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.
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. 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. There may be a third paper following a coronial hearing and Tarrant’s appeal against conviction and sentence.
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”→
In the latter part of last year the New Zealand Law Journal published a four-part paper on ground-breaking processes introduced for the sentencing of the Christchurch mosque gunman in 2020.
The paper, which I co-authored with Dr Denis Muller of Melbourne University, found that high levels of institutional trust between New Zealand media organisations and the justice system were instrumental in denying the terrorist any opportunity to use the proceedings as a soapbox for white supremacist beliefs.
The paper has been subject to a six-month copyright stand-down period required by the New Zealand Law Journal’s publisher. That restriction no longer applies to Part 1 and you can access it below. The remaining parts will be posted at the beginning of March, April and May.
We need to cut the media some slack in a fast-developing situation like Friday’s terrorist attack in Auckland. Such stories develop multiple strands of enquiry at lightning speed.
As news of the supermarket knife attack developed, I wondered what effect the Covid Level 4 lockdown had on the ability of the surveillance team (who had tracked the terrorist since he was released on bail in July) to stay in close proximity. My query went unanswered for 36 hours but eventually we were told that it had forced the team to stay outside the check-in as he wandered the aisles, seemingly on an innocent shopping expedition until he picked up a knife that was on sale.
The circumstances surrounding his release from custody and the Crown’s inability to keep him off the street; the reason for his name suppression by the court and its decision on Friday night to extend it for 24 hours; the tortuous passage of legislation to close a glaring gap in our anti-terrorism laws; even the timeframe from the beginning of the attack to his fatal shooting by Police. All these were questions that were answered only over time – and some questions remain as I write this. Continue reading “Terror, time, and trust”→