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1 May, 2019 15:42

Media collusion to censor Christchurch mosque shooter trial is understandable… and deeply sinister

Media collusion to censor Christchurch mosque shooter trial is understandable… and deeply sinister

Opposing New Zealand’s press restrictions on the coverage of Brenton Tarrant’s trial is not some abstract free speech argument, it’s about reining in a media that thinks it knows what’s best for the public.

The country’s five major media corporations responsible for the coverage of the proceedings against the man accused of killing 50 people during the March 15 shootings at two Christchurch mosques, have signed a voluntary “indefinite” protocol “to limit any coverage of statements that actively champion white supremacist or terrorist ideology.”

The outlets will not cite excerpts from the gunman’s manifesto, ‘The Great Replacement’, they will not quote anything he says in support of his actions, and if he does a raised-arm salute or perhaps even the OK sign (the neo-Nazi gesture du jour) these can only be shown in pixelated form.

This has been widely received as an unequivocally virtuous gesture – “not giving the extremist a platform” is being treated as a win for ethics over typical media salaciousness.

Also on rt.com New Zealand media ban reporting of Christchurch shooter’s white supremacist statements at trial

Instead, the audiences of these media outlets should feel alarmed and insulted.

The New Zealand media evidently holds the public in such dubious regard that it believes that we could not be trusted to make up our own minds on the merits of an ideology propagated by a mentally unbalanced fitness trainer who committed one of the least-justifiable acts of violence against innocents in recent memory.

But then the disrespect for the public was evident in the existence of this protocol in the first place. By signing it, the media companies are essentially saying “We know that people are interested in the details of the trial, and that any outlet that publishes them will get more clicks and views, so let’s form a cartel to NOT give people what they want.”

All apparently for a good cause. But even if the “no notoriety” approach were proven to be effective, it is a misunderstanding of the role of journalism in an open society. Yes, newspapers and broadcasters can crusade, sway and frame the debate, but their foremost public function is to provide accurate information. That they are proudly vouching in exact words “not to report” suggests that they see themselves as our unbidden filters and guardians working in unison, a function the media performs in totalitarian states.

The editors will argue that unlike Stalin’s Russia, at least they are not receiving orders from above. Though it is notable how closely the pact hews to the words of the center-left Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who set the ball rolling by urging everyone not to name the perpetrator, an edict the much of the press followed until many realized that Tarrant was acquiring the mystique of an unpersoned Leon Trotsky after his escape.

More noteworthy still is that this extraordinary redefinition of journalistic duties comes amid a broader raft of prohibitive measures. The prime minister has already promised to plug a “gap in our legislation” curtailing “hate speech” towards religion. Ardern has argued that “terrorists don’t have a right to livestream murder,” which is laudable in theory, but since it is impossible to predict when a murder will happen live online, implies that she is in favor of broader social media censorship. In a fortnight, she will host a tech leaders-meet-politicians summit with Emmanuel Macron, whose own vision of what constitutes unacceptable speech goes way beyond shooting spree broadcasts.

Also on rt.com Coups are Peace, Censorship is Trust, Intolerance is Love: 3 Orwellian slogans Western leaders adore

The aftermath of atrocities is a honeypot for short-sighted do-gooders buzzing about looking to do something, but also opportunist politicians to realize their long-harbored ambitions. Remember 9/11. No one wants to be seen arguing on behalf of terrorists.

Within this febrile climate, does the media want to become a willing tool of the establishment, or does at least one outlet want to break away and do its job? Particularly in an era where journalistic homogeneity and groupthink is already an issue, even in countries much bigger and more diverse than New Zealand. And in which both, free speech and factual reporting are increasingly secondary to political imperatives.

By Igor Ogorodnev

Igor Ogorodnev is a Russian-British journalist, who has worked at RT since 2007 as a correspondent, editor and writer.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.