Emails seen by Gript show that Kinzen, a media start-up which the Department of Health hired to help combat covid-19 misinformation, asked officials in the Department to avoid mentioning Kinzen’s work publicly; requested that a Department response to a media query about Kinzen’s work with the Department be edited; and, in at least one instance, asked that an upcoming Journal.ie article be amended to remove all potential mentions of Kinzen from the piece.
The article in question, which was written by Cónal Thomas of the Journal.ie, consisted of an interview with Ronan Glynn about the need fight back against covid-19 misinformation. The article was published in August of this year.
The Department informed Kinzen that they are been a subject of discussion during the interview, and that an article on that discussion would be published the next day. Kinzen responded, asking the Department if they could “refrain from mentioning our work publicly” and asking the Department to contact the Journal.ie to request all references to Kinzen be omitted from the final piece.
Kinzen said that the secrecy was required as they were “super conscious of how the disinformation folk will target us and we are working with our clients confidentially for the most part.” A Department official told Kinzen that the matter had been “flagged to the journalist who did the interview with Ronan.” That official passed Kinzen the name of the journalists involved, both the author and Journal.ie staffer who originally requested the interview, and told Kinzen that it “might be no harm following up on yourself tok[sic] just in case.”
Whilst we can’t say if the article was amended following requests from the Department or Kinzen, as the Department reached out to Thomas before publication, and it is possible that Thomas had never intended to mention Kinzen at all, what we can say is that the Department reached out to Thomas following Kinzen’s request, that Kinzen themselves likely did so as well, and that the article in question, which is again concerned entirely with the state’s response to Covid misinformation, was published with no reference to Kinzen contained within it.
Other documents seen by Gript show that on another occasion Kinzen wrote to an official in the Department, saying they had become aware that the Business Post had submitted questions about Kinzen to the Department, and asking that official to “share some of the wording you’ll be using” in the response the Department intended to send the Business Post. The official was kind enough to send Kinzen the intended response, and to offer Kinzen the chance to put forward any objections they had with the intended wording of the response. Kinzen suggested the official make, as they called it, “the tiniest of edits” before responding to the Business Post, but didn’t detail what those edits entailed, asking the official to instead take a phone call to discuss the matter.
We asked Mark Little of Kinzen, Sinead O’Carroll, the editor of the Journal.ie, and Cónal Thomas, the author of the article in question, if Kinzen had ever asked the Journal, or any of its employees, to have any article amended prior to publication, but we have yet to receive a response from anyone involved. We furthermore asked Little, who is a member of the Irish government’s Future of the Media Commission, if it was common practice for Kinzen to attempt to use personal contacts within the media to have articles amended or pulled if they mentioned Kinzen, and we asked O’Carroll if it was common practice for the Journal to amend articles upon request by government departments or commercial entities – neither query recieved a response.