Jack Shafer at Politico writes:
New Zealanders needn’t worry about their government censoring the press. On Wednesday, five of the country’s major news outlets proved themselves only too happy to censor themselves.
Representatives of Radio New Zealand, TVNZ, Mediaworks, Stuff and the owner of the New Zealand Herald signed a pact agreeing to limit their news coverage of Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in the March 15 Christchurch massacre of 50 worshipers at two mosques. Following the guidelines, the news organizations vow to limit coverage of statements “that actively champion white supremacist or terrorist ideology,” avoid quoting the accused killer’s “manifesto,” and suppress any “message, imagery, symbols” or hand signs like a Nazi salute made by the accused or his supporters in support of white supremacy. “Where the inclusion of such signals in any images is unavoidable, the relevant parts of the image shall be pixelated,” the guidelines add.
I had no problem initially with the guidelines, but Shafer makes a strong case against them:
So what possessed New Zealand’s pressies to join forces, voluntarily, to limit their rights to report the news? According to reports, New Zealand publications worry that Tarrant might use news accounts to spread his white supremacist views to a larger audience, the way Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik broadcast his anti-Islam ideology in his 2012 trial. Tarrant might very well use his defense to propagandize, but even if he does, so what? An editor doesn’t need to sign a pact with other editors to keep him from transcribing every word and gesture of a showboating defendant. Because he can take that path without cooperating with anybody, we can assume that the editors trust themselves to avoid sensationalistic reporting of the Tarrant story, but they don’t trust their competitors to do the same—hence the desire for a press cartel to reduce journalistic competition to the absolute basics.
Shafer argues no cartel is needed – just let editors use their judgement.
Both New Zealand’s chief censor and its leading news outlets seem to think that expressions of white supremacism are as irresistible to the general population as an open bag of potato chips. This kind of thinking is normally seen in an authoritarian state, where “dangerous” ideas are officially cloaked from view by leaders worried about the threat to their own power. But in a free society, people have a right to know about those who have murderous designs on them. Once a Nazi has marked you for death, averting your eyes isn’t going to save you.
One needs to understand the nature of certain evil, to defeat it.
Worst of all, the pact has given New Zealand’s news consumers every right to think that the press can’t be trusted to tell the whole story because a misguided notion of “safety” comes first. Where might New Zealand readers go to slake their curiosity about political extremism? If it’s places like 4chan and 8chan, won’t we be sorry?
Drop the blinders, New Zealand. You can’t stop a threat you have blinded yourself from seeing.
This is exactly what happens. People head off to the extremes.