Planning in fine detail for the Christchurch mosque terrorist’s court appearance

The man accused of the Christchurch mosque attacks initially pleaded not guilty to all charges. What followed was an extraordinary level of planning by the judiciary, court officials, security services, and a wide range of interests including the media.

Fair trial rights had to be balanced with a need to avoid re-traumatising victims, their families, and the wider community. There was also a determination to prevent the court becoming a stage for white extremist propaganda.

The accused changed his plea but the imperatives in the planning did not change. His sentencing hearing was conducted with unprecedented levels of control over media coverage.

In the second part of a paper, co-authored with Dr Denis Muller of Melbourne University and published by the New Zealand Law Journal,  we detail the pre-trial planning, the efforts to keep victims and families informed, and the part played by media executives.

The paper has been subject to a six-month copyright stand-down period required by the New Zealand Law Journal’s publisher. Part 1 was posted here at the beginning of February. Part 2 can be accessed below. The remaining parts will be posted on The Knightly Views at the beginning of April and May.

Justice, the media, and the Christchurch mosque terrorist Part 2

Our media keep buggering on (apologies to Winston Churchill)

I have just read a brilliant essay by Irish journalist and intellectual Fintan O’Toole about the decline of the British identity. I see strong parallels with what is happening to New Zealand media.

In the essay, published by Foreign Affairs magazine, O’Toole puts context around the decline of Britain as a world power, the rising nationalism of the non-English elements of the United Kingdom, and the effects of Brexit. All of this has contributed to ‘Britishness’ losing its lustre.

“The United Kingdom created a beta version of democracy in the eighteenth century: innovative and progressive in its day but long since surpassed by newer models,” O’Toole wrote. “The country has, however, been extremely reluctant to abandon even the most egregious anachronisms. The biggest transformation in its governance was joining the European Union, and that has been reversed. It now has to make a momentous and existential choice—between a radically reimagined United Kingdom and a stubborn adherence to KBO [a Churchillian phrase: ‘keep buggering on’]. If it chooses the latter, it will muddle on toward its own extinction. Continue reading “Our media keep buggering on (apologies to Winston Churchill)”

Lessons for media in Gabrielle’s wild embrace

As immediate dangers recede, we will see and hear more and more in the media about the lessons to be learned from Cyclone Gabrielle’s devastation. Several of those insights relate to the news media themselves.

First, however, news teams can stand proudly beside those who responded to the national emergency. Reporters, visual journalists, anchors, news executives, production teams and technicians did the industry proud in bringing vital information to the public. They more than vindicated the heading on this commentary a week ago: Thank God for news media in a storm.

We watched, listened, and read as contact with large areas of the North Island were cut off by raging water, as houses and livelihoods were swept away, and as the cost in human lives began to mount. For some, electricity and Internet were cut and even the media horizon shrank, sometimes to nothing if there were no batteries for that transistor radio retrieved from a bottom drawer. And news teams in those blacked-out areas used all their ingenuity to keep reporting and to maintain contact with the outside world as they moved through the broken landscape. Continue reading “Lessons for media in Gabrielle’s wild embrace”

The media’s role in reporting on terrorism – Dr Gavin Ellis

Paper presented at the Australia & New Zealand

Supreme & Federal Court Judges’ Conference

Christchurch 23 January 2023


The actions and reactions of the New Zealand media in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks and subsequent court proceedings demonstrate the value of institutional cooperation and mutual trust.

 That conclusion is drawn from two papers written in conjunction with my colleague, Dr Denis Muller of Melbourne University.  The first examined New Zealand and overseas coverage of the attacks themselves in 2019.[1] The second, published in the New Zealand Law Journal over the latter part of last year, related to the sentencing of Brenton Harrison Tarrant in 2020.[2] There may be a third paper following a coronial hearing and Tarrant’s appeal against conviction and sentence.[3]

However, I need to start by briefly discussing the nature of terrorism itself. It is a violent crime where the victims are not the end, but the means to an end. They are the means by which a message can be sent to the public in a way that cannot be ignored. French journalist Paul Brousse in 1877 coined the phrase Propaganda par le fait – propaganda by the deed. Continue reading “The media’s role in reporting on terrorism – Dr Gavin Ellis”