ACMA to investigate media coverage of Christchurch terrorist attacks

Broadcasters will be asked to explain themselves over their coverage of the Christchurch terrorist attack as part of an investigation into the networks’ reporting on the atrocity by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The investigation will focus on the perpetrator’s live-streamed footage of the shootings that was broadcast on Australian television.

ACMA’s Nerida O’Loughlin will write to broadcasters seeking further information on their coverage of the Christchurch atrocity

Foxtel, Nine and Seven all showed excerpts from the live stream, with most clips finishing before the attacker entered the mosque.

During the coverage, Sky New Zealand took its Australian news feed off-air. Originally, Sky News New Zealand indicated on Twitter it had removed the Australian feed from screens “until we are confident that the distressing footage from [the events] will not be shared”.

Sky News New Zealand has since updated this tweet, however, and retracted the original statement.

It now reads:

Paul Whittaker, CEO of Sky News Australia, has since offered his sympathies to the victims, and the country of New Zealand, and clarified the mix-up.

“At this time of great sadness, I am disappointed that we are compelled to correct mistruths surrounding our coverage of the events,” he said.

“Some media reports wrongly state that Sky in NZ has withdrawn our live news feed because of distressing video, This is not correct…

“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 to what was shown on television, ACMA also said it was concerned about content made available on broadcasters’ websites, saying that while sites are beyond its legislative powers, it will work with the Australian Press Council to reviewing coverage of the attack.

Chair Nerida O’Loughlin will also write to the CEOs of the commercial, national and subscription broadcasters requesting urgent information on the nature, extent and timing of the broadcast of content relating to the shootings, in particular from the day of the attack.

ACMA also said it will request urgent meetings with the peak industry organisations—Free TV Australia and the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association — to discuss whether current rules are providing adequate protections for Australian audiences.

Free TV Australia boss Bridget Fair said: “The members of Free TV Australia take their responsibilities under the law and the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice very seriously. Free TV and its members will co-operate fully with the ACMA investigation.”

News Corp also made it clear it will co-operate with the investigation, but also used the opportunity to have a dig at its digital rivals.

“News Corp Australia will give its full cooperation to ACMA and any other proper inquiry into the coverage of the Christchurch massacre.

“This is consistent with our role as news providers that take responsibility for the information they publish and broadcast.

“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.

“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,” the media giant said in a statement.

Seven declined to comment on ACMA’s investigation while Nine had not responded by publication.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, called for social media platforms to cease their video streaming services until they could be sure of preventing content such as Friday’s live stream going to air.


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