Two mosques in New Zealand city, Christchurch come into global focus on Friday 15th March 2019, when an armed man opened indiscriminate fire on the worshippers and killed 49 of them in cold blood while live streaming the entire event on Facebook. The murderer was identified as an Australian citizen Brenton Tarrant, a white supremacist intending to drive out Muslims from Europe, who he believed were taking over due to their high fertility rates.
The media attention on the incident has also stoked a lot of controversy, mainly for the way the attack and the perpetrator have been labelled by certain newspapers and news agencies. It has also exposed the difference of treatment between how ‘Islamist’ militancy is portrayed vs. right wing ‘white supremacist’ militancy.
Unlike Islamist terrorists, the Christchurch shooter was humanized by a number of tabloids, by focusing on probable ‘reasons that drove him to commit the crime’ than on the crime itself. UK based tabloids the Daily Mail and The Mirror adopted an apologetic tone and attempted to downplay the ghastly killings.
Daily Mirror’s headline the day after the massacre, reading ‘Angelic boy who grew into an evil far-right mass killer’ was condemned by readers as ‘insensitive’ and blatant attempt to humanize the shocking incident. The newspaper also carried a half page innocent childhood picture of Brenton Tarrant with his father, apparently to soften the impact of the crime.
— Daily Mirror (@DailyMirror) March 15, 2019
The favourable coverage of the white supremacist terror was immediately seen in comparison with the Orlando nightclub shooting, committed by 29-year-old Omar Mateen of Afghani-Pashtun origin killing 49 people on June 12, 2016 who the newspaper out rightly called a terrorist and a ‘maniac’.
The choice of photos and the wordplay exposed the newspaper’s bias in both the cases which treated two similar incidents differently.
A number of media houses including BBC, insisted on calling the terrorist, a ‘mass killer’, conveniently overlooking the trail of digital evidence he left behind to showcase his ideological bent against Muslims. Readers argued that the hatred that motivated the white supremacist to kill about 50 innocent Muslims is no way lesser toxic than the fanatical ideology of Daesh that calls for heads of Jews and Christians.
Christchurch shootings: New Zealand in shock after mosque attacks https://t.co/jissLr5vZs
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) March 15, 2019
These media houses were called out for their blatant discrimination against Muslims by social media users. Former BBC Editor Rifat Jawaid criticized BBC for calling the Christchurch incident ‘mosque shooting’ instead of terrorist attack.
Shame on you @BBCNews @BBCWorld. You’ve become disgrace to journalism. Such is the fall in your editorial standard that you now need to learn journalism from rival @SkyNews. Your filthy biases are now influencing your editorial judgement. Hence refusal to term it terror attack pic.twitter.com/Ew2uSl7QJV
— Rifat Jawaid (@RifatJawaid) March 17, 2019
Daily Mirror was not alone in exhibiting the toxic bias. Daily Mail UK dug into the murderer’s past to inform the reader how the ‘blonde little body’ was bullied during childhood for being chubby, how his father died of cancer and was radicalized during his travels to North Korea and Pakistan.
Similarly, the Courier Mail called the murderer a ‘working class madman’ and informed its readers that it was his ‘severe addiction to video games’ that turned the ‘curly haired school boy into a ghastly mass murderer’. “How a kid who grew up in Grafton became a killer white supremacist”, the newspaper wondered.
Again, all these twists in the story were seen as desperate attempts to shield the terrorist from the treatment usually meted out to terrorists, if they are Muslims or lack the White men privilege. Analysts believe that above media houses’ approach is rooted in their ‘Us vs them’ bias which forces them to perceive Muslims only as terrorist but white men committing heinous crimes can only be psychopaths or troubled. It was clearly depicted when a BBC reporter forced a family member of Christchurch mosque victim to ‘also condemn’ Islamic terrorism.
Analysts believe media, which sensitizes people on all important issues, needs to be sensitized on responsible conflict reporting.