• Hal Crawford

Why naming Brenton Tarrant is the right thing to do

Published May 1, 2019, Newshub

Brenton Tarrant in one of his first court appearances (Newshub)

Towards the end of March, something unusual happened. At the suggestion of Radio New Zealand CEO Paul Thompson, the chiefs of the nation's big newsrooms convened to discuss how to cover the alleged Christchurch shooter's trial. This is not a group given to collaboration or agreement. For a news editor the most natural thing in the world is to work out what is wrong with whatever the other person is saying. Add to that the fierce rivalry between news media and you understand why this kind of cabal is rare. New Zealand media organisations agree to protocols for trial

Straight off the bat the news chiefs all agreed on one thing: we were going to keep naming the alleged gunman. The Prime Minister had said she wasn't going to name him and implored others to do the same; she didn't want him to gain the notoriety he sought. But the editors were of one mind: in covering his trial, we would name Brenton Tarrant. Why? Many of our readers and viewers were against naming. Many thought we were making a simple error, continuing to use the name after the authorities had forbidden it. For some Newshub consumers, this disgust at our presumed incompetence turned to rage as we continued. How could we give the gunman "what he wants"? The answer is that Brenton Tarrant doesn't deserve special treatment. We name him because he is fundamentally no different from countless criminals who are named. If you think otherwise, try making the argument to the family who has lost someone to a different killer. The naming of accused and convicted criminals is a cornerstone of open justice and open justice is a cornerstone of our free society. Because of this I find the number of name suppressions granted by New Zealand judges disturbing. The news editors were of one mind: we had spent years defending the right to publish names, and had years of unpleasant interactions with people who don't want information out there. On the whole, information shouldn't be hidden. As the guidelines we published today note, we don't want to give Tarrant a platform for his hateful and stupid ideology. To that end, we have an agreement to "limit any coverage of statements that actively champion white supremacist or terrorist ideology." We will not show any hand signs he makes in the dock, and we are not going to be quoting from his forbidden manifesto. It is not for us to single Brenton Tarrant out as a special kind of evil. There should be no unspeakable names.

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