The Limits of post-22 July Media Debates

In times of crisis, citizens and victims typically look to the government for leadership, protection, direction, and order – what is often characterized as a ‘master narrative’. Faced with terror and tragedy journalists seek to comfort and reassure the public, and willingly and instinctively move from their professional, neutral critical role towards a pastoral role. Based on in-depth research interviews with key debate editors and political editors in national, regional, and niche media, we are interested in how the Oslo attacks have been discussed in Norwegian newspaper and television news: what aspects of the tragedy have been investigated, and perhaps more important, what issues are still too painful and too complicated to discuss in public?

Immediately after the attacks, the Norwegian authorities’ response was more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. The attacks were framed as a broader attack on the nation, explicitly meant to encompass people of all types of ethnic, cultural, and geographic origins. In this narrative love rather than hate; peace not war; and openness not closure, were the central remedies to heel society. This message touched a nerve in the mainstream media and in the population at large. The media magnified the message, and by creatively using their professional skills as storytellers they put their own stamp on it.

Studies and interviews with and reflections from journalists who covered the attacks on the ground have demonstrated the shock and trauma experienced by those who reported the story first-hand. These texts further document how the mainstream Norwegian media largely became places to share the sorrow and pain. Particularly in the first weeks following the attacks, reporters were overwhelmed by both the scale and the proximity of the tragedy. They were fellow human beings first, and reporters second, and the media, the people and the authorities mourned together.

In our interviews with key editors we will examine what happened after the first phase of collective, national mourning: how the editors reflect on the sensitivities, challenges and dilemmas involved in discussing the horrific events in Oslo and Utøya almost three years ago.

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