Critics of police critics speak up

Bookmark and Share

Criticism is rising over critical reports in local and foreign media about the emergency response to last month’s terrorist attacks in Norway. Now some formal complaints are being filed, and Norwegian newspapers are peppered with letters to the editor from unhappy readers.

Survivors of last month’s terrorist attacks, rescue workers, families of victims and the police themselves have already defended the police response to the bombing of Norway’s government headquarters and a massacre that followed shortly thereafter on Friday afternoon July 22. Now they’re actively complaining about what they feel is undeserved criticism and too much speculation in the media.

‘Vicious and reprehensible’
Three survivors of the massacre on the island of Utøya have filed a formal complaint with the national agency that evaluates press coverage in Norway, PFU (Pressens faglige utvalg). They claim that newspaper VG broke several journalistic principles when it printed photos of confessed mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik during a police-orchestrated reconstruction of his crimes on the island.

One of the plaintiffs, Magnus Håkonsen, told the website journalisten.no that he and many others were reacting badly to what they believe is the media’s attempt to paint a bleak picture of the police response to the Utøya massacre. Not only does the critical coverage disturb their own mourning process, he said, but “such speculation (over what they might have done better) doesn’t lead to any good” at this point. Rather, Håkonsen called it “vicious” and “reprehensible.”

“No one can know how many people might have been saved,” Håkonsen told journalisten.no. “It doesn’t lead to anything constructive right now.” He and many other survivors prefer to wait for the results of a specially appointed commission’s investigation into the terror response, likely to take a year to complete.

‘Lack of empathy’
Håkonsen stressed that the police also have a need to learn from their response, but speculation doesn’t contribute. He agreed that the media must pose critical questions, “but it’s not the media’s job to speculate over how many might have been saved if the police had arrived on the island 10 minutes earlier.”

Others have blamed a spate of speculative stories on newspapers’ goal to boost sales, something editors have denied. And some members of the police force are speaking up, too.

Stein Olav Bredli, a police officer from Lier outside Oslo, wrote in newspaper Aftenposten Tuesday that “it’s always easy to find mistakes in hindsight.” The attacks of July 22, he noted, severely tested police capacity and response, and he wrote that he was “disappointed over the media’s lack of empathy for my colleagues who did all they could to tackle an inhumane assignment with an inhumane assailant.” He called some of the media’s justification for its coverage “ice cold and cynical,” claiming that they can’t find answers by presenting speculation.

Håkonsen said he has received lots of support for his “criticism of the criticism” from other survivors of the massacre but wasn’t aware of other formal complaints being filed. “Maybe they’re just not up to it, after what they’ve been through,” he said.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
Join our Readers’ Forum or comment below.

To support our news service, please click the “Donate” button now.