Why The Media Handling Of New Zealand Terrorist Is Problematic

The world was understandably rocked by the recent terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch New Zealand. However, if you take note of such things, you may have noticed how the coverage of this event has been markedly different to that of other similar incidents, both by the press and by everyday folk on social media.

British Media

A couple of notable media outlets in the UK have come under fire for their approach to the tragedy. The BBC refused to use the term terrorist when describing the actions of Brenton Harrison Tarrant who filmed his heinous attacks and uploaded them to social media. In fact, nearly every newspaper avoided the use of the word terrorist in their headlines.


Now at the risk of sounding cynical could there be a deeper reason for this? When an attack happens that isn’t carried out by a Muslim is the press reluctant to include the term terrorist because it breaks down the narrative of terror being associated with Islam? I am not suggesting that the media is racist but more that it understands that creating this narrative helps to sell papers and while its reports all seem to demonise this recent attacks there are subtle differences in the way it is handled compared to terror attacks where Muslims are the perpetrators.

It isn’t just the reluctance to use the term terrorist either. There has been outrage about the way the Daily Mirror has handled the story, on their front page they have a picture of Tarrant as a child talking about how he was an angel when younger. This is wildly inappropriate to anybody who has an inkling on how subtext works. Highlighting how he was an “angelic child” humanises him and gives an element of sympathy and the editor of a national newspaper knows this. They know what something like this accomplishes. It is pretty insidious when you think about it.

Not for the first time

It is not the first time this has happened either. We are all aware of crimes such as Breivik in Norway and how often if the suspect is white they are brandished as a lone wolf. Now perhaps it is just me, but does that not have almost “cool” connotations? I feel that there needs to be consistent use of language to describe people who carry out atrocities. If white people who go on shooting sprees are “lone wolves” then so are black people. If Muslims who carry out attacks are terrorists then so are Christians.

Social media

Cast your mind back to the Paris attacks. Facebook was awash with profile picture overlayed with French flags and people out crying against violent attacks. This came hand in hand with swathes of anti-immigration propaganda.

Has anyone noticed a marked difference with this attack? I mean yes I have seen the odd post commenting on the atrocity, but the outcry is limited. I can see three possible reasons for this and all are problematic at best. The first is that we don’t care because it is so far away. New Zealand is pretty much as far away as a problem can be. Perhaps there’s an element of apathy because it’s not on our doorstep?

Then again it might be the fact that there have been so many heinous crimes that we have just become desensitised to it now. Which if that is the case it is a sad sign of the times. Perhaps most troubling is the idea that perhaps the social media outcry is reduced because the victims were Muslims. Make no mistake these were just innocent people in a house of worship. There was no reason why they should have died. So where are the prayers for New Zealand?

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