I have been buzzing about a bit today, a meeting here, a meeting there, a few gaps in between, but through the day picking up bits and pieces about the trial of mass murderer Anders Breivik.
When I was in Oslo a few months ago, I blogged about the extraordinarily mature way that not just Norwegian politicians but members of the media and the public were handling the fall-out from this dreadful event.
As his trial opened today, that sense was strongly confirmed. It certainly sounded odd to a British ear to hear that at the start of procedings Brievik shook hands with the judge, the prosecutor and others involved. But then on came a solid Norwegian voice explaining that that is part of the court procedure in Norway, and it was important the normal ways of doing things were followed.
I heard an interviewer trying and failing to get a friend of a victim to slam the police and the politicians for the handling of the initial response, and instead heard a defence of the difficult decisions they had to make as a result of Breivik’s actions.
Then I heard that the leader of Norway’s Labour Party’s youth movement, who had been one of Breivik’s main targets, was spotted queueing with everyone else to get into the courtroom, not a security man in sight. Again, it was emphasised that it was the overwhelming desire of the Norwegian people, including those directly affected, not to let this massacre and the trial lead to a change in their way of life.
Of course the magnitude of the case, and the global interest, means there have been some changes, including the streaming of the case to courtrooms in other parts of the country, and the part televising of procedings. This means Breivik will get some opportunity to set out his so-called philosophy, though the judge can rule which parts are televised. But again, I heard a very persuasive interview with the prosecutor saying that it was important the court and the public had a sense of Breivik’s thinking, because it was ultimately what led him to commit the acts he did.
Meanwhile coincidentally a student sent me an email reminding me of how The Sun had covered the Utoya massacre in the first place … “NORWAY’S 9/11″ was the headline, with “‘AL-QAEDA’ MASSACRE” as the strap line in case the reader hadn’t got the message. When word got out that the gunman arrested was a blond, blue-eyed Norwegian man, the Sun was reluctant to drop the Muslim terrorist angle. The suspect arrested raised “fears that he was a homegrown Al-Qaeda convert.”
In some of the interviews and clips I have heard today, I have sensed something of a tension between radio hosts in the UK pushing the buttons designed to get interviewees to convey emotion, anger and fury and the usual stuff of the phone-in, and Norwegian guests being rather wonderfully matter of fact and calm about the whole thing.