RNZ NATIONAL. MEDIAWATCH 24/03/2019
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Mediawatch for 24 March 2019
How Christchurch's assault has made a mark on our media; to name -or not to name; lessons from Norway on covering the quest for justice.
Lessons from Norway on covering the quest for justice
There's concern the court case of the man accused of murder in Christchurch could give him unwelcome extra exposure.
Espen Egil Hansen - the editor of Norway's paper Aftenposten - has some advice for media here after reporting a similar trial there, and also making Facebook accountable for its actions.
Media outlets have begun talking about how to cover the court case of the accused Christchurch terrorist without giving him a platform for his propaganda and beliefs.
Back in 2011, Anders Behrin Breivik killed killed eight people by detonating a bomb in the capital Oslo, then shot and killed 69 more people on the island of Utøya.
The parallels with what happened in Christchurch are stark.
Breivik was eventually convicted of mass murder, terrorism and causing a fatal explosion - one year later - in 2012.
The media in Norway had to weigh up just how much coverage they should devote to him at a time when many Norwegians didn’t want him or his ideas to get any more exposure.
And editors had to ponder this all over again it all again in 2016 when Brievik challenged the conditions of his imprisonment in court - and won.
"There were strong reactions to the use of his picture on the TV news and especially the front page of the newspapers," Hansen told Mediawatch.
"It was natural to document the court case but we didn't use the picture every day and not on the front page," he said.
But looking back, he feels the coverage didn't do any harm.
"I was in court on several days and the contrast with the pictures he published of himself before the crime was stunning," he said.
"He didn't come through as very smart or charismatic at all. When he talked about his ideology he didn't make sense," said Hansen.
"We were determined to meet what he did with the rule of law," he said.
Like the Christchurch gunman, Breivik also released an extremist manifesto outlining his militant ideology and claimed he carried out the atrocity to draw attention to his brand of ethno-nationalism
"I think it is wrong and even dangerous to ignore the manifesto. If you don't report it will fuel speculation and it will certainly be circulated in online forums and very easily you will give him some sort of martyr position," he said.
"We manged to show that Brevik was a copycat, stealing from a multitude of sources. He was not an original ideologist and leader as he liked to describe himself," he said.
"The coverage of the court case and the manifesto made Mr Breivik smaller. He came through as a chaotic, small and pitiful person. Many people have said that he seems less dangerous. His crime made him look large and dangerous but when you saw him and he was questioned in court he seemed smaller and less dangerous. And now he is in jail."
In 2016, the was another trial held in the grounds of Breivik's prison in which he successfully challenged the conditions of his confinement.
Media risked alienating and angering the unsympathetic public by covering the case.
At the time Hansen personally told readers in an editorial it was essential to cover this case and "pass the test" again.
"The whole case was about human rights principles. It was important he was able to test that and the reporting was focused on the principles, not on him," he said.
Confronting Facebook’s wall of silence
Jacinda Ardern said the online platforms are “not just the postman but the publisher” of disturbing and illegal extremist content online. Facebook’s top brass have been all but silent.
Espen Egil Hansen - editor-in-chief of Norwegian paper Aftenposten - gave Facebook’s boss that same message personally in a campaign tagged "This is serious, Mark" about online censorship that made headlines across Europe.
Facebook has censored posts from Aftenposten including Nick U's award-winning Vietnam war photo of children caught in a napalm attack - on the grounds of nudity.
"Mr Zuckerberg never spoke directly to me. I know he talked internally about the case. Sadly I'm not surprised by the lack of response to complaints about the livestream of the attack in New Zealand," he said.
"They are not willing to participate in the debates about the problematic effects of Facebook in societies all over the world."
To name or not to name: the evidence
"He sought many things from his act of terror, but one is notoriety. And that is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.
"And to others, I implore you: Speak the names of the lives who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them."
When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke those words in Parliament on Tuesday she articulated what many people have been feeling. And there's evidence that the media following her example could make a difference when it comes to limiting such horrific attacks in the future.
In 2017, 149 academics wrote an open letter to the US media calling on them to stop publishing the names and photos of mass murderers.
"We strongly urge you to take a principled stand in your future coverage of mass killers that could
potentially save lives," they wrote.
"Don’t name the perpetrator; don’t use photos or likenesses of the perpetrator; stop using the names, photos, or likenesses of past perpetrators."
Glynn Greensmith, a journalism lecturer at Curtin University, Perth, was a signatory of the letter and told Mediawatch, this week, that there was clear and compelling evidence that mass shooters are influenced by previous mass shootings.
Nine out of ten mass killers, he said, tend to know everything about the shooters who came before them and are "seeking to write their own script - get their own name out there".
"Taking away his image can be powerful, taking away his name can be powerful, taking away his version of motivation and the media's version of motivation, which is to say let's find out everything we can about this person and tell you, can be very, very powerful and could stop this crime."
He said the experts aren't calling for a blanket ban of the killers names - just a much more carefully considered approach.
"The evidence tells me that the actual use of the name itself in certain circumstances isn't necessarily problematic. And in procedural circumstances such as 'such and such is in court' that it's not as bad. What I'm talking about is the glorification by proxy."
In 1966, a mass shooting in Texas saw an unprecedented amount of media coverage.
"It was the first time the news generally started covering it a certain way, where they said: 'Who is this person? How did they commit this crime? Let's look at how they did it by looking at this person."
Greensmith said that before 1966 mass shootings had been fairly infrequent, but jumped to about 15 in following years and has continued to increase since.
In 2017, Mediawatch spoke to behavioural economist Michael Jetter about his research showing that media coverage of terrorist attacks could significantly increase the number of future attacks.
Dr Jetter has since carried carried out research on the effects of media coverage of mass shootings and come up with similar results.
By comparing mass shootings that occurred on the day of another major news event - such as a natural disaster - with those that occur on a slow news day Dr Jetter found that "half mass shootings were explainable by news coverage alone".
The group No Notoriety has published published guidelines that say the names of perpetrators should not be used in headlines, and should be limited to one mention per story. It says the names of victims should be elevated and it cautions journalists to recognise that infamy serves as a motivating factor in these horrific crimes.
RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson said the organisation would continue to use the name of the accused gunman in the Christchurch case, but only when it was material to the story.
"We certainly don't think it would be appropriate to have a blanket ban on using the accused's name, but I do think we'll use it judiciously and certainly be careful that we're not repeating it ad nauseam."
How Christchurch’s assault has made a mark on our media
The attack in Christchurch has forced our news media to rethink the way they work, whose voices they amplify - and why. Telcos, bloggers, advertisers and the government have all reacted in ways that could change what we see see, hear and read in our media in the future - and we've also had a stark reminder of the power of the big online platforms.
Calling Facebook to account
Questions about Facebook’s livestreaming moderation failure were met with deafening silence at first and then a few written statements.
And not just here.
“No-one on any continent has gone on camera to answer any questions”, said Channel 4 news in the UK last Tuesday.
It couldn’t get a response from Facebook’s head of global affairs Nick Clegg.
He was Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2010 to 2015. He is perfectly capable of handling questions from the media.
He was following the lead of Facebook’s actual head of global affairs - CEO Mark Zuckerberg- who hasn’t said, or posted, a word.
It took five days for a 'VP of Product Management' to come up with this.
One spokesperson eventually told RNZ some people may have shared the video "for good reasons".
“Such an absence of respect and engagement from a company whose tools were fundamental parts of a plan to inflict such pain and savagery in this country are an intolerable insult,” wrote long-time business reporter Pattrick Smellie.
Facebook eventually said the offending livestream had only 4000 views while it was live.
But it also said 1.5 million attempts to post it later were blocked, and it was reposted in many other places online by thousands of people
Clearly there is a problem - one that the company top brass have not addressed.
But it's not just here that the demands for Facebook to act have been long and loud. It's a global story and it could be a big moment in tech history.
New rules for criminal digital content
The gunman’s sickening live-streamed video and his ‘manifesto’ have now been deemed “objectionable” by the Office of The Chief Censor.
While it doesn’t sound like a strong condemnation, it’s effectively made possessing and distributing them a crime.
But long before that - indeed before the PM had confirmed at least 40 people were dead on Friday 15 March - some people had already seen bits of it on screen here in the media.
Many media organisations weren't sure what to do when they discovered the content online not long after the shooting.
In Australia, the two most popular mainstream TV channels ran small sections of the video and told their viewers they would see no more, but both went on to air more of it in their evening news.
Rolling news operation Sky News Australia ran footage from inside the mosque with the bodies blurred, prompting Sky TV here to take the whole channel off air for four days.
TVNZ's head of news John Gillespie told Mediawatch 1 News showed a few non-violent seconds of the footage to show “the high degree of pre-meditation and planning . . . and judiciously since then in light of the national discussion on gun reform.”
Newsroom.co.nz - which urged Mark Zuckerberg to shut down livestreaming - said it erred by posting footage for a short time. It was pulled down after complaints came in.
Australia’s public broadcaster the ABC said it would not make the manifesto public, but a correspondent read aloud from it on air.
RNZ's Checkpoint special that day also detailed key claims in the manifesto and described the images of weapons. RNZ decided not to broadcast or publish those details after that.
In Turkey - which was mentioned in the manifesto - state-backed English-language news channel TRT made a video about it people could watch it they really wanted to know more. That was posted the day after the shootings - after some time for reflection.
There’s no shortage of articles pointing out the gunman's digital stuff was “made to go viral”.
Hopefully media that ran the content will now have in-house rules to rule it out in future - or at least wait until they're sure they know what they're dealing with and why they think the public needs to see it or hear about it
Internet providers club together to reduce the risk
New Zealand’s biggest ISPs jointly blocked access to websites circulating the video and manifesto, including notorious forums 4Chan and 8Chan.
It was a bold but unprecedented move driven by the big social media companies failure to stop the spread of the propaganda.
But some internet and media freedom activists will be wondering whether legitimate use of the internet could be curbed in the future when they concur that a crisis demands extra-ordinary action.
The next day they wrote to the bosses of Facebook, Twitter and Google.
“We call on you to be to join at the table and be part of the solution,” they said.
They haven’t taken up the invitation.
Advertisers pull back - and ponder a change of direction
In a joint statement the The Association of New Zealand Advertisers and the Commercial Communications Council pointed out that “advertising funds social media”.
“Businesses are already asking if they wish to be associated with social media platforms unable or unwilling to take responsibility for content on those sites,” they said.
Some big brands here took action this week themselves suspended their social media promotions.
But none said how extensive the pull-back will be - or for how long. Some - like big spender Lotto for example - said it was all about tone and not really a moral move.
Ad agency boss James Mok said it’s time to better reflect cultural change in New Zealand
“Our work should represent New Zealanders with respect. We can no longer avoid the responsibility to be diligent about every little choice we make. The stories we tell and the people we feature in advertising are our chance to show New Zealanders who we really are,” he said.
Government to pull the plug on digital ads?
The biggest spender on social media advertising here is the New Zealand Government.
On Monday Jacinda Ardern was non-committal when Newsroom’s Bernard Hickey asked if the spending of an estimated $100m a year would be withheld from the platforms she’d criticised.
But on Wednesday the Minister for State Services Chris Hipkins told media the government has asked for urgent advice on its advertising spending with Facebook,
It wouldn't cripple what Toby Manhire called “the world’s first genuinely megalithic media company” (in one of several unanswered - and probably unopened - open letters) but the gesture would be noticed here and overseas.
Cash-strapped mainstream media companies would welcome some of that spending if it was siphoned away from social media in their direction.
But our media companies - public and private - also pay Facebook to host and boost their content. Maybe it's time for a rethink to match this week's editorials excoriating the company and its leader.
Soapbox-style media reflects on itself
This week National Business Review journalist Brent Edwards wrote this about the upcoming official inquiry into the Christchurch attack:
"It might include the role of news media, particularly of media personalities who used public platforms to promote intolerance. And was the news media too focused on Islamic terrorism to notice the threats here at home?"
That's a surprising suggestion from a journalists' union stalwart and committed media freedom guardian.
But the media he had in mind may be reassessing themselves already.
For example, Newstalk ZB deleted a 2017 opinion column in which its Christchurch-based host Chris Lynch asked “Does Islam have any place in public swimming pools?”
Last Wednesday, he apologised for it.
But there has been plenty more on Newstalk ZB where that came from in recent years.
NZME head of talk radio Jason Winstanley told Stuff several items had been pulled from ZB’s websites because - he said - it was “upsetting people.”
Some of that content was there for precisely that purpose in the first place.
Katie Hopkins was an occasional guest on NZTB, until she was sacked by her paper and radio station in the UK after calling for a “final solution” in the wake of the Manchester bombing in May 2017 - and for Western men to “rise up.”
When news reached ZB morning host Leighton Smith that the UK police were investigating her, he was furious about the incursion into free speech.
But that was fake news from Infowars, the mouthpiece of anti-Islamic, far-right radio host Alex Jones, who was kicked off every major global online social media platform last year.
Leighton Smith isn't on the air any more, but NZME hosts and promotes his weekly podcast and the Weekend Herald prints his opinions on the op-ed page every Saturday.
Heather du Plessis-Allan is a current host and when she tweeted that she was “standing with our Muslim community” at the vigil in Wellington last weekend, some followers reminded her she called the Pacific Islands “leeches on us” last year - and doubled down on the comment when criticised.
"Our priority is to do the best we can for all New Zealanders, and honour those who have lost their lives,” NZME’s head of talk radio Jason Winstanley said this week.
It remains to be seen what that means on air at Newstalk ZB, and whether other talkback radio hosts and opinion writers with a track record of stirring up controversy over race and immigration will be more moderate.
"Let's build this amazing country into a truly multicultural power base with our actions. Words only do so much, but actions last a lifetime," wrote Duncan Garner enthusiastically in this weekend's Dominion Post.
14 months ago, a majority of the Media Council upheld a complaint against his fretful column about "Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Syrians, and many others" in a snake-shaped queue at Kmart under the headline: Dear NZ: How do we want to look in 20 years?
Dialing down the comments
Comments sections in mainstream media often turn toxic, even under stories which aren’t especially controversial. Stuff turned off it comments after the attack for three days.
“We're giving a lot of thought right now to the best approach for our comments,” Stuff editor Patrick Crewdson said on Twitter this week.
Mar 18, 2019
Replying to @PatrickCrewdson and 2 others
Is there any way you could turn "since Friday" into a permanent fixture?
The genuine answer is that we're giving a lot of thought right now to the best approach for our comments. (That's also a non-committal answer, I know, because it's still a live discussion.) Extra care, yes, but exactly how that works is what we're discussing.
“That's also a non-committal answer, I know, because it's still a live discussion. Extra care, yes, but exactly how that works is what we're discussing,” he said.
Watch that space below the line.
Kiwiblog - where a lot of offensive comments have been posted anonymously - is also changing its policy.
Publisher and founder David Farrar said this week only people using their real names will be able to publish comments automatically - so readers will know who they are.
Journalists step up
Another challenge for the media now is investigating extremism and communities and cultures here in which it thrives -- or which may even be camoflaging it.
The day after the attack Herald senior investigative reporter Matt Nippert made this call.
Alright, the response to this Christchurch abomination is going to be long-lived and thorough. I wanna be pointed to where NZ neo-nazis are hanging out and talking shit. Our data team can begin some high-level analysis, and we'll see where it takes us. Hit me up via DM or email.
Four days later, he said he had been "overwhelmed" with responses.
A pool of Herald staff was working on immediate tasks, he said, but he envisaged a journalistic project "that could run for years".
Stories have already appeared in the Herald leading to prosecutions.
In the long run it is no easy task.
There will also be emotional debates about gun control, and internet regulation played out in the media - and more intense and divisive debates about free speech, freedom and religion.
Journalists at other media companies have been inspired to investigate too. Maybe young journalists whose names we don't yet know will be inspired too.
We will - as the Herald's Matt Nippert said - see where it takes us.
Reference number A288043
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection