May 1, 2019 / 2:34 AM / 6 months ago

New Zealand media set protocols for court coverage of man accused of Christchurch attacks

FILE PHOTO: Armed police officers stand guard outside Al Noor mosque where more than 40 people were killed by a suspected white supremacist during Friday prayers on March 15, in Christchurch, New Zealand April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand news outlets on Wednesday agreed to guidelines for reporting on the court appearances of a man charged over deadly attacks on Christchurch mosques in March, which would limit coverage of statements promoting white supremacist ideology.

In an attack broadcast live on Facebook, a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending prayers in Christchurch on March 15, killing 50 worshippers and wounding dozens.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with 50 counts of murder and 39 counts of attempted murder and is next due to appear in Christchurch’s High Court in June.

“We shall, to the extent that is compatible with the principles of open justice, limit any coverage of statements, that actively champion white supremacist or terrorist ideology,” said the agreement between senior editors at five major media organisations.

The protocols were published by various outlets that signed the agreement, including state-funded Radio New Zealand, TVNZ, Mediaworks, website Stuff and NZME, the owner of the New Zealand Herald.

The agreement also said that media organisations would not broadcast or report on any imagery or hand signals promoting or supporting white supremacist ideology during court appearances and would send “experienced” journalists to cover any trial.

Tarrant, who is currently undergoing a court-ordered psychiatric assessment, is being represented by two lawyers from an Auckland criminal defence firm. Head of the firm, Shane Tait, did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Media had initially reported that Tarrant wished to represent himself and legal experts have said he may try to use the hearings as a platform to present his ideology and beliefs.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Sam Holmes

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