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July 2012

Norway's first constitution day celebrations after 22/7

I must admit celebrating 17 May has at times felt as too much hassle due to all the preparations involved. But against the backdrop of the devastating twin terror attacks on 22 July last year, and the current, painful trial against mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, I found this week's 17 May parade incredibly moving.

Even to the point that I berated myself for letting myself become blind to the beauty of it in previous years, for allowing myself to take such a unique and joyful celebration of independence and democracy for granted.

Apparently I'm not alone in this, according to a survey conducted by Norstat for NRK ahead of the day, three of ten said 17 May would mean more to them this year. Here a snap from the 17 May parade in Drammen:


Norwegian farmers take action against regional for "insufficient" coverage

Dismayed with the local coverage of their recent bread blockade, Norwegian farmers tried to block regional Sunnmörsposten from distributing today's newspaper.

Around 3am this morning farmers tried to block the entrances to Sunnmörsposten's printing plant with their tractors.

"We are blocking the newspaper distribution to get a mouthpiece towards consumers in regard to how the farming industry is in need of much better conditions if we are to be able to continue producing food in Norway," Odd Einar Fjörtoft, a spokesman for the local group of farmers told NRK. Fjörtoft said they were very disappointed the newspaper did not cover their big demonstration on Tuesday (a claim Sunnmörsposten's editor-in-chief contests). 

The Local describes Tuesday's national farmer's strike thus:

Norwegian farmers went on strike on Tuesday morning, as they sought to keep bread off supermarket shelves by blocking entrances to mills across the country in protest against the collapse of agricultural policy negotiations at the weekend.

However, The National Farmer's Association said they had neither been informed of, nor supported, the local newspaper blockade against Sunnmörsposten.

Understandably, the latter blockade has been met with much derision and ridicule - and has been yet another reminder that not all PR is good PR.

Regional goes digital first behind paywall

As of next week you have to subscribe to the print version of Schibsted Norway's regional Faedrelandsvennen if you want to read the full online version. 

The good news is that print subscribers get full access to all content regardless of the platform, and all content will be available for them online first.

The bad news is that you need to subscribe to the print paper to be able to access anything but a limited selection of news online. Oh, and ads will feature both on paid for and free online news, though the newspaper promises more "local and relevant ads" behind the paywall.

The backdrop is dwindling print subscriptions and an increase in non-paying online readership - as for so many other newspapers. So can forcing those who want full online access to subscribe to the print paper put the genie back into the bottle?

Personally I very much doubt it, though it has to be said I'm not your average media consumer. I consume a lot of media daily, but most of it online or on a mobile device such as iPad or smartphone.

I love nothing better than to huddle up with with all the print papers on a lazy weekend or on a long train journey, but I've normally got little time for print on weekdays - it will just end up cluttering my home, and I'd rather read the iPad version when time is an issue (this is also related to me mostly working from home - so no commute most days, and I kind of prefer mobile news for short commutes anyway).

As a result, bundling print with the online and iPad versions is the opposite of a sales argument for me.

This is why I won't subscribe to the iPad version of Schibsted-owned Aftenposten which bundles it with the print newspaper. I grew to like Aftenposten on iPad while testing it, but getting the print paper every day is just too much paper - and the bundled package too expensive.

Perhaps it's a good deal for a family fighting between each other to read the newspaper every morning, but for me it's a no go. So me, I'm sticking to my daily routine of skimming through VG's iPad version and Flipboard (with Google reader, Media Guardian,, all my favourite tweeps and other favourites) first thing every morning.

I might get a few more news and media apps too, even paid ones, but no more print papers on weekdays.

It will be very interesting to see how Faedrelandsvennen's experiment plays out though. More on the experiment here (in Norwegian)

For the record, VG has been my main client for the last year and a half+, but I'd like to think this is irrelevant to this topic as the argument here is to do with pricing and bundling various platforms only

Controversy over covering Anders Behring Breivk trial divides Norway

The Breivik-trial has taken live-coverage to a new level, but Norwegians are divided on whether it is a scandal or a blessing the testimony and examination of the mass mass murderer cannot be broadcasted.

In the internet age, don’t we have a right to go to directly to the source, to see for ourselves, to make up our own minds ?

Especially when the evidence in question is that of the man responsible for the worst peace time massacre in modern Norwegian history? If society is deprived of this opportunity, are we not running the risk of interpretations and claims of biased reporting taking the place of facts?

Or is it the other way around: are we running a greater risk of creating copy cats if this bit of the trial is broadcasted, and are we not just providing him with a stage to spread his gospel of hate?

These and similar questions are at the centre of a big controversy surrounding the coverage of the trial against Anders Behring Breivik, the man responsible for slaying 77 people in the twin terror attacks on Norwegian government headquarters in Oslo and a Labour Party youth camp on Utöya 22 July 2011.

Even now, as the trial is about to enter its fourth week, the heated debate has not abated.

In its first week, had a good round-up of many of the ethical issues for journalists covering the trial, in which I’m interviewed. The story outlines some of the biggest legal issues involved. But this story poses so many interesting and troubling questions that I thought it interesting to delve more into some of the arguments.

One of those who is frustrated by not being able to see the examination of Breivik for himself, with his own eyes, is Norwegian author Ingvar Ambjörnsen.

In his VG column after the first week of the trial he describes how he travelled to Norway from his home in Berlin especially to see the court room examination. But, he writes (my unofficial translation):

"I’m not allowed to hear him. I’m not allowed to see him explain his actions. What I’m served is reports and impressions from the inner circle of Breivik-initiateds, from guests especially invited to see this grotesque drama. People who tell us how terrible he is, and how happy we can be that we can still live in a kind of world of innocence."

Ambjörnsen feels it is important to see for himself how the mass murderer comes across so he "can forget him".

Another Norwegian author, Karl Over Knausgaard, echoes this sentiment in a piece for New York Times: "…to get an impression of the nature of a person, one has to see him in motion. So much is contained in the posture of the body, the position of the hands, the movement of the eyes."

"The image of journalists and different experts commenting a running (and censored) text on the left the image, is a shame we cannot live with. It’s a historical error," Ambjörnsen concludes.

Here Ambjörnsen is referring to a major innovation in how Norwegian online newspapers are covering the trial. Several have developed their own "live windows" with a mix of features.

VG’s live window (screengrabs below) - whose coverage I’ve followed most closely and found myself totally captivated by - features a word by word transcript of what’s being said, a moderated Twitter-feed and live video - frequently of interviews with experts commenting on what’s happening inside the court room as little of the proceedings can be broadcasted.

From the first day:




It is this latter aspect, the massive use of experts by all media – both on live-tv and in other formats such as in op-eds, on radio and tv and in print – which has left many people feeling uncomfortable.

The Norwegian Editor’s Association has campaigned to be able to broadcast the trial, and at the start of the trial’s editor-in-chief, Espen Egil Hansen, said:

"I think everyone should get a chance to hear and see what is happening in court. We who are present in the court room get at a very different impression of how Breivik is exposed in court. To me, he appears pathetic, you don’t get the same impression when you are only reading a text."

The editor of the trade journal for Norwegian journalists, Helge Ögrim, has taken the contrarian view, arguing that those arguing against the broadcasting ban, fail to pay heed to the counterarguments. Among those:

  • Psychologists have argued that those under the age of 16 run a great risk of getting psychological reactions and traumas from watching the trial, something broadcasting the trial would increase the risk of.
  • Broadcasting would place the next of kin and those directly effected by the terror attacks under a heavier load.
  • It would be ethically dubious to broadcast the testimony of someone who two of the main court psychiatrists on the case thinks is a paranoid schizophrenic.
  • Broadcasting his testimony would give Breivik a dubious platform to spread his gospel of hate.  

However, are we really served with only getting this trial against a man who created a national trauma with the atrocities he committed last summer through the eyes of a league of experts?

In an op-ed published in Aftenposten a communication advisor, Stefan Brunvatne, who was present at the start of the trial, wrote:

"While the commentators are crawling over each other in their efforts to paint a picture of an incoherent man who is sitting there, giving us insight into evil incarnated, and 'experts' make critical comments on everything from his body language to his historical facts, Anders Behring Breivik is sitting there in the eye of the storm appearing surprisingly calm and collected.

"For someone who has been present at two of the key days during Breivik’s testimony, Friday 20 April and Monday 23 April, the shocking thing is not Breivik’s behaviour but the discrepancy between it and the monster image painted by the media."

Part of the challenge here is how difficult the trial is to cover. Norwegian war correspondent Aasne Seierstad has said it is much more difficult to cover a case she herself feels so affected by, like the Breivik-trial, than being a war correspondent. "Unfortunately it seems easier to work with stories you have a journalistic distance to," Seierstad, who is writing a book about the trial, told VG.

As Breivik told the court how he regretted not having killed more people, and described his plan to decapitate a former Norwegian prime minister, in the first week of the trial, even foreign correspondents present at the trial expressed their horror on Twitter at what they had just heard .

Daniel Bennett has written an interesting post on the dilemmas of allowing live-coverage via Twitter while banning broadcasting.

Could it be that Norwegian commentators and journalists are too affected by the trial to be objective? Or is the very idea of trying to be objective in case like this ludicruos in itself? So many questions, so few ready answers.

Max Fisher has argued in The Atlantic that Norway does what the US didn’t dare to do with Khaleid Sheikh Mohammed, the assumed mastermind behind 9/11. The Breivik-trial can teach Americans that transparancy hurts terrorism (via @svelle, no direct link available).

Many Norwegians will argue that the trial is still not transparent enough.

However, according to NRK, those desperate to see the trial with their own eyes, may get to see parts of Breivik’s testimony by taking a trip to The National Archieves a year after the trial finishes to see the parts of the video records that are not deemed too sensitive (people may e.g. get to see the parts where Breivik talks about his political and ideological motives).

WWW inventor warns against call for comment sections to be placed under Data Rentention Act

- Don’t let Anders Behring Breivik become an excuse to encroach on human rights, said Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Since the twin terror attacks on Utöya and Oslo 22/7 last year, Norway has seen demands to censor and monitor web communications grow stronger as people have looked for ways to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.

The man who committed the atrocities has been portrayed as a terrorist who would have been unable to create the destruction he did without the internet – as he copy-pasted so much of his manifesto and strategy from web sources and committed his crimes with the explicit hope of making his manifesto a viral hit.

"If only someone had monitored the comment sections on far right-wing news sites and blogs better, could he have been stopped before he managed to slay 77 people?," is a question that has been asked repeatedly in many forms since 22/7.

Recently, The Norwegian Police Service (PST) even asked to have the comment sections of news sites and debate forums governed by the Data Retention Act in order to "better investigate hateful comments and threats towards people in authority." 

So obtaining a short interview with Berners-Lee when he was in Oslo speaking at Gulltaggen, a Nordic digital marketing conference, last week I asked him how he thought society should respond to the likes of Breivik, who relied heavily on the web to organise his campaign and to espouse his ideas.

"I think we have to be very careful with fundamental human rights. Here we have two different levels. On the first level, police should go to these sites were people are discussing hate crimes and infiltrate these," he said.

But he also warned that the authorities do not need extra powers to automatically monitor everyone on the planet.

"A normal person must be able to go the web to research a sensitive issue, such as a medical condition, safe in the knowledge that this will remain between him an the website," he said.

Berners-Lee  said he was concerned about how increased demands for monitoring the web, both from governments looking for greater powers to track down terrorists and companies looking to trade our personal web data for commercial purposes, threatens the very infrastructure of the web.

He described his worry that people in the end will no longer trust and use the web for e.g. researching sensitive things like depression if they fear everything they do online is being monitored.

On the Data Retention Act and similar initiatives, he had the following comment:

"If you collect a lot of personal data in once place this can easily become dynamite. You have a lot of sensitive information sitting there in a database, becoming a very attractive target for cyber criminals or rough states using hackers to attack other countries’ infrastructure where it is most vulnerable," he said, referring to how cyber crime and cyber terrorism is on the increase.

Talking to Norwegian intelligence sources when I interviewed Misha Glenny in connection with his new book ”DarkMarket: CyberThieves, Cybercops and You” in November, they confirmed cyber crime and cyber attacks on national infrastructure was also on the rise in Norway.

As for that Tim Berners-Lee interview: I’m used to opinions being strongly divided in the comment section on technology stories for VG, Norway’s biggest news site, but on this story every single commenter applauded Berners-Lee's comments.