Breivik has not been given a platform

Television has exposed the mass murderer for who he really is.

Is a televised trial giving Anders Breivik what he wants? It’s one of those odd coincidences that the start of Breivik’s trial should happen in the same week that cameras were allowed in a British courtroom to see the sentencing of murderer David Gilroy.

Not for Gilroy the chance to be facing the camera or crying at his own manifesto; he was well out of shot while the judge sent him down for 18 years. But as ever, one of the fears about cameras in British courtrooms might be that attention-seekers like Breivik could commit atrocities to find a primetime TV platform to justify their despicable views and actions.

Breivik is one of those people for whom the phrase "the banality of evil" could have been designed. As he recalls, with calmness, the meticulous planning of ending other human beings’ lives, there seems barely a trace of compassion gutting in his eyes; he could be reading out a shopping list, or talking about the weather. Only when he saw his own hateful manifesto did he blub like a baby.

He looks like everyone and no-one; he could be your next-door neighbour or your friend. It’s only when you see the photographs of him in his military gear, or making that pathetic little man’s salute, that he steps out of the everyday. Is this trial, his time in the spotlight, giving him exactly what he has always wanted – to be the centre of attention, to have a platform for his noxious ideas, to coldly justify his atrocity on the grounds of politics?

Without courtroom television, his trial would have been very different: we would have had to have relied upon court sketches of Breivik rather than moving pictures; we wouldn’t have been subjected to that salute every day (although that has now been curtailed); we would only have had reports of his statements, rather than hearing them in his voice.

It must seem to some that Norway is bending over backwards to accommodate the wishes of this mass killer, and that television coverage is way in which he is spreading his message. But the case is of such public interest, such magnitude, that it seems too important not to be covered in this way – particularly when one of the key judgements to be made is in the mental competence or otherwise of the defendant. How else can the public be informed unless they can see? There are only a few limited places in court, most of which are taken by press and relatives.

Far from glamorising Breivik’s crimes, the televised proceedings have brought home the stark reality. He  is not getting a platform, he is just getting what anyone else would be entitled to, no more, no less. He is no-one special, even though he hoped he would become so through his actions.

The more I watch, the more uncomfortable it gets. It is hard for most of us to conceive of the "evil" that would wilfully cause such suffering, but there seems to be no evil surrounding Breivik. He has made a serious of calculated choices over a considerable period of time that led him to slaughter other people, to fight a war that no-one else was fighting. Seeing the trial is a sobering experience, but without seeing, how can we try and understand how these atrocities happen, and hope to prevent them in the future?

Perhaps putting cameras in courts is one way of taking the mystique away from criminals, and showing them for the people they really are. There for all to see is the banality of evil, the pathetic grandiose dreams of someone like Breivik. His "manifesto" of cobbled-together lies and distortion has been put out, but how many has he converted to his ignoble cause? And how has television done anything but exposed him for who he really is?

Right-wing extremist speaks during his trial at the central court in Oslo. Photograph: Getty Images.
Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Campaign pictures/Office of Jorge Sharp
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Meet Jorge Sharp, the rising star of Chile’s left who beat right-wingers to running its second city

The 31-year-old human rights lawyer says he is inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s alternative politics as he takes the fight to the Chilean establishment.

Bearded, with shaggy hair, chinos and a plaid shirt, 31-year-old Jorge Sharp does not look like your typical mayor elect. But that does nothing to stop him speaking with the conviction of one.

“Look, Chile is a country that solely operates centrally, as one unit,” he says. “It is not a federal country – the concentration of state functions is very compact. In reality, most of the power is in Santiago. There are many limitations when it comes to introducing significant changes [in local areas].”

In October, Sharp upset Chile’s political status quo by defeating establishment rivals in the mayoral election of Valparaíso, the second city of South America’s first OECD country. He is taking office today.

Often compared to Podemos in Spain, Sharp’s win was significant – not only as yet another example of voters turning against mainstream politics – because it denied Chilean right-wing candidates another seat during local elections that saw them sweep to power across the country.

As the results rolled in, Conservative politicians had managed to snatch dozens of seats from the country’s centre-left coalition, led by President Michelle Bachelet, a member of Chile’s Socialist Party.

Sitting in one of Valparaíso’s many bohemian cafes, Sharp accepts the comparison with Podemos gracefully but is keen to make sure that Chile’s new “autonomous left” movement is seen as distinct.

“What we are doing in Chile is a process that is difficult to compare with other emerging political movements in the world,” he says. “We are a distinct political group and we are a modern force for the left. We are a left that is distinct in our own country and that is different to the left in Spain, in Bolivia, and in Venezuela.”

Sharp’s Autonomous Left movement is not so much a party rather than a group of affiliated individuals who want to change Chilean politics for good. Considering its relatively small size, the so-called Aut Left experienced degrees of success in October.

Chilean voters may have punished Bachelet – also Chile’s first female leader – and her coalition after a number of corruption scandals, but they did not turn against left-wing politics completely. Where they had options, many Chileans voted for newer, younger and independent left-wing candidates. 

“We only had nine candidates and we won three of the races – in Punta Arenas, Antofagasta and Ñuñoa, a district of Santiago,” he says. “We hope that the experience here will help us to articulate a national message for all of Chile.”


Campaign pictures/Office of Jorge Sharp

For Sharp, the success of Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump and the pro-Brexit movement are due to people fed up – on a global scale – with their respective countries’ mainstream political parties or candidates. Given that assumption, how would he describe the cause of his own election success?

“The problem in Chile, and also for the people in Valparaíso, is that the resources go to very few people,” he says. “It was a vote to live better, to live differently. Our project for social policy is one that is more sufficient for all the people. It’s a return to democracy, to break the electoral status quo.”   

Sharp – like many – believes that the United States’ Democrat party missed out by passing up the opportunity to break with the status quo and choose Bernie Sanders over the chosen nominee Hillary Clinton. “They would have been better off with Sanders than Clinton,” he believes. 

“The [people] in the US are living through a deep economic crisis. These were the right conditions for Trump. The people weren’t looking for the candidate from the banks or Wall Street, not the ‘establishment’ candidate. The way forward was Sanders.”

Turning to other 2016 geo-political events, he claims Brexit was a case of Britons “looking for an answer to crises” about identity. Elsewhere in South America, the tactics of former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe – who led the “No” vote campaign against peace with the Farc – were “fundamentally undemocratic”.

In the future, Sharp hopes that he and the rest of the Autonomous Left will be better-prepared to take power in higher offices, in order to further reform social policy and politics in Chile.

“For these elections, we weren't unified enough,” he concedes. “For 2017 [when national elections take place], we will have one list of parliamentary candidates and one presidential candidate.”

And while Sharp clearly sympathises with other left-wing movements in countries throughout the world, this is not a call for a unified approach to take on the rise of the right.

“Every country has its own path,” he finishes. “There is no single correct path. What we need to do [in Chile] is articulate a force that’s outside the political mainstream.”

Oli Griffin is a freelance journalist based in Latin America.