Norway forced to grapple with how to handle a case of mass murder

Norway's media and legal system was forced to grapple with some unprecedented questions in the wake of the country's biggest ever mass shooting nearly eight years ago.

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Far right extremist Anders Breivik carried out the killings in July, 2011. Source: 1 NEWS

After far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people on Utoya Island and in the capital Oslo in July 2011, Norway had to ask should the media use the terrorist's name, should his trial be televised and should his motivations be publicly detailed?

On Friday the man accused of the shootings at two Christchurch mosques on March 15 will face 50 murder charges and 39 attempted murder charges when he appears in the High Court in Christchurch via video link.

1 NEWS Europe correspondent Joy Reid has explored how Norway handled the Breivik case.

It was nine months after one of Norway's darkest days that the world's media descended on Oslo's courthouse to hear what the man who had stolen the country's innocence had to say.

Lisbeth Røyneland, whose daughter was killed by Breivik, says the court hearing was difficult.

"It was really difficult. It was a kind of thinking that was absurd, I think. The whole thing was absurd," she said.

Mass killer Breivik was centre stage in court and a terrorism researcher, Sondre Lindahl, says the accused was able to explain his views.

"But I think that was good because then you had commentators, you had experts, you had academics talking about it, adding context to his arguments, and show how, to put it mildly, insane a lot of those views are," Mr Lindahl said.

In court, Breivik's 1500-page manifesto was put under the spotlight.

Anders Borringbo, an investigative journalist, says it was important to learn what the terrorist's thoughts were.

"What happened in court was that it came through that Mr Breivik's manifesto was full of lies and exaggerations," Mr Borringbo said. 

A survivor of Breivik's shooting rampage on Utoya Island, Erik Kursetgjerde, says his view changed when he heard the accused.

"He got completely crushed in my eyes because when we read about, in the beginning, the manifesto and so on, we thought there was something extremely big happening and that this is a big organisation and that is quite powerful. But when you meet him and when you heard his statements and read manifestos, you realise that is not the case," Mr Kursetgjerde said. 

Some of the victims' families did not want cameras let in to court.

"We didn't want any media coverage. I remember that. But as an open society we didn't manage to stop that. And that was bad for the victims, but maybe it was for the good for society," Ms Røyneland said.

Breivik's former lawyer, Geir Lippestad, believes restricting coverage would prompt conspiracy theories.

"There are extreme people in Europe and the world who admire Breivik. And if we try to put a lid on it I think that only makes them make up conspiracy theories and want to investigate who he is," he said.

Now, seven years after the trial, it's the names of Breivik's victims which are centre stage on a memorial wall. 

Nearly a quarter of Norwegians knew someone directly affected by the attacks. But people there prefer to remember the victims, not the man who carried out the crime, with many choosing not to mention his name.

"We used the term ABB - the initials instead of his real name," Ms Røyneland said.

Asked did that help, she said: "No, I don't think so. I see that now, eight years after, that it's better just to talk about it and have political discussions about the right wing, instead of treating him as a Voldemort, you know."

Whether or not to use the killer's name was one of many decisions which divided a small nation in mourning.

This weekend Joy Reid rejoins the mother of a Kiwi victim of the massacre in Norway, asking how it's possible to recover from such a tragedy?

Our earlier story on the mother of a New Zealand-born victim of the attack can be seen here.