Confessed right-wing terrorist and mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik is generally considered persona non grata in Norway but remains a major newsmaker who’s already become a huge burden on Norwegian taxpayers. Debate is flying over how much coverage the media should now give Breivik as his case heads for trial, not least since many survivors of his bombing and massacre don’t want to see his face or hear his name.
For weeks, newspapers featuring Breivik’s photo on their front-pages have experienced their editions being turned around in newsstands around the country. Some retail outlets have even removed papers with Breivik’s picture from newsstands, following customer complaints.
Formal complaints have already been filed over the media’s critical coverage of the emergency response to the terror attacks. Now several survivors of Breivik’s attacks and families of his victims are sending protests to editors-in-chiefs of newspapers around the country, urging them to tone down coverage and refrain from publishing Breivik’s photo.
“Many of our clients who were directly affected by the attacks on the government complex and Utøya are reacting negatively to the attention Breivik is getting,” attorney Endre S Refsdal of Norwegian law firm Stabell & Co told Aftenposten. “Many think that the newspapers are serving Breivik’s purpose by giving him publicity.”
He has sent a letter to newspapers VG, Dagbladet, Dagsavisen and Aftenposten, along with television channels TV2 and NRK, pointing to their use of Breivik’s photo. He wrote that his clients find it painful, and have especially complained about the coverage in VG and Dagbladet. Both papers were pointedly asked to stay away from Utøya, when survivors and victims’ families returned to the island for a memorial.
The British newspaper The Mirror, meanwhile, has been criticized in Norway for not only ignoring requests for the media to stay away from the island but also bragging that it was the first media outlet to visit. As commentator Anders Heger wrote in Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen, the British paper “was the first to ignore (Labour Party youth organization) AUF’s plea to respect grief and stay off Utøya, and was the most shamelessly proud of doing so.” Heger called The Mirror’s coverage “nauseatingly self-satisfied.” The Mirror has claimed it was unaware of the request to refrain from reporting from Utøya.
To interview or not to interview
Debate is also brisk within media circles over whether Breivik should be interviewed when he’s released from the full isolation he’s been subjected to since his arrest. Breivik’s defense attorney Geir Lippestad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) over the weekend that several foreign media organizations have requested interviews with Breivik, and some Norwegian media outlets have as well.
NRK’s editors have already said they will not interview Breivik, because they don’t want to give him the microphone he seeks to spread his messages of hate and intolerance. They and some of their competitors and colleagues don’t want to let Breivik exploit or use the media.
Lars Helle, editor in chief of Dagbladet, said he thinks, however, that it’s important to question Breivik about where his hatred comes from and how and why he came to carry out such deadly attacks. Helle pointed out that “everyone uses the media” to further their own agendas, downplaying that as a reason to refrain from an interview.
Per Edgar Kokkvold, secretary general of the Norwegian press association Norsk Presseforbund advised media against interviewing Breivik before his trial begins sometime next year. He noted that Breivik, in his so-called manifesto that he sent out just before he launched his deadly attacks, referred to the attacks as a form of “marketing” for his cause. And the distribution of the manifesto itself has meant that the public knows a lot more about Breivik than many other murderers.
“You’d have to be an idiot or be morally blind not to see that it would be extremely difficult for survivors and victims’ families if Breivik is interviewed before the trial,” Kokkvold told the national journalists’ union’s website journalisten.no on Monday. “Consideration for them should go before any need for information in this case. We have no duty to report what he believes.”
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