New Zealand website Stuff published an article claiming that a “strange Thor-worshipping religion” was linked to the March mosque shootings in New Zealand. Now, the media council has ordered it to amend its article because it was unfair to link it to the shootings
The article claimed the mosque shooter “seems to have been a sympathiser” with a religion called Asatru Folk Assembly, which has a New Zealand “offshoot” called Fensalir Kindred.
Several people complained that the article was unfair, discriminatory and problematic, portraying the group Fensalir Kindred as a “racist, white supremacist body” linked to the shooter. They also were upset the article described their religious practices as “whimsical” and “batty,” and included too much information about its leader Cameron Mottus. Stuff declined to comment to iMediaEthics.
Stuff defended its article as in the public interest and argued it reported on Mottus’s responses to the Stuff questions.
“Essentially, the complainants present their organisation as one with a harmless focus on the pre-Christian culture and religion of northern Europe while the Stuff article paints a more sinister picture of a group with ideas drawn from, and links with, overseas organisations that appear to have influenced the man accused of the Christchurch shootings,” the media council explained. “It is not the function of the Media Council to determine where the truth lies on this issue, but rather whether Stuff has, in reporting on it, complied with the requirements of good journalism as expressed in the Media Council principles.”
The media council rejected the complaint that the article invaded Mottus’s privacy, finding it was in the public interest and he has a “public position.” Most of the article was “straightforward reporting o fact” or reporting from research or interviews, the media council found. While there is some opinion in the article,the Media Council found it was clear to readers what was opinion versus fact because of the style of writing.
The media council also ruled that it is in the public interest to look at the group. However, the council found the article was unfair.
The article now has a note at the top acknowledging the ruling and saying:
“The Media Council has ruled that Stuff’s linking of a Thor-worshipping group with the Christchurch Mosque shootings was unfair, particularly to Cameron Mottus.
The Media Council said that while Stuff had accurately identified some philosophies and symbols that the local group shared with the AFA internationally, it was not satisfied that these were sufficient to support the claim that Mr Mottus and his organisation are “linked to the Christchurch mosque shootings”. Reputable bodies overseas had linked the AFA outside New Zealand with right-wing violence and there could be a link between the mosque shootings and the wider AFA movement.
However, a reader of the Stuff article, especially the headlines, could reasonably take away the message that Mr Mottus or members of his New Zealand group were more closely involved by contact with the shooter or by condoning the violence or in similar ways. Given the likelihood of a strong public reaction, any publication would need to be very sure of its ground before making such a claim, and the Media Council was not satisfied that on the material before it Stuff could fairly make the claim.