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The Christchurch shooting brought the best out of our TV broadcasters

Television, not a particularly grown-up medium at the best of times, is still the place to go at the worst of times. The extraordinary thing about the coverage of the Christchurch terrorist attack has been the grace and generosity of those most affected by it. Abdul Aziz, at Linwood Mosque with his four children, saved lives by confronting the gunman. He told Newshub’s Mike McRoberts, “Look, my friend, good and bad is everywhere … New Zealand is one of the best countries … Not racism or anything …” McRoberts looked stricken on our behalf.

As our networks scrambled, it didn’t seem right to find much fault. I didn’t have to read the alleged killer’s vile manifesto or watch the unspeakable footage. At a time when it was hard to speak about what we were seeing, reporters held it together on camera, the effort visible on every face. The urge to get in the way of the story was largely resisted. Muslim voices were centred. You realised how shamefully rare that is.

Many young reporters in Christchurch were impressive. TVNZ’s Sam Clarke produced some clear, powerful storytelling. Newshub’s Thomas Mead has been a standout. There was the piece in which Farid Ahmed, who uses a wheelchair, told his story. Ahmed’s wife, Husna, led women and children to safety at Al Noor Mosque. She was killed when she returned to help her husband. He described the scene inside the mosque – “It was a pin-drop silence. Suddenly, the shooting started …” – with great composure. He also said, of the gunman, “I love him, to be honest … I don’t hate him at all.” His wife, he told Mead, would have wanted him to show forgiveness. “That is absolutely terrifying. I’m so sorry for everything you’ve gone through this afternoon,” said Mead. “Thank you so much for your sympathy,” said Ahmed. It was something rare in the ritualised arena of television news: an unforgettable human exchange.

Sky News Australia was slammed for airing parts of the shooter’s footage. Watching CBS, I saw a small amount there, too. There was what seemed like an unprecedented amount of overseas coverage – CNN’s extensive live coverage stands out. Fox News? Tucker Carlson turned the deaths of 50 people into gun-rights propaganda in, even for Fox, record time.

Here, there’s a sense that everything has shifted a little, even The AM Show’s normally fossilised Mark Richardson. He’s had a change of heart over calls for a name change for the Crusaders rugby team. “When I first read that, I thought, ‘for goodness sake’. But then I thought nothing is an overreaction when it comes to trying to make amends and be understanding.”

Newshub did a piece on white supremacy, a sign that it’s finally being taken more seriously. Even in Australia, sort of. “This terrorist manifesto almost reads like One Nation immigration and Muslim policy. Do you feel complicit in any way with this atrocity?” That was the question put to populist politician Pauline Hanson by host David Koch on Channel Seven’s Sunrise programme. Koch’s fury may have had something to do with discomfort. Hanson’s long been a regular on the show. She looked pretty uncomfortable herself.

In other Australian news, the teenager now known as “Egg Boy” took matters – and an egg – into his own hands after Senator Fraser Anning’s almost universally sickening anti-Muslim victim-blaming following the March 15 attack.

There’s been the promise of immediate action to go along with the thoughts and prayers. “I can tell you one thing right now,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. “Our gun laws will change.” When US President Donald Trump asked what was needed, she let him know. “My message was: ‘Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities’,” she said. The challenge will be to honour the faith many Muslim New Zealanders still have in Aotearoa and make change happen. Not just New Zealand but the world will be watching.

Video: Newshub

This article was first published in the March 30, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.