Archive for August 25, 2012

Life begins again as Breivik goes down

Germany’s foreign minister lays a wreath at Oslo cathedral to remember the 77 people murdered by Anders Behring Breivik.

There is an expression in Norwegian that has always intrigued me.

It’s interjected into sentences, much the same way as Londoners use “innit” or Dubliners “you know what I mean.”

In Norwegian, it’s “ikke sant?”

Literally translated, it means “not true,” but Norwegians use it as a conversational question with the tone rising on the last syllable.

It’s a clever, almost passive-aggressive way of getting people to agree with you.

It is, it seems, a much more effective method of doing so than, say, terrorism.

It wasn’t needed yesterday though, as almost everyone was delighted that Anders Behring Breivik was found to be sane and criminally liable for the deaths of 77 innocent people – many of them children in the eyes of the law – and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

For the record, the chances of him ever coming out of prison are up there with Elvis returning to play 18 holes on the moon.

In their verdict, the five judges sentenced him to 21 years “preventative detention” and said that there was a very strong possibility that he would remain a threat to society even after his tariff is served; if he is, his detention can be extended for five years at a time.

He will never walk the streets of Oslo as a free man again.

The reaction on the streets was a mixture of fatigue and relief.

People are sick of being asked about him. Sick of hearing about him, and what he did. Sick of trying to work out what his actions say about Norway, and themselves.

But the relief now outweighs that. That Anders Behring Breivik wasn’t shot dead in the dirt of Utoya – like so many of his victims – is a good thing for the healing process in Norway.

If he had been, he would have been martyred for the cause of extreme nationalism, and we would never have understood what made him carry out such unspeakable acts.

But over the ten weeks of his trial we have come to understand him better – his callousness, his twisted logic, his hatred.

We have seen a vanity in him that would make Narcissus blush. And we have seen a total lack of empathy with his victims.

At times we have seen behind the facade – the obsessive organising of  paper and pens before he answered the judge’s question about whether or not he accepted the verdict, quickly followed by the flash of darkness as he attempted to apologise to fellow extreme nationalists for not killing even more innocent children.

Most of all, we saw the smile as the verdict was announced. Breivik welcomed the verdict with something between a grimace and a smirk.

In his own mind, he was victorious yesterday in Court 250 of Oslo’s Tinghus, but it was the people of Norway that won.

And over the next 21 years, Breivik will have plenty of time to reflect over why his actions haven’t launched the war on immigrants he so longed for, and why the people of the blood he was so intent of protecting have rejected him, and all he stands for.

Oslo is a small city, and in the early afternoon I left the courthouse are to walk to the cathedral.

I watched as the German foreign minister laid a wreath at the large red heart that stands in memories of those killed by the hateful, pudgy, vain Breivik.

He, like the rest of the civilised world, rejected Breivik.

And on the way back to the courthouse the ordinary people of Norway spoke of how they wanted to put this behind them and start rebuilding the safe, harmonious society that was blown away by Breivik’s bombs and bullets.

And that is something we can all support them in, ikke sant?

A fight that will last more than three rounds

The offending tweet from Herb Street.

It was the stark, casual, easy laziness of our return to racism that was so disappointing, and yet so predictable.

Moments before, John Joe Nevin had fought himself to  a standstill in an effort to deliver another Olympic gold medal for his country.

An honourable silver later and you would have thought the red carpet would be rolled out from Dublin airport to Mullingar.

Instead,  whoever controls the Twitter account of the Herb Street restaurant in Dublin decided to put Nevin back in his place.

In a single tweet (see image), he and his family were just another bunch of thieving Travellers.

It wasn’t a case of Nevin going from hero to zero – he simply returned to where he and his people have always been for many in  Irish society.

Then came the defence of Herb Street – first the operator of the account tried (laughably) to claim that “a prat” had taken his or her phone and posted the now-deleted “joke”.

It’s the online equivalent of “the dog ate my homework”.

Then other Twitter users started to ask what the big deal was – it was only a joke. And of course they were right – it was ‘only’ a joke.

But here’s the big deal- it wasn’t a joke furtively shared amongst friends in a pub, an aside soon forgotten.

It was a very, very public joke, and in very bad taste, in front of an audience of thousands during the biggest sporting event on the planet,  perpetuating one of the most damaging prejudices about the Travelling people, from the account of what was previously a reputable business in Dublin.

That was the big deal.

Many seemingly failed to grasp that fact, and more defences came.

“Travellers aren’t politically correct themselves.”

It doesn’t matter.

“You never see any gay or divorced or handicapped travellers.”

That doesn’t matter either.

“It’s just a joke- hardly the crime of the century.”

Again, it doesn’t matter.

The joke was wrong. Denying making it was wrong.  Not apologising properly was – and is – wrong.

It took thirteen hours for a lame effort at an apology to be made – with no acceptance of responsibility, or no explanation of how the tweet came to be sent.

Now I know (or used to know) a lot of Travellers back in Dublin. I know how annoying and abrasive and aggressive some of them can be.

I know that some can be violent, and I know that there are Travellers involved in criminal behaviour.

I’ve run into them on several occasions here in Sweden too, and it hasn’t often been a positive experience.

But I also know good, decent Travelling people who frown on all that, who see the value of education and integration and wrestle with their traditions and their instincts as they strive to give their families a better future.

I know of people heartbroken when their children come home with more tales of how they were barred from shops or called ‘dirty knackers’ by passers-by for no reason.

I know of the families who encourage the John Joes of this world to work hard and look after themselves, who fill them with pride and desire to do well for their families, their people, their country.

I know how they struggle with those who – on both sides – say that there is no point, because they’ll never be allowed in.

We’ll never let them in. We will never accept them.

Instead, we’ll let them represent our country, and then when we’re done with them we’ll go back to the old ways and make jokes denigrating them.

Maybe, thanks to some idiot at Herb Street, now is the time to start the dialogue needed, but I doubt it can happen.

The issue of Travellers in Ireland and England is usually enough to have otherwise reasonable people reaching for arguments they would never use in a discussion about Muslims or Africans or Jews, but somehow it’s OK when it’s “our own.”

Maybe Herb Street can make it up to John Joe and his family by telling them the truth about how the tweet came to be posted, and what they’re doing about it.

Then maybe they could put the kettle on and invite us all over to discuss how his success in the boxing ring as part of Team Ireland could be translated into other areas of society.

I just hope their food isn’t as tasteless as their jokes, and that it doesn’t take thirteen hours to get something resembling service – or a proper answer.

 

 

Sindo’s journalists avoid questions and blame the bullies instead

Not Niamh Horan.

I once didn’t take some pictures that would have earned thousands of euros in a heartbeat.

AIK had played Levski Sofia in a Europa league qualifier, and as I left the ground fans of the Swedish club set about attacking their opponents’ team bus.

In my bag I had a professional-quality digital camera, zoom lenses, flashes, the works- all I had to do was pull it out and snap the action.

I would have made a fortune from the Swedish tabloids if I’d only captured the moment a brick was hurled through the window of the bus.

I didn’t, because had I done so the guys attacking the bus (hooligans whom I’ve crossed paths with before) would probably have attacked me instead, leading to an immense amount of damage to me and my equipment.

Instead, I got out of there and reported the story from safe distance, because sometimes as a journalist, you don’t take a picture or ask a question in the interests of your own safety.

It’s called professional judgment, and it seems to be sorely lacking over at the Sunday Independent.

Last week, Niamh Horan filled the front page with a report of how she was almost attacked by an Irish property developer in a bar in Portugal.

I’d love to be able to link to her report to let you see for yourself how bad it was, but I can’t, as the Sindo promptly removed it from its website.

Remarkably, there was a follow-up piece today denouncing those who criticized Horan for her stupidity and useless writing – but no explanation as to why an article that was deemed front-page material on Saturday night wasn’t allowed to remain online.

Indeed, when I contacted Horan and Sindo columnist Barry Egan via Twitter to ask why it had been removed, the “very brave” (Egan’s words) Horan blocked me.

Aside from being littered with snide references to “competing” journalists and allegations of online bullying, it essentially makes no effort to deal with Horan’s shoddy work, so let’s look at it a little more closely.

Horan – a journalist whose output mainly consists of gossip and harassing middle-aged celebrities like Van Morrison and Sinéad O’Connor, according to a quick Google search – sees a developer in a bar, and thinks that this would make a good story.

What seems to have happened next is that she approached said developer and asked him if he’d like to talk about his situation – this either before or after taking an opportunistic (and frankly awful) picture on her phone.

The developer then apparently threatened to ram his glass down her throat, smashing it in the process, and she ran off crying.

Now let me get one thing straight – there is never a valid reason for threatening a journalist, man or woman.

Unfortunately, given the nature of the job, it happens. All the time.

Despite the frankly bizarre question on the front page of last week’s Sindo, which asked people to identify the “thug” who had threatened her, Horan says she already knew who he was,, and vice versa.

Whatever the odd circumstances, it seems that it was at this point her professional judgment (or the total lack of it) failed her completely.

The man allegedly in Horan’s photo was once sentenced to 26 years in prison for attempted murder, possession of illegal weapons, and robbery, and had spent time on hunger strike – all of which Niamh would have known if she’d done her research properly, or indeed at all.

Had she done so, she would have given him a wide berth.

I’m 6’ 3”, weigh over 90 kilos and play Gaelic football regularly, but even at that I wouldn’t be going up to this guy when he’s full of pints, snapping pictures without his permission and asking questions about his finances. Journalist or not, that’s asking for trouble.

And had Horan called her editors at the Sunday Independent – who, let us remember, are well-versed in dealing with the dangers that face investigative journalists as they go about their work – to consult with them before approaching him, they surely would have said the same thing.

But somewhere  along the line, either she or they failed to correctly assess the situation, thus putting the reporter in grave physical danger. That is not the fault of any tweeter or blogger or critic or “bully”. That is the fault of the Sunday Independent and Niamh Horan.

Despite that, they went ahead and published, only to remove the online version without a trace.

One can only assume that the developer – having not been arrested, tried or convicted of anything like the assault (and maybe even attempted murder) described in Horan’s article – took umbrage at his image being used in this way and in this story, and complained to his lawyers.

I’d love to know for sure, but Niamh dosen’t seem in any hurry to tell me.

Instead, the Sindo article dismissing  criticism of Horan’s amateur efforts at investigative journalism blames – quite incredibly – the recession:

“Media suffering from the effects of recession and other ills are investing too few resources in serious, in-depth reporting on the agents, causes and extent of Ireland’s problems.

When they see an opportunity to highlight an aspect of that bigger story, reporters should be protected against assault and intimidation on the ground, and spared the attention of bullies in cyberspace.” (my italics)

The first duty of the editor is to protect his or her journalists from harm – either physical harm when reporting in the field, or the damage they can do to their careers when writing non-stories that, had they exercised a touch of common sense, never would have arisen.

And if the Sunday Independent feels that too few resources are being invested in investigative reporting, forgive me for suggesting that there might be a very simple way for them to remedy that.

Namely, by the Sunday Independent investing more resources in investigative reporting, and not relying on a gossip columnist striking gold in a pub in Portugal.