Sky News New Zealand has been fined by the country’s broadcasting watchdog for airing live footage of the Christchurch terror attack that killed 51 people.
On 15 March a lone gunmen killed 51 people in two inner-city Christchurch mosques – the worst mass murder in New Zealand history.
On Tuesday, the Broadcasting Standards Authority fined Sky News New Zealand NZ$4,000 (£2,100) for airing “extensive excerpts from the alleged attacker’s live stream video”, ruling that the video “had the potential to cause significant distress to audiences in New Zealand, and particularly to the family and friends of victims, and the wider Muslim community.”
The footage was a retransmission by Sky News New Zealand of a 24-hour feed from Sky News Australia – a separate, independent company. In a tweet posted on 16 March, the day after the shooting, Sky News New Zealand said it had decided to remove the Australian 24-hour news channel from its platform because it was airing distressing footage from the shooter’s Facebook live stream.
Sky News New Zealand then switched to sports coverage and dropped the Sky News Australia feed. The BSA is only able to issue fines within the jurisdiction of New Zealand.
The authority chair judge, Bill Hastings, said the New Zealand television broadcasters faced “unprecedented circumstances” in the hours following the attack, and they played a critical role in keeping New Zealanders informed, but they also had to consider their role in protecting the community from undue harm and trauma and they needed to “exercise a high level of care and discretion” at all times.
The authority ruled that Sky News New Zealand only exercised “limited editorial control over the programme,” featuring long excerpts of the disturbing video, and the “detailed depictions of violence shown in the clips” was not proportionate “to the high level of harm that could be caused to viewers”.
“The decisions provide guidance to broadcasters on how broadcasting standards apply when reporting on crisis and terrorist events”, BSA Chief Executive, Belinda Moffat, said. “However, given the unprecedented nature of these events in New Zealand, we want to work with broadcasters to assess whether the standards are still fit-for-purpose.”
Two complaints were also lodged against state funded broadcaster TVNZ who aired short clips from the live stream video, as well as footage of identifiable victims being taken to hospital with visible injuries.
These complaints were not upheld by the authority.
Sky News Australia and Sky News New Zealand have been contacted for comment.