The complainant considered that the publication (23/08/2012) had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice by saying, in relation to Mr Anders Breivik, “so, how do we handle the man who is truly guilty?” The complainant was concerned that this characterised Mr Breivik as “truly guilty” before a verdict had been passed.
Clause 1 states that “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”. The Commission acknowledged the complainant’s point that, at this stage, Mr Breivik was not technically guilty in the legal sense. However, the Commission considered the context in which the words had been used and noted that the article made clear that the verdict had not yet been decided: “on 24 August, the verdict against Anders Behring Breivik will be pronounced at Oslo District Court”.
The Commission also noted that this article reflected the personal views of the journalist: “Asne Seierstad questions a system that gives Anders Breivik publicity”. The Commission made clear that columnists are entitled to express their personal views and comments provided that they are clearly distinguished from fact. The Commission considered that the phrasing “truly guilty” was the journalist’s view and that the readers would have been aware of this.
Read in the context of the article, the journalist had been discussing the amount of blame that the Prime Minister and other individuals should shoulder for the events; before addressing the “man who is truly guilty”. In this way the Commission considered that the term “guilty” was being used, not in the legal sense, but synonymously with the term “responsible” or “to blame”. Given that Mr Breivik had publically admitted to the murders and bombing, the Commission did not consider this to have been inaccurate or misleading. The Commission did not establish a breach of the Code.
The Commission acknowledged the complainant’s concern about Mr Breivik’s ability to receive a fair trial, it made clear however that this issue did not fall within the Editors’ Code of Practice, and therefore it was unable to comment on this further.
The Commission turned next to the complaint regarding the article of 28 August. The complainant considered that the newspaper had breached the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) by referring to Mr Breivik’s “conviction” and by inferring that his inspiration was from the “far right”. Regardless of whether or not there is a review, it remained the case that the conviction stood at the time of publication, and the newspaper was entitled to refer to it. There was no breach of Clause 1.
The Commission addressed the complainant’s concern that it was inaccurate to state that Mr Breivik got his inspiration from the far right. Clause 1 (iii) states that “the press, while free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.” The Commission considered that the article was a comment piece and the remark reflected the journalist’s opinion that Mr Breivik’s actions were based on an extreme right-wing ideology. In this regard the Commission was satisfied that readers would not have been misled and did not establish a breach of the Code.
Reference no’s: 123663 /123691