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.
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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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