Case Number: 2984

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2020

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Photographs


Alana Bowman complained on August 13* that the New Zealand Herald had on July 13 published the name and photo of “the man who killed New Zealanders while they were attending mosques in Christchurch.” She did not want to see his face or know his name, but she could not avoid seeing this as it came through on the news alert on her phone.

She noted that there was a recommendation to journalists from various academics that such perpetrators should not be named.

Ms Bowman was also concerned that the response from the Herald suggested she should source her news from another platform. She said this response was insulting and avoided the responsibility of media to uphold professional standards and discouraged respectful objections to media content.

In response the New Zealand Herald said it had indeed suggested to Ms Bowman that she delete theNZ Herald app. This was in response to her request for advice on how she could stop seeingNZ Herald headlines in her newsfeed. The Herald had also suggested she use another source for her news. This was in the context of having received complaints from her on June 25, July 7, July 8 and this complaint on July 13. Under the circumstances the Council does not think the Herald’s response was unreasonable.

There was no suppression order in place here and there is no Media Council principle stating an editor cannot run the name or photo of any person on the basis of how despicable or disreputable they are. It is a publication’s prerogative to determine whether and how they will deal with this particular person.

The Media Council notes that Ms Bowman’s complaint puts forward a perspective, which is that people who do very bad things for racist or other doctrinaire causes, should not be publicised. This is untenable. Should the media prohibit photos of Hitler, or the candidates for Jack the Ripper? There is a legitimate public interest in knowing what they look like, and an argument that the public should be able to put a face to evil. To stop photographs of persons in this situation would be to limit freedom of speech. It would be an impossibly crippling restraint on covering the news if editors had to consider the possibility that one, or even some, of their readers did not want to read about or see the photo of any particular criminal.

Finding: Insufficient Grounds to Proceed.

*This complaint was considered in August when it was received, but through an administrative oversight the decision was not conveyed to Ms Bowman and theNew Zealand Herald. The executive director apologises to both parties for this.


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