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New Zealand media put Christchurch gunman in his place with focus on victims

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in Queenstown Aug 27, 2020

On the first day of sentencing, New Zealand’s public broadcaster TVNZ put out its nightly news bulletin. The legal process unfolding in Christchurch made it to fourth spot, behind three domestic Covid-19 stories.

Radio New Zealand (RNZ) focused its attention on the victim impact statements. The gunman himself barely warrants a mention, beyond the briefest physical descriptions from journalists in the room.

Other media outlets have done the same. In some coverage, it’s easy to forget he’s even there. It follows an unprecedented agreement reached in May last year to limit reporting of the trial of the gunman in an attempt to contain the dissemination of his white supremacist beliefs.

Just as the reporting has been muted, particularly in comparison with international counterparts, so has the response of New Zealanders, echoing the approach of prime minister Jacinda Ardern when she said: “You won’t hear me speak his name.”

On Thursday, after the gunman was sentenced to an unprecedented life in jail without parole, Ardern reiterated her commitment to never speak the terrorist’s name, saying he deserved “a lifetime of complete and utter silence”.

The coverage changed tone on Thursday, when the sentence came down and the media had the opportunity to celebrate with the victims of the atrocity.

Throughout this week’s hearing, Justice Mander, the presiding judge, had tight control of his courtroom and has banned media from making any transmissions before the 1pm adjournment. This has stymied the 24/7 coverage cycle typical in coverage of high-profile crimes, when many outlets run liveblogs of proceedings.

This means that stories only drop twice a day – and when they appear, they have already been through a tight editorial sieve, devised over a year ago by the country’s leading media companies in the hope of avoiding the spectacle that took over the trial of mass-murderer Anders Breivik in Norway – an idol of the Christchurch gunman.

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