New Zealand Law Society - Article linking Thor-worshippers with mosque shootings ruled unfair

Article linking Thor-worshippers with mosque shootings ruled unfair

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The Media Council has ruled that Stuff’s linking of a Thor-worshipping group with the Christchurch Mosque shootings was unfair, particularly to the complainant Cameron Mottus.

On March 30, 2019 Stuff published an article headed variously “How a strange Thor-worshipping religion is linked to the Christchurch mosque shootings”; “Thor-worship’s link to killings”; and “The ‘religion’ of supremacy”. The main theme of the article was that there are similarities between the philosophies of Ásatrú Folk Assembly (AFA), an offshoot of which has been established in New Zealand by Mr Mottus, and those expressed by the man accused of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

The Media Council said Stuff had accurately identified some philosophies and symbols that the local group shared with the AFA internationally, but 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, the Media Council said, a reader could have taken 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 Stuff could fairly make the claim. 

In all, six complaints were received citing several Media Council principles – accuracy, privacy, children and young people, comment and fact, headlines and captions; discrimination and diversity.  All other elements of the complaints were not upheld.

The full Media Council decision can be viewed here.