offered a different interpretation of the law than police, stating “any volunteers that may have engaged in delivery of Voices For Freedom flyers during level 4 lockdown would be entitled to do so lawfully given the permissions relating to ‘recreation'”.
The website said the group was concerned “for the security of volunteers who might otherwise be the subject of misguided vigilante action”.
There were no examples of “vigilante action” given by the group and no attacks have emerged publicly. Police told the Herald no vigilante attacks were known to have been reported.
The website said the group had told its 50-plus coordinators across the country to “reinforce the message that flyer deliveries and “pop-ups” are not authorised at this time”.
The “pop-ups” appeared to be a reference to “recreation involving holding signs or wearing T-shirts in groups of people”, which Voices for Freedom also said was legal under the “recreation” exemption.
The pamphlet tells people New Zealand’s “Covid narrative doesn’t add up” and claimed there was censorship of “critical data and facts”. No evidence was provided to support the claim but it could be a reference to social and traditional media companies limiting the spread of false information about Covid-19.
The pamphlet then lists nine claims about Covid-19 or the public response to it. The Herald has fact-checked the claims which are either not true or misrepresentations of the truth.
Voices for Freedom had gathered almost 15,000 followers on Facebook before the social media company removed it for spreading false information about Covid-19. The group was founded by former Advance NZ candidate Claire Deeks, along with knitting designer Libby Johnson and crochet designer and producer Alia Bland.
Since setting up in December, the group had been engaged in wide-ranging actions from a nationwide billboard campaign, protests and regular broadcasting interviews with noted Covid-19 conspiracy theorists and deniers.
Other misinformation to emerge was the home delivery of the third edition of The Real News. A Bay of Plenty reader spoken to by the Herald this morning said she had received a copy in her letterbox in recent days.
The Real News third edition continued its run of conspiracy theories and fantasist beliefs about Covid-19. Its editor, Auckland’s Jonathan Eisen, once championed footage of a faked alien corpse.
In June, the Ministry of Health and Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet developed plans to deal with disinformation and misinformation particularly with a view to communication that might hurt vaccination rates.
The strategy describes New Zealand’s response to Covid-19 as “one of the most successful in the world”. It then stated: “A significant factor in our success to date has been strong public trust and confidence in the response.”
The concern among academics and officials working against the pandemic is that falsehoods – like those pushed by groups such as Voices for Freedom – create doubt in the public mind, leading to people not following public health advice or getting vaccinated.
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