At 1:40PM on March 15 2019, a man walked into Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. He approached the back door of the mosque where he was greeted. “Hello brother,” a worshipper said. The gunman opened fire, with what police later said they believed was a modified semi-automatic, and shot him dead.
What followed over the next 21 minutes has been described as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.” It changed lives, laws, and the country’s identity. 51 people were killed, and dozens injured; It was the most deadly mass shooting in New Zealand’s modern history.
RNZ published its first story at 2:04 – 24 minutes after the shooting first started. The first story simply stated that a shooting had occurred and police were warning people to avoid the area – Christchurch’s central city.
Throughout that afternoon, and for the following hours, we kept that story updated and included a live blog – it’s by far the most read story on the attacks on our site. We were mindful of the importance of our role as a public broadcaster – to deliver accurate and verified information, but not to speculate or sensationalize. We also published a number of other stories – giving everything from basic information to analysis from experts.
RNZ was one of the first media organisations on the scene – as shown in our online (and on air) presence. We spoke to witnesses and survivors and emergency services. Within an hour we had despatched reporters from other parts of the country to Christchurch. We were aware of a manifesto and a livestream, but made an editorial decision not to publish either of these. – and told the audience so.
Information came in increments – early reports suggested multiple people were involved, the toll continued to rise. We livestreamed those with credible information – the Prime Minister and the Police Commissioner – to both our site and to social media (we continue to grapple with the implications of livestreaming following the attacks). We kept stories updated with new information as it was confirmed. We continued to think about, but tried not to be daunted by, the magnitude of what was happening around us.
We were frequently live on our platforms – but also provided analysis. We started asking questions about – and explaining – gun laws immediately, and within 24 hours had published our first pieces of commentary, including one from Saziah Bashir, who wrote this:
At the risk of the myriad visceral, complex thoughts and feelings I have about this being dismissed or overshadowed by what I’m about to say, and at the risk of being labeled arrogant and insensitive by pointing it out – well, I told you so.
I did. I myself have warned what might happen if we continue to allow migrant communities and Muslim communities in particular to be denigrated, marginalised, othered and diminished….I had read the writing on the wall.