Media camp rises outside courthouse

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Norwegian and foreign media organizations have been setting up camp outside the Oslo City Courthouse, as they prepare to cover the trial of the local terrorist who attacked Norway’s government and Labour Party last year. Many Norwegians are already tired of all the media coverage, even before the trial begins, while debate continues over media ethics and self-censorship.

Media outlets, not least Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), have already set up camp outside the Oslo city courthouse, where the trial of confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik will begin on Monday. PHOTO: Views and News

Fully 68 percent of Norwegians questioned in a public opinion poll said they thought there’s been far too much media coverage of the terrorist attacks and the case against confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. Only 28 percent felt coverage had been “about right,” according to the media poll conducted by research firm Respons Analyse.

“The result that folks in Norway are tired of the media coverage reflects to a large degree that they’re tired of the entire case,” Frank Aarebrot, a professor at the University of Bergen, told newspaper Aftenposten. Aarebrot, who’s expected to be called as an expert witness at the trial itself, noted, though, that the media can’t pay too much attention to the poll results. The trial must be covered, he said, and the journalists have to do their job even though many of them (46 percent) also feel there’s been too much coverage.

The website for Oslo-based newspaper Dagbladet is responding to the media criticism and reader exhaustion by installing a so-called “ABB filter,” named after the initials of the defendant. Clicking on it will allow readers to remove all stories related to the terrorist attacks on July 22, and follow only other news.

The trial itself is an extraordinary legal event in Norwegian history, involving at least 1,500 lawyers and victims of Breivik’s bombing of government headquarters and massacre at a Labour Party summer camp. It has attracted widespread international media interest as well, with several hundred journalists from in and out of Norway accredited to cover it.

Court officials, who received an extra NOK 106 million (USD 19 million) from the state on Friday to help defer the equally extraordinary costs of the trial, already have rebuilt a courtroom inside Oslo Tingrett (the city courthouse) to accommodate more of the players involved. Far from all interested parties will fit inside even the expanded courtroom, though, meaning that many journalists and spectators must follow the proceedings from remote locations inside local hotels, the local VG media building and other courtrooms around the country that will have live video links to the legal action in Oslo.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) and Norway’s national commercial channel TV2 have won photo rights throughout the first week of the trial, when Breivik will be testifying. Newspapers VG, Dagbladet, Aftenposten and the international broadcast network CNN will be allowed photographers inside the courtroom from Monday through Wednesday. News bureaus AP, Reuters and AFP can have photographers on Monday and Tuesday only.

Photographers from several other Norwegian media outlets will be allowed in on Monday and Tuesday, but will then have to give way to other papers and the BBC on Wednesday. The media juggling will continue throughout the 10-week trial.

No live TV coverage
Court officials have forbidden live TV coverage and any recording of Breivik’s testimony, and Norway’s supreme court rejected an appeal on Friday from both media outlets and Breivik himself. The ban on TV coverage has been both condemned and applauded by various involved parties in and out of Norway. AUF, the Labour Party youth organization that was Breivik’s main target on July 22, has seemingly sought to control media coverage and actively lobbied against TV coverage on the grounds Breivik shouldn’t be allowed to spread his message. Others, even some AUF members and survivors of Breivik’s bullets, have argued for full coverage in the spirit of openness.

Per Edgar Kokkvold, head of the Norwegian Press Association, said journalists must cover what Breivik says and most media outlets will do so. Norwegian media officials believe they face different so-called “sensitivities” than the foreign press, out of consideration for the victims’ families and the brutal details of Breivik’s bombing and massacre. It’s expected that Norwegian reporters will thus be more restrained in their coverage, compared to their foreign counterparts who are unlikely to have any personal regard for the victims.

Self-censorship
Despite the massive coverage of last summer’s terrorist attacks, there’s already been a lot of self-censorship in the Norwegian press since they occurred. Hardly any media outlets showed photos of dead bodies, for example, and those that did were harshly criticized. One photographer recently won a major international prize for his photos of the massacre atrocities, but they still haven’t been published in Norwegian media. Many local media outlets have already said they won’t report all details of the slaughter that are due to emerge at the trial, out of consideration for victims and their families.

The self-censorship has led to a new debate in Norway over the double standards of both the Norwegian press and the readers they serve. Most readily admit they’ll publish photos of victims of terrorism or wars in other countries, but not of Norwegians in their own country. A lot of journalistic documentation of the events of July 22 has thus been withheld from public view.

“Is there a difference between those of us in Norway and people in Syria, for example?,” queried Mina Hille and Manuela Erentsen Innuzzi in a recent letter to the editor of Aftenposten. “Where are the ethics when the Norwegian press publishes photos and video of dead and wounded people in other countries?”

There was no answer, but Aftenposten did publish their letter.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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