In wake of New Zealand’s worst ever extremist attack in March, one aspect of the country’s response has stood out: its refusal to give any oxygen to the far-right ideology that allegedly radicalized the shooter and helped inspire the attack.
“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in wake of the two mass shootings, which targeted two mosques in Christchurch, leaving 50 people dead. “He is a terrorist; he is a criminal; he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”
That refusal to give the accused gunman unwarranted publicity has now spilled over into the nation’s media, ahead of of his next court appearance in June. According to The Associated Press, New Zealand’s five major media organizations signed an agreement Wednesday that they would not unnecessarily promote the accused gunman’s ideology.
As part of the agreement, only senior journalists will be assigned to cover the trial. The gunman’s manifesto will not be used for quotes, and outlets will not broadcast or publish any white supremacist “imagery, symbols or signals.” Statements which “actively champion” white supremacist ideals will also receive limited coverage.
The move comes amid concerns that the alleged shooter will use his trial, which is scheduled for next year, as a platform to further propagate far-right extremism, in a manner similar to Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. These concerns were capitalized in the immediate aftermath of the Christchurch attacks, when the accused gunman flashed a white power hand sign during his initial court appearance.
The accused gunman’s “manifesto” already has helped inspire other far-right attacks. On Saturday, one woman was killed and three others injured when a gunman attacked the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego. As ThinkProgress previously noted, that shooter also had a manifesto which drew clear inspiration from the New Zealand attack.
“I thought it was important we agreed as senior editors to be cohesive and united in terms of showing we were going to be responsible and rigorous in how we covered the trial,” Paul Thompson, editor in chief of New Zealand state broadcaster RNZ, told The Guardian. “We needed to signal that we would not become a platform for hate speech, for spreading hateful ideology or being a pawn in anyone’s game.”
The consensus on denying the New Zealand attacker any form of unnecessary publicity stands in stark contrast to the United States, where repeated focus on the shooter, whether politically orientated or otherwise, has helped spawn copycat attacks.
A 2014 ABC News investigation found that at least 17 school shooters and 36 other would-be attackers have been indirectly inspired by the perpetrators of the 1999 Columbine mass shooting. And according to the Educator’s School Safety Network, in wake of the Parkland shooting in 2018, repeated focus on the shooter led to a surge in threats at schools across the country.
While many media organizations have caught on to this trend, others have been slower to acknowledge the phenomenon. In the immediate aftermath of the Christchurch attack for instance, both the British Daily Mirror and Daily Mail allowed the shooter’s manifesto to be directly downloaded from their respective websites, and included short segments of the shooter’s livestream. After backlash, Mirror editor in chief Lloyd Embley apologized for the incident.
“For a brief period this morning the Mirror website ran some edited footage filmed by the gunman in Christchurch,” Embley tweeted. “We should have not have carried this. It is not in line with our policy relating to terrorist propaganda videos.”