Popular New Zealand website seeks comments detox after Christchurch attack

Updated 26 March 2019
0

Popular New Zealand website seeks comments detox after Christchurch attack

  • “The individual is segregated from other prisoners and able to be observed 24 hours a day, either directly by staff and/or via CCTV camera,” it said in a statement

WELLINGTON: New Zealand’s largest news website, Stuff, cracked down on reader comments Tuesday after the Christchurch mosque massacre sparked debate about how the media handles online hate.
The stuff.co.nz site said it aimed to host a welcoming online environment but conceded “too often, our comments section has allowed casual prejudice to seep in from the fringes.”
“Of the comments that are posted, most are fair expression — but it only takes a little toxin to poison an entire stream,” Stuff editor-in-chief Patrick Crewdson wrote on the website.
Christchurch shooting accused Brenton Tarrant is believed to have posted a rambling “manifesto” online before a gun rampage at two mosques that claimed 50 lives in the South Island city on March 15.
Tarrant, an Australian white supremacist, apparently made references in the document designed to maximize mainstream media coverage of his actions.
He also livestreamed the attack and the footage was aired by some media outlets — although New Zealand authorities have since banned both the video and the document.
The atrocity, the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history, has prompted soul-searching among journalists and media outlets about how to stop extremists using them as a vehicle to spread extreme views.
“The accused’s abhorrent ideology was rehearsed in the darkest corners of the web, not on mainstream news sites, but it’s still timely for us to check the health of Stuff’s comments section,” Crewdson wrote.
He said the site’s moderators would clamp down on personal attacks and prejudice, while the ability to upvote or downvote comments would be removed.

In addition, comments will be permanently disabled on a range of contentious topics, including the Christchurch shootings, Israel/Palestine, vaccinations and transgender issues.
“We’ll be accused of censorship and curtailing free speech, others will say we should shutter the comments section entirely,” Crewdson said.
Stuff, formerly Fairfax New Zealand, is one of New Zealand’s largest media companies, with newspaper mastheads including the Christchurch Press and Wellington’s Dominion Post.
Its flagship news website stuff.co.nz is New Zealand’s most popular with around 1.8 million unique viewers a month, just ahead of the other major player, nzherald.co.nz.
Meanwhile, authorities have confirmed Tarrant’s next court appearance will be in Christchurch, even though he is believed to have been moved to a prison elsewhere in the country.
The Justice Department confirmed his next scheduled appearance is in Christchurch High Court on Friday, April 5, although it is unclear if he will be physically present in the dock or appear via video.
Tarrant has reportedly been transferred to New Zealand’s only maximum-security facility at the recently upgraded Auckland Prison at Paremoremo.
The Corrections Department refused to confirm Tarrant’s location but did provide some details about the conditions he faces.
“The individual is segregated from other prisoners and able to be observed 24 hours a day, either directly by staff and/or via CCTV camera,” it said in a statement.
“He is being managed in accordance with the provisions set out in the Corrections Act 2004 and our international obligations for the treatment of prisoners. At this time he has no access to television, radio or newspapers and no approved visitors.”
New Zealand media have reported that if convicted, the accused will likely be isolated to prevent him being targeted by the largely Polynesian prison population over his white supremacist views.


Quest for food stamp data lands newspaper at Supreme Court

After initially opposing the information’s release, the federal government reversed course after the Argus Leader took it to court and won. (AFP)
Updated 20 min 52 sec ago
0

Quest for food stamp data lands newspaper at Supreme Court

  • Luther, who now works for InvestigateTV, said it’s “transparency 101” that “taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going”
  • The Trump administration is backing the grocery stores in arguing against the information’s release

WASHINGTON: In the summer of 2010, reporters at South Dakota’s Argus Leader newspaper decided to request data about the government’s food assistance program, previously known as food stamps. They thought the information could lead to a series of stories and potentially help them identify fraud in the now $65 billion-a-year program.
They sent a stream of what they thought were routine requests for information to Washington.
Government officials eventually sent back some information about the hundreds of thousands of stores nationwide where the food program’s participants could use their benefits. But the government withheld information reporters saw as crucial: how much each store received annually from the program.
Trying to get that data has taken the paper more than eight years and landed it at the Supreme Court, which will hear the case Monday.
Argus Leader news director Cory Myers, who directs a staff of 18 at the Sioux Falls paper, says getting the information is about “knowing how our government is operating” and “knowing what government is doing with our tax money.”
A supermarket trade association opposing the information’s release argues that the information being sought is confidential. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case could be narrow or could significantly affect the interpretation of a law that grants the public access to government records.
The Argus Leader is owned by USA Today publisher Gannett and is the largest newspaper in South Dakota. It wrote about the government’s initial release of information. But Jonathan Ellis, one of the reporters behind the requests, said there’s more to learn if the paper gets what it’s seeking.
Ellis said he would like to write about the companies who profit the most from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program , called SNAP. He would like to analyze how successful efforts to involve farmers’ markets in the program have been. And he is still hoping to use the data to identify stores that seem like outliers, an indication of potential fraud.
Megan Luther, the other reporter behind the requests, said the paper has been fighting for the information for reasons beyond “there’s a good story there.” Luther, who now works for InvestigateTV, said it’s “transparency 101” that “taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going.”
The paper has gotten close to getting the data before.
After initially opposing the information’s release, the federal government reversed course after the Argus Leader took it to court and won. But the Virginia-based Food Marketing Institute , a trade association representing grocery stores and supermarket chains, stepped in to continue the fight. The group lost an appeal, and the paper hoped it would soon get the data. Then the Supreme Court took the case.
The Food Marketing Institute, which declined interviews before Monday’s arguments, has said in court papers that the public already has access to a lot of data about SNAP. But SNAP sales data by store is confidential “much the same way how much business grocers do in cash, credit, debit, checks or even gift cards is confidential,” wrote Food Marketing Institute president and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin in a blog post last month.
To decide whether the information should be released, the Supreme Court will have to interpret the federal Freedom of Information Act .
It gives citizens, including reporters, access to federal agencies’ records with certain exceptions. In the Argus Leader’s case, the US Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, argued that disclosing the data the paper sought was barred by FOIA’s “exemption 4.” It tells the government to withhold “confidential” “commercial or financial information” obtained from third parties.
It will be up to the court to determine whether what the paper is seeking counts as “confidential.”
The Trump administration is backing the grocery stores in arguing against the information’s release. The Associated Press is among dozens of media organizations that have signed a legal brief supporting the Argus Leader.
Myers, the Argus Leader’s news director, said that in the years it has taken for the paper’s case to reach the Supreme Court, the paper has continued to do the kind of investigative reporting it was attempting to do in seeking the SNAP data.
In South Dakota, he said, “there are more stories and more malfeasance than one newsroom can root out, but we certainly try.”
The case is 18-481 Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media.