The Christchurch mosque shootings were two consecutive terrorist mass shootings at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand. The role that social media played in the lead-up and execution is being scrutinised closely by law enforcement officials, elected leaders, and scholars alike.
John Wihbey, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University points out the necessity to pay attention to the role of news media as well. The nonstop, global coverage of every facet of the attack has created a media narrative that only serves to reinforce the conditions that lead to such violence, by making the issue seem more widespread than it is. Exclusively covering conflict and negativity creates a narrative that conflict and negativity are the norms, when in actuality they may not be.
And while careful, in-depth reporting is necessary following a “worrisome and terrible” terror news, news media have a responsibility to ensure their coverage of broader issues, such as religious conflict, and how those issues bear out in the world. We can find examples of the news media creating big cultural narratives that have huge consequences. Wihbey, in his forthcoming book, includes cases where there have been moments throughout the last few decades when the U.S. news media have fuelled social issues by creating “false narratives” about them.
The media has the power to create broad cultural understandings that shape public discourse. It means that we may need to rethink the way we cover violence like this, to consider proportionality in reporting.