Australian Strategic Policy Institute rorts Wikipedia

Aug 31, 2021

In an important but shocking article in Michael West Media (MWM) on 21 August, journalist Marcus Reubenstein has exposed a pernicious practice by which supporters of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) have assiduously removed all negative criticism of ASPI from Wikipedia’s ASPI page, and added fawning praise of ASPI which renders the page, in Wikipedia’s judgment, to be “ranked ‘C’ on the Quality Scale, which is the lowest ranking for an established Wikipedia page.”

Reubenstein quotes Wikipedia as saying that the page is “missing important content or contains much irrelevant material”, has insufficient references to “reliable sources” and “would not provide a complete picture for even a moderately detailed study”.

Reubenstein has exposed an appalling situation.

Wikipedia v ASPI: on sock-puppets and Wiki-sneaks

The removed material has included references to critical articles in the Australian Financial Review (AFR), the Canberra Times and comments by Bruce Haigh in Pearls and Irritations. The Haigh’s comments included that ASPI is exaggerating the threat China poses to Australia and that ASPI’s advice has resulted in China freezing Australia out of “significant bilateral trade, economic and diplomatic relationships.”

As the editor of MWM points out, ASPI is Australia’s most influential and aggressive crafter of anti-China propaganda, funded by more than $11 million by the Federal Government in 2020-21. In addition it receives millions of dollars from foreign arms manufacturers and – curiously – Twitter.

Why does the Federal Government subsidise ASPI to attack our biggest trading partner? There are few more important issues on the Australian political agenda than our relations with China.

According to Reubenstein, Wikipedia has identified that some of the ASPI-favouring censorship has been done by dubious characters using multiple accounts: one of those, who has edited the page 11 times, uses “an IP (Internet Protocol) Address which points directly to the ASPI computer server.” A second user, who given their facility for the covert, might be better suited to a life in espionage, named their account as ASPI org. 

Not in his article, but Reubenstein has told me that a report he wrote on the ASPI Wikipedia page was added to the page and then magically deleted the following day by “Horse Eye’s Back”. The day after that, the story was restored, and two minutes later was deleted again by “Horse Eye’s Back”. It was then restored for the third time before a Wikipedia Administrator jumped in and locked the page for five days.  That has all happened this month.

Reubenstein quotes a “clearly annoyed [Wikipedia] editor writing in response to the removal of material from the ASPI page: “Stop removing referenced content that details funding outside the Australian government. This is highly relevant and proven, and any attempts to remove can only be assumed to be in bad faith.” Not a good look for an influential organisation which asserts that it is a pillar of integrity.

As Reubenstein says, mainstream media have given ASPI a great amount of positive media coverage in recent years. To its shame, those media have included the ABC, as well as the usual suspects. The media coverage, including on the ABC, would have the casual observer believe ASPI’s own PR – that it is independent, unbiased, free of influence and has true integrity.

By contrast, Reubenstein quotes another AFR story which found that “A report from influential think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute that criticised government departments for giving too much business to a dominant provider of cloud computing capacity was paid for by a lobbying firm engaged by three of the market leader’s rivals.” Who pays the piper, calls the tune, according to the hard-nosed, real politic ASPI. Is that how it works too when the US State Department or a US arms manufacturer is the client?

Reubenstein points out that Wikipedia’s ASPI page contains no reference to that damning assessment by the AFR.

Right wing Senator James Paterson has used the Coward’s Castle of Parliamentary privilege to launch an attack apparently aimed at Reubenstein as being, in effect, a catspaw of the Chinese Government. In a video message by Michael West accompanying Reubenstein’s article, West discloses that Reubenstein has actually doorknocked for the Liberal Party and is a long-time friend of Tony Abbott. We live in strange times!

Catspaws of any foreign government are required, under legislation passed by the coalition Federal Government to register as such; and are liable to be prosecuted on the say-so of the Federal Attorney-General for the very serious crime of engaging in foreign interference. The crime carries a penalty of twenty years imprisonment. As I have written previously in Pearls + Irritations, the criminal provision has major drafting problems. Those problems make it very difficult to say precisely what activities the prohibition on engaging in foreign interference extends to.

ASPI has registered under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme for its relationships with the US State Department and the Government of Japan, the Netherlands, a NATO arm and others. Being registered does not confer protection from being guilty of the crime of engaging in foreign interference. One no-no under the criminal provision is engaging in conduct which “is covert or involves deception”. Being covert or deceptive could render a person’s actions criminal foreign interference. Like surreptitiously fiddling with Wikipedia, perhaps. Or pushing a line on 7.30 or in the Australian at the behest of the US State Department or a US arms manufacturer. Serious stuff.

I don’t consider that Reubenstein needs to be worried. ASPI might if we ever get prosecuting authorities which are independent.

Here is Reubenstein’s most recent piece on ASPI ‘Credibility Tanked‘:

ASPI consistently cites an annual review by the University of Pennsylvania as proof its global credentials are “gold standard” but a closer look at the report hardly supports ASPI’s claim

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