Mass-murder trial begins in Norway – will the global press get it wrong?

Norway stricken, but not "innocent"

Jack Rodolico By Jack Rodolico

Anders Behring Breivik is a sick, strange man. Breivick, who killed 77 Norwegians last summer, went on trial today in Oslo, clean cut and smiling as he shook hands with prosecutors. While conceding he was responsible for the crimes, he did not plead guilty, claiming he was acting in self-defense.

On July 22, 2011, Breivik carried out a two-prong attack against what he sees as a war against multiculturalism and a Muslim invasion of Europe. First, he lit a homemade car bomb outside of government buildings in Oslo, taking eight lives. Then, dressed as a police officer, he went to Utoya Island, where he shot 69 people – many of them teenagers – before being apprehended. The island was home to a summer camp hosted by the youth wing of the ruling Labour Party. To see the memorial service held last summer filmed by Deutsche Well, click here.

Russia Today, a Russian English-language news network, filmed the courtroom video below. There are no news anchors describing the scene, just a straight translation of the dialogue as it unfolds.

Breivik is brought to tears while watching his own propaganda video, yet showed no emotion while the victims’ names were read aloud.

It’s not only Norwegians who are watching the trial in disgust. As the Norway Post reports, about 1,500 staff from 200 foreign media outlets flooded Oslo today to cover the ten-week trial. The image of Breivik’s far-right salute can be found on the websites of major news outlets in Australia, Qatar, the U.K. and the U.S. But, as one Norwegian journalist plainly states, most of them have the story wrong.

Lost innocence, or lost journalists?

Sven Egil Omdal is tired of hearing about Norway’s “lost innocence,” as the global press has reported the tragic story:

“When journalists go to work in a country where they do not understand the language or the culture, they typically make use of the invaluable services of fixer interpreters, whose impact on global public opinion is invariably underestimated. They are the ones who, while remaining largely invisible, offer clear guidance as to how conflicts should be interpreted, as well as which sources should be chosen and which words used.”

A Norwegian flag is placed on a memorial site on the shore of Tyrifjorden Lake in front of Utoya Island, where Anders Behring Breivik shot 69 people last summer. April 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov)

Omdal suggests the global press made a naïve mistake in trusting a handful of Norwegians to interpret the entire culture for the rest of the world. Norway, he says, is not a “virgin paradise” simply because of its relative affluence, prosperity and peacefulness. He takes the press to task for portraying pre-attack Norway as a home for perpetual political bipartisanship, and he says Norway’s politicians project a façade of nonviolent innocence without acknowledging that Norway is “one of the founders of NATO and a stalwart ally of the United States.” He also does not believe the murderer represents some latent group of right-wing sociopaths. As the Guardian pointed out last summer, Breivik “is plainly very sick.”

Omdal hopes that as the global camera focuses on Norway in the coming weeks, journalists take a wide-angle view of the scene. As the families of 77 innocent victims follow Breivik’s trial closely, the rest of the world will watch over their shoulders.

Further reading:

Norway police ‘sorry’ for massacre (Norway News)

Terror trial gets underway in Oslo (Views and News from Norway)

Special Report: Life after Breivik (Reuters)

The ordeal of defending Norway’s mass killer (Reuters)