(James Dann/ Creative Commons)

British Tabloids Amplified Terrorist Propaganda Following Christchurch Attack, Analysis Finds

The Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror and the Sun amplified terrorist propaganda in the aftermath of the Christchurch attack, according to a new analysis shared exclusively with Novara Media. ,

On 15 March, a white supremacist gunman killed 50 people at two Christchurch mosques in the largest mass shooting in New Zealand’s modern history. 

The shooter tried to publicise the attack by live-streaming it on Facebook, in a video that initially reached 4,000 people before the social media site took it down. Parts of the footage were then republished by the three UK-based newspaper websites, named in a new report by campaign group Hacked Off.

In comparison to the few thousand people who viewed the terrorist’s original upload, Hacked Off estimates over 1 million people may have viewed footage on the newspaper websites. The Mail also published the killer’s white supremacist “manifesto” as a PDF available to download from its website. 

The analysis comes as media organisations in New Zealand agree to limit their reporting of the trial of Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old white supremacist accused of the shootings, in an unprecedented effort to reduce the spread of his fascist beliefs.

Although none of the three media sites that shared the video provided precise data on the number of views their clip received, the Hacked Off analysis used a timeline of events, combined with web traffic reports, to estimate the extent to which the Mail, Sun and Mirror are likely to have increased the reach of the footage.

According to Newsworks, the marketing body for national newspapers, the Daily Mail’s web reach is more than 5 million on an average day. The Sun website is viewed by a similar number of people and the Daily Mirror reaches about half that.

These figures translate to a reach of up to 3000 visitors per minute.

While Hacked Off says editors declined to clarify exactly when the videos were uploaded and taken down again, their presence on the websites was first reported at around 9am and none of the sites are believed to have apologised until the afternoon. Based on the three hours between 9am and 12pm being a typically high traffic period for new sites, Hacked Off estimates the clips may have reached more than a million people.

In a detailed timeline, the group lists the first terrorist attack as taking place at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque at 12.40am on 15 March 2019, with the second starting just 15 minutes later at the Linwood Islamic Centre.

The terrorist gunman live-streamed the attacks on Facebook as they happened, initially to just 200 people, although 4000 later viewed the video before Facebook took it down.

New Zealand Police first stated they were aware of the video at 3.49am and request that it not be shared or republished.

At 8.35am Buzzfeed media and politics correspondent Mark Di Stefano tweeted that the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail websites were hosting edited versions of the video, and at 9.13am he said the Sun’s website had also published a GIF of the attack.

 

Less than an hour later, Di Stefano reported the Mail was also hosting a copy of the terrorist’s manifesto, which it made available to download.

In the afternoon, several hours after his site published the video, the Mirror’s editor, Lloyd Embley, tweeted an apology, stating the clip had been removed.

At 3.36pm, Di Stefano reported the Mail had also removed the manifesto.

Much reporting of the terrorist gunman’s attempt to disseminate white supremacist propaganda has focused on the role of social media sites, with 1.5 million people attempting to upload the video to Facebook in the hours after the original footage was pulled. Facebook blocked 1.2 million copies from being uploaded, but 300,000 were initially posted before moderators removed them.

But Hacked Off criticises the fact that in comparison to an arguably slow or inadequate response from social media sites, some newspaper websites actually made a decision to publish the material, which they knew was designed by the attacker to spread his views and incite racial hatred. They also did so after New Zealand police requested nobody share the footage.

Hacked Off policy manager Nathan Sparkes, who conducted the analysis, told Novara Media the findings pointed to the need for proper media regulation – the absence of which he said is endangering safety and security.

He cited the head of UK counter terrorism policing, Neil Basu, who said in a statement the actions of media organisations who published terrorist propaganda were harmful to “our society and security”.

Sparkes added:

“Instead of joining an independent regulator, The Mail, Mirror and The Sun are members of the self-serving industry complaints-handler IPSO, which has failed to take any public action at all over those titles’ reckless republication of footage from the attack.”

He said it should be noted that the publications chose to publish the footage “despite a clear request from the New Zealand police authorities for the footage not to be shared”. And in particular Sparkes condemned “The Mail’s decision to upload and make publicly available the killer’s manifesto” which he said “is particularly dangerous, and exposed thousands — possibly millions — of people to terrorist propaganda.”

Hacked Off is currently investigating whether, and to what extent, elements of the media play a role in laying the ideological groundwork for white supremacist violence, in addition to pushing to ensure the British media is independently regulated. The group dismisses IPSO, the industry complaints-handler, for not meeting the criteria of the Press Recognition Panel — an organisation set up following the Leveson inquiry — to ensure “independence and effectiveness that preserves and enhances free speech” in the British media.

IPSO is accused of being subject to industry interference and vulnerable to political interference. Representatives of the Mail, the Sun and the Mirror’s publishers occupy four key positions across the bodies which control it. The organisation currently has no clause to prohibit the republishing of terrorist propaganda.

(Natecull/ Creative Commons)

At the end of April, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced she would lead a global effort to combat violent extremism and terrorism on social media. Ardern said she was in discussions with tech companies such as Facebook about tightening and modifying their platforms.

Efforts to curtail the spread of fascist propaganda are particularly important while Tarrant is on trial for the attacks, charged with 50 counts of murder and 39 of attempted murder.

Ahead of the Australian’s next court appearance on 14 June, five of New Zealand’s largest media organisations have signed an agreement to try and minimise the spread of his beliefs.

According to the Guardian, the agreement cites a concern that Tarrant could use the trial “as a platform to amplify white supremacist and/or terrorist views or ideology”.

The organisations have pledged to only assign senior journalists to cover the trial, to limit their coverage of statements that “actively champion” white supremacist or terrorist ideals, not to quote from Tarrant’s manifesto, and not to broadcast or publish “imagery, symbols or signals” that reference white supremacist ideology.

When asked for comment, the Sun defended its coverage of terrorism, pointing out that it described the shooting as a terror attack when other newspapers failed to do so. A spokesman flagged a letter written to the Guardian in response to criticism from the paper. He added:

“We recognise that in the aftermath of horrific events such as these there will be sensitivities around reporting, and we take those responsibilities seriously. We have thought long and hard about how much of the easily available material currently on social media we should host on our site in order to shed light on this barbarous attack and the twisted ‘motive’ behind it. We have not published any video which depicts any act of actual violence, nor have we published or linked to the hate-filled manifesto.”

The Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror were also asked to comment on Hacked Off’s analysis, but at the time of publishing none had responded.

Update 06/05 –

A MailOnline spokesperson said:

“As with all incidents of terror, news organisations have to strike the right balance between showing the public what has happened – and why – and playing into the terrorists’ hands.

“In common with many other news organisations around the world, MailOnline carried for a time a very short excerpt from beginning of the Christchurch mosque gunman’s video that showed no violence or victims. On further reflection, we decided to remove it.

“A link was briefly carried to the gunman’s ‘manifesto’. This was an error and swiftly corrected.”

Published 2nd May 2019

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