Crush of media at mass killer's trial in Norway

April 16, 2012 - 1:25 PM
Norway Massacre Trial

Utoya shooting survivor Tore Sinding Bekkedal, right, speaks to the media in front of the courtroom where Anders Behring Breivik is appearing on terror and murder charges, Oslo, Norway, Monday, April 16, 2012. Breivik, who admitted to killing 77 people in Norway, has pleaded not guilty in court to terror and murder charges saying he was acting in self-defense. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Before his gruesome slaughter, Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik described in a manifesto how he would use the trial against him to gain worldwide attention and spread extreme right-wing ideas.

When the Oslo courtroom doors opened Monday, his wish was at least partly fulfilled.

Some 800 journalists followed his trial for the slayings of 77 people, with broadcasters across Europe showing large chunks of the proceedings live. The extensive coverage triggered a debate over whether the media should provide a platform for a man who admits to killing 77 people to promote his intense anti-Islam ideology.

"He is obviously pleased that he will be able to explain himself and that there is an interest in the case, there is no doubt about that," Breivik's defense lawyer Geir Lippestad said after the first day in court.

The situation upset survivors of the July 22 attacks, in which Breivik killed eight people by setting off a bomb in central Oslo and then shot 69 others to death on the island of Utoya.

"He stated he did this to gain attention and I don't believe that he should gain attention to it," said Tore Sinding Bekkedal, who survived the shooting rampage. "I don't want to give him that reward."

The Oslo District Court gave permission for pool broadcaster NRK of Norway to relay most of the opening of the trial live, but will not allow it to show the upcoming testimony by Breivik or by the victims.

NRK was also not allowed to broadcast surveillance video from the car bombing or an audio recording of a desperate SOS call from a teenager who was hiding from Breivik on Utoya, where gunfire could be heard in the background.

Still, there was no ban on text reports and the few journalists allowed inside the main courtroom quickly relayed details to media outlets, including social media, around the world.

"The trial has already given the perpetrator all he dreamed of," Norwegian reporter Aasne Seierstad wrote before trial. "Everything seems to be ticking nicely along according to his plan: a stage, a pulpit, a spellbound, notebook-clutching, pencil-wielding audience."

"The dilemma is obvious," she wrote in an op-ed article published by Newsweek and the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. "Do we increase his importance in this way, subsidizing him, even, to the tune of $2 million a week? Are we puppets on a string, or are we doing what's right and necessary?"

NRK general director Hans-Tore Bjerkaas said the TV channel has worked hard to balance the need for openness and impartiality with consideration for the survivors and relatives of the victims.

As a result, it decided to remove the sound from the most detailed court descriptions of Breivik's killings and didn't show his propaganda video, which was shown in the courtroom on Monday.

But, Bjerkaas said, NRK will report Breivik's testimony in print on its website.

"A core issue during the trial will be that of Breivik's accountability. It would therefore be wrong of NRK to limit the coverage of how he appears and explains himself," Bjerkaas wrote in a statement on the broadcaster's website.

A similar argument was put forward by Lippestad, who said his client's testimony is maybe the most important evidence the court needs to decide whether he is sane or not.

Lippestad said he understands that survivors and victims' relatives are concerned that Breivik will use the trial as a pulpit.

"On other hand — and this is important — he has a right to explain himself, a fundamental right under Norwegian law and a human right," he said.

Lippestad said Breivik has prepared a document to read in court Tuesday that will take about 30 minutes.

The 33-year-old killer has admitted to the shootings and the bombing but rejects criminal guilt for the actions because he says he was defending Norway from immigration. He wrote in his manifesto that "patriotic resistance fighters" should use trials "as a platform to further our cause."

"The goal for the European resistance fighter is not to win the trial but to present all available evidence ... in order to help generate a maximum amount of sympathizers and supporters," he wrote before the rampage.