Christchurch terror attack: Australian media facing scrutiny for showing video

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has announced it is looking into the networks’ reporting of the issue.

Australian media organisations have been taken to task for screening and publishing footage of the Christchurch mosque terror attack after their British counterparts pulled off a similar move.

New Zealand police had urged the public and the media not to share the "extremely distressing" first-person footage taken by the terrorist, who livestreamed his attack on Facebook for 17 minutes.

However, Sky News Australia continued to broadcast footage of the shooter at the mosque, Ten Daily embedded the footage on its website and social media posts, and News.com.au published stills and footage from the terrorist in his car and entering the mosque.

Channel Nine used some of the terrorist footage as well but stopped the video before the gunman entered the mosque and the Herald-Sun promoted the video as “Gunman’s horrifying video inside New Zealand mosque”.

Now, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has announced it is looking into the networks’ reporting of the issue with the Australian Press Council. It is also concerned about content made available on broadcasters’ websites.

ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin has also penned a letter to the broadcasters’ chief executives to ask for urgent information on the nature, extent and timing of the broadcast of content relating to the shootings, from the day of the attack.

She will also request urgent meetings with the peak industry organisation like Free TV Australia and the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association, to discuss whether current rules are providing adequate protections for Australian audiences.

Sky New Zealand temporarily stopped broadcaster Sky News Australia's stream on its platform (the two companies are separate entities) when it was alerted to the potential ramifications of showing the footage by the latter. Both parties then agreed Sky New Zealand will show sports instead of live news from Sky Australia.

“At this time of great sadness, I am disappointed that we are compelled to correct mistruths surrounding our coverage of the events. Some media reports wrongly state that Sky in NZ has withdrawn our live news feed because of distressing video, this is not correct,” said Paul Whittaker, the chief executive officer of Sky News Australia.

“On Friday as the live events began to unfold, we contacted our colleagues at Sky in NZ to alert them to the risks of broadcasting coverage from Australia and its potential to compromise the NZ investigations and legal process.”

“With Sky NZ’s agreement, we took the pre-emptive and precautionary step to switch our live news feed to sports coverage early Friday evening to ensure any live coverage or commentary taking place in Australia, outside of the NZ jurisdiction, does not impact the unfolding events in NZ.”

In addition, Sky News Australia’s owner, News Corp, said it will fully cooperate with ACMA and “any other proper inquiry” into the coverage of the Christchurch attack.

It also passed the buck to social media platforms like Facebook, which has said it removed 1.5 million videos of the shooting from its site within the first 24 hours. However, the tech giant failed to explain why 300,000 videos were not caught at upload, representing a 20% failure rate.

“We also note that the organisations that allowed video of the killings to be streamed live and then failed to remove it from their platforms for many hours are not subject to the same scrutiny and have no formal agreement to take responsibility for their actions,” said News Corp in a statement.

“This goes to the fundamental problem of there being one set of rules for responsible media organisations and no rules at all for digital platforms.”

Facebook, as well as Google, is currently facing an inquiry by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which has raised concerns about the market power of the two media and technology giants including the companies impact on Australian businesses.

In the UK, tabloids like The Mail, The Sun and The Mirror were criticised for showing the footage in a similar fashion as their Australian counterparts. All three only removed the videos after brands complained their ads ran alongside the footage.

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