Case Number: 2791

Council Meeting: JUNE 2019

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Discrimination

The Complaint

[1] Jin Wan complains to Stuff that one of its articles originally entitled “Extremism growing in New Zealand”, had comments from University of Auckland’s Professor Douglas Pratt which inferred without evidence that the 15 March attacker’s manifesto pointed to his attack being of some form of Christian terrorism.

[2] Jin Wan says that Professor Pratt’s comments were close to “hate inciting speech”.That he cannot and should not label an entire religion as a form of terrorism and asks what if the comments incite others to attack innocent churches.The complainant asks that Stuff remove the comments by Professor Pratt.Jin Wan cites Principle 7 – Discrimination and Diversity – as the Media Council principle the article breaches.

The Response

3] Keith Lynch, Deputy Editor, Stuff responds.He notes firstly that the reporting on the Christchurch terror attack had been extremely challenging.There was serious consideration given by senior editors of Stuff on how to report on the attack with particular thought given to the coverage of the gunman, his motivations and his manifesto.From the outset of reporting, Stuff has not glamorised or granted notoriety to someone accused of a terrorist attack.Therefore, the editorial decision was taken to not quote excessive details from the gunman’s manifesto, which details his vile ideology.

[4] However, reporting generally on the gunman’s motivations is important for the public to understand why this horrific tragedy occurred.

[5] The story was first published on 15 March only hours after the attack and it is true that we now know more about the accused gunman. But on the evening of the attack, Stuff only had access to his manifesto.The story was published at 9:12pm on the evening of the attack and quotes a number of academics analysing the gunman’s motivations.

[6] Jin Wan is only concerned with Professor Pratt’s comments.Mr Lynch argues that Professor Pratt has the credentials to support his views.Stuff accurately reported Professor Pratt’s opinion on the gunman’s manifesto.His reported views are based on his years of expertise in the subject matter and the facts available at the time.The manifesto also makes clear that the gunman received a blessing from the ‘Reborn Knights Templar’.The Knights Templar were a Christian military order active during medieval times.

[7] Mr Lynch argues that Principle 7 is not breached by the Stuff article as it did not place gratuitous emphasis on any category.The issue of the gunman’s motivation is in the public interest and Stuff has accurately reported Pratt’s opinion on it.The reporting on ‘Christian extremism’ is not gratuitous.It is part of the article exploring the gunman’s motivation.

The Discussion

[8] In a follow up response Jin Wan argues that the Stuff article led to reporting of ‘Christian terrorism’ from other media outlets including TVNZ. The Council is of the view that Stuff cannot be responsible for how others report on the manifesto and motivations of the attacker.It should be noted that Stuff chose not to have the phrase, Christian terrorism, in the headline but rather in the broader article.

[9] The Council acknowledges the significantly challenging environment with which the article was published – some 5-6 hours after the terrorist attack.The manifesto was what media had to work with for that particular period of time.Even during that period, Stuff carefully ensured that the academics used are experts in their chosen field. For Professor Pratt they remind the reader that he had been tracking religious extremism since the London Attacks.Those attacks were in 2005.

[10] Professor Pratt argues there is historical consensus that religious extremism and terrorism exists.Many countries around the world have suffered or continue to suffer from forms of religious extremism and terrorism.From his reading of elements of the manifesto, Professor Pratt believes that the gunman acted out a form of Christian terrorism.That is his view based on his area of expertise and his reading of the manifesto. Stuff has only recorded these views, the Council believes accurately.

[11] Given the nature of the attack and the motivations, Christian extremism and terrorism is a legitimate subject of discussion particularly as they are relevant and in the public interest following 15 March.There was no gratuitous emphasis on the topic of Christian terrorism as Professor Pratt’s expert views were part of a suite of expert views Stuff had reported.

[12] Complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.


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