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Courting consequences

Posted on 21 June 2019 by David Shanks

On Tuesday a man was jailed for 21 months for sharing the livestream video of the March 15 Mosque terror attacks. 

Our office makes decisions about classifications but is not involved in how they are enforced. If you want to read about the man and what he did this article covers it.

In every decision we carefully balance New Zealanders’ rights to freedom of expression with the need to protect our communities from harm. This case highlights the serious consequences of the decisions we make.

Coincidentally the same day the news broke of a decision by the Film and Literature Board of Review to uphold the objectionable (banned) classification of the livestream video.

We welcomed this review. New Zealanders should be able to test any decision affecting their freedoms, and it is good that such a review has been able to be sought and obtained, relatively quickly in this case.

When we made the decision we were very conscious we were imposing a limit on the freedom of expression and access to information that New Zealanders normally have - but we felt there was a clear and justifiable need to do so.

Any decision that restricts New Zealander’s freedoms is a significant decision. This is particularly true in this case, where so many people have been affected by the horrific and deeply tragic events that are the subject of this video. 

Our hope and expectation is that this decision and publicity of the court decision will support continuing efforts to limit the publication and distribution of the livestream video, so that most New Zealanders will not need to worry about themselves or their children stumbling across it or having it recommended to them.

And, for the tiny minority who may try to continue to distribute this material, promoting violence and terror, there should be no doubt that what they are doing is not just unacceptable – it is illegal.

Some things cross the line, whether it be images of child sexual abuse or material that promotes acts of terrorism. While digital content presents its own challenges, law enforcement agencies both in New Zealand and overseas have experience in meeting those challenges. People involved in the production, distribution and consumption of objectionable material can expect to face the consequences of that illegal activity. This makes a real difference.

Sometimes we hear arguments that banning something makes it more attractive. Maybe. But there’s real consequences if you break the law. In the case of the livestream video the ban, and the international weight bought to bear on social media providers, has meant this material is not freely circulating on major social media platforms. Nor is the material being pushed to the top of search engine recommendations. And that’s a good thing.

head shot of Chief Censor David Shanks
Chief Censor David Shanks


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