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Breivik has not been given a platform

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

New Statesman
Right-wing extremist speaks during his trial at the central court in Oslo. Photograph: Getty Images.

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?

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