The video apparently filmed by the New Zealand shooter is horrifying. But it’s also a vital element in a news event of global significance.
On Friday, as news organizations scrambled to cover the massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, they were faced with a dilemma: how to report the hate-filled attack without glorifying the alleged perpetrator or helping spread his anti-Muslim message.
One of the attacks appeared to be livestreamed on Facebook by one of the alleged shooters. New Zealand police urged people on social media not to link to the “extremely distressing footage.” Facebook said in a statement it has removed the video and the shooter’s Facebook account.
Still, several news organizations chose to air or post clips of the alleged shooter’s Facebook livestream, and ran into a storm of protest for doing so.
Sky News Australia repeatedly broadcast parts of the video of the shooter at the mosque, according to The Guardian.
A Sky Australia spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but was quoted by The Guardian as saying: “Sky News, in line with other broadcasters, ran heavily edited footage that did not show the shootings or the victims.”
In the United Kingdom, several major newspapers including The Daily Mirror, Daily Mail and the Sun faced withering criticism for airing clips of the shooter’s livestream.
On the top of its homepage, the Daily Mail played on repeat a mashup clip of the shooter entering a mosque ending it right as he appears to point his gun at the doorway.
Several hours later, the website stopped the clip from autoplaying, but left the image resting on the gunman taking aim.
“In common with many other news organizations around the world, MailOnline carried for a time a very short excerpt from beginning of the Christchurch mosque gunman’s video that showed no violence or victims,” a spokesperson for the Daily Mail’s website said in a statement. “On further reflection, we decided to remove it some hours ago.”
The MailOnline also said a link to the gunman’s “manifesto” was briefly posted in error and “swiftly removed.”
The Daily Mirror also posted similar clips from the shooter’s livestream before removing them later.
The Mirror’s editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley later tweeted that the edited footage should not have been published. “We should not have carried this. It is not in line with our policy relating to terrorist propaganda videos,” Embley wrote.
The Sun took a different tack and defended the clips it posted. A Sun spokesperson pointed out that much of the footage is “easily available” on social media and that posting it on its site helps “shed light on this barbarous attack and the twisted ‘motive’ behind it.”
“We recognize that in the aftermath of horrific events such as these there will be sensitivities around reporting, and we take those responsibilities seriously,” the spokesperson said. “We have not published any video which depicts any act of actual violence, nor have we published or linked to the hate-filled manifesto.”
One Bangladeshi news outlet, Channel 24, aired long chunks of the video, showing victims being shot. The clip was also made available on its website.
Talat Mamun, the executive director of Channel 24, told CNN that the outlet ran the video initially but then “stopped it because it was too gruesome.”
CNN is refraining from publishing the shooter’s video.
’No public interest’
It’s an age old media dilemma — how to properly report and describe what happened in an obvious newsworthy event, without furthering the goals of the alleged perpetrator and spreading propaganda.
When American reporter James Foley was executed by ISIS in 2014 on camera, the New York Post and New York Daily News were heavily criticized for graphic covers that depicted Foley the moment before his beheading.
On Friday, the Post initially used a screen grab from the shooter’s video as he is seen aiming a gun at a mosque, but the tabloid later changed the image to one of the police response. The Daily News included some screen grabs from the shooter’s video in a photo gallery, but none which show the gunman taking aim.
In recent years media organizations have taken pledges not to repeat terrorists’ and shooters’ names, with some even going so far as to not show their photos.
Steven Barnett, a Professor of Communications at the University of Westminster, said he vehemently disagreed with publishing any part of the New Zealand shooter’s video.
“I understand there are journalistic imperatives here but it is possible to report on what went on. The journalists can watch the footage and report on it,” Barnett told CNN.
“To me, this is all about generating more readers and online hits. There is no conceivable journalistic public interest in defying the desperate requests from the authorities in New Zealand and to continue publishing this stuff. It’s evil.”
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford, said any media organization that shares the images of the shooter’s video helps perpetuate his message.
“It’s clear that any news organization that uses imagery from an attack like this will inadvertently end up amplifying the message that the terrorist wants to send. So that’s the price of using that imagery,” he said. “It’s very clear that the people behind an attack like this, they want publicity. That’s what they get whenever footage or images are used from the attack.”
Sugam Pokharel contributed to this story from New Delhi.