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ACMA Christchurch terrorist attack investigation

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22 July 2019

The ACMA has today released a consolidated report of its investigation into coverage by Australian commercial, national and subscription television broadcasters of the Christchurch terrorist attack.

The ACMA’s investigation included the review of more than 200 hours of broadcast footage as well as analysis of the detailed information provided by broadcasters about the editorial decisions they made in relation to that footage.

‘The Christchurch terror attack presented a unique circumstance for Australian television news producers. Immediate and difficult editorial decisions needed to be made to strike a balance between informing the public about the unfolding incident and broadcasting seriously distressing content,’ said ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin.

Unlike online streaming services, well-established broadcasting industry codes of practice require the editing of certain types of content before it goes to air.

‘The ACMA considers that there was some material and treatment of that material that raises questions about whether there was compliance with the broadcasting codes of practice. However, given the level of responsibility shown by the broadcasters and the unique circumstances of this incident, we do not intend to make compliance findings about individual broadcasts,’ said Ms O’Loughlin.

Instead, the ACMA has made a number of observations arising from its investigation for industry consideration:

  • the need for extreme care when broadcasting material with high impact, in particular explicit footage of a person being killed
  • the inconsistent, inadequate and ad hoc provision of viewer warnings
  • the frequent repetition within short time frames of high-impact vision
  • the need for particular care when broadcasting excerpts from perpetrator and victim generated content
  • that overseas produced news content may result in the broadcast of footage that exceeds the impact of material edited for broadcast by Australian broadcasters.

The ACMA will conduct discussions with the broadcasters on its findings and potential industry responses. This could include revisions to codes of practice to embed the important lessons learned from the coverage of the Christchurch terrorist attack. In particular, whether codes are adequately framed to deal with perpetrator-generated, live streamed extreme violent material.

The ACMA notes that the content shared online of the attack has resulted in changes to the Criminal Code to target the expedited removal of such material.

MR 27/2019

For more information, please contact ACMA Media on 0438 375 776 or media@acma.gov.au.

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