Why Norway's press held back on Breivik reports

Norwegian journalists reporting on the trial of mass-murderer Anders Breivik have admitted to holding back on details to spare the feelings of the nation.

Around 150 reporters from around the world appeared for the end of the 10-week trial last Friday, to see Breivik sentenced to a minimum of 21 years in jail.

While the majority only turned up for the beginning and end of the trial, local journalists covered proceedings throughout.

Among those was Michael Sandelson, the editor of English-language website The Foreigner, which featured a live blog, as well as a summary of events at the end of each day.

Despite the website’s constant presence, Sandelson admits to holding back on a number of details to emerge during proceedings.

‘When it came to describing the entry wounds and injuries sustained we just didn’t cover that,’he said. ‘I think it was probably enough for the aggrieved to actually know about that from the autopsy reports.”

He said this contrasted with reports made by international media present at the trial.

‘The BBC, CNN and other big organisations tended to report things slightly differently – more graphically than the Norwegian press decided to,’he said.

‘If you’re foreign media and want to go to a trial, although you are bound by the same ethical considerations, the victims do not live in your country.

‘The foreign media were criticised for their reporting by the Norwegian press. Personally speaking, I don’t find that either relevant or necessary because they are foreign media – why should they cover it in the same way?”

Peter Markovski, editor of foreign affairs at Norway’s Aftenposten, admits there was a little animosity between the local and international press towards the beginning of the trial.

He said: ‘The Norwegian press published very few details when it came to the crimes committed – name, sex and how many bullets were fired, usually, or what was the reason of death. It wasn’t detailed.

‘The reason we didn’t do it was because we knew a lot of people felt uncomfortable about it. A lot of the victims’ families asked us not to published these details.

‘We were expecting the international media to report in more detail and there were some reactions. But then we thought, we probably would have done the same thing covering a trial in Denmark, Germany of the UK.”

Neil Syson, who covered the trial for The Sun, did not notice a large difference between his reports and those of the local media, but understands why they might have chosen to hold back.

‘Some of the detail was quite traumatic for the people in court,’he said. ‘I think it’s probably natural for some of the home media to shy away from the truly horrific details.

‘I put a bit of self-censorship in there and slightly held back when it went over the edge of what you can really go in to.”

Syson was, on the whole, full of praise for the way the Norweigian media dealt with a sensitive trial.

‘The local media were very good and reported in great depth,’he said.

‘They did a lot of live reporting and the resources they generally put into the Breivik story were immense – overall, I think they did a very good job.’

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