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Media's role in Norway tragedy

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Last Friday (Sept 30) marked 10 weeks since the Utøya massacre and earlier this week, the media; both Norwegian and international were welcomed back to the island. Friday 22.07 marked the day Norway and its people lost the last bit of our innocence. 77 victims. That is a lot of innocent people to perish at the hands of one madman.

Anyone who has ever lost someone knows the pain, but very few can truly understand the agony the families of the victims have to contend with every day for the rest of their lives.

In the trying times, as a country, we came together. We cried and comforted one another. Collectively we refused to bow to the murderer's wishes. As a people, we refused to be broken by his rage and hatred. We stood strong and united.

Our Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg did us all proud when he said that: "We will retaliate with more openness and democracy".

But despite being united and supporting of one another as we were in the time that followed the tragedy, it would be foolish not to closely examine the reason(s) that drove a seemingly regular Norwegian chap to slaughter his own people.

For my second blog post for the HuffingtonPost UK, I had indeed planed on writing something about Norway and multiculturalism. I just didn't know it would come on the heels of such a tragic moment in our history.

Right after my family and I moved to Norway 14 years ago from Africa, we had barely been in the country for half a year when various political parties came to the local town hall for debate. A youth representative from the Progress Party, a party Anders Behring Breivik is said to have been a member of, stood up and proclaimed: "We don't want foreigners in our towns or country. They are nothing but pests, who are here to mooch on our hard earned money". To our astonishment, the youngster received a thundering applause.

Even though those words from the youth representative were uttered over a decade ago, the resentment towards foreigners and immigrants still stands firm today, as Behring Breivik illustrated.

In his widely spread manifest sent to a handful people before his carnage began, Behring Breivik expressed a similar emotion as the youth representative, writing that he was fighting to "save Norway and West Europe from Marxist culturalism and Muslim takeover". In the over 1500-page document, he lamented on the state he felt the country had fallen into and saw it as his job to do whatever he could to preserve the Nordic culture.

While politicians from various parties, with the Progress Party at the helm, have exercised their "Freedom of Speech" rights to trash immigrants, the Norwegian media has for many years run a constant negative campaign on us.

The norm in the media has been to use the "them" and "us" terminology to create a wider separation and stress the manufactured differences between the people.

Headlines in the lines of "Mange innvandrere snylter grovt" (A lot of immigrants mooch), "Voldtektsmannen var av utenlandsk opprinnelse" (The rapist was of foreign descent) are common in national newspapers.

In 2005, after intense collection of data over the language usage in major national newspapers, two journalists, Merete Lindstad and Øivind Fjeldstad, released a book called "Av utenlandsk opprinnelse - nye nordmenn i avisspaltene" (Of foreign origin - the new Norwegians in the papers).

The two found out that in most criminal cases, whether necessary or not, the culprits' identity was revealed if he or she were of foreign descent and in most of the articles if the term "immigrant" was used, skin colour was front and centre.

"When the media use "foreign descent" and "immigrant", they are referring to those who have dark skin. When it's a story about criminals from Kosovo or Vietnam, the media always tell the reader which country the person is from. This way, the press differentiates people by skin colour," they wrote in the book.

On the other hand, they found out that whenever the media covered stories of people of foreign descent in positive situations, these were usually referred to as Norwegian or there was no mention of ethnic origin at all.

I realise the challenges a multicultural society has to contend with are many and hard. But we have to change our attitudes if we want real change. We need to start accepting that, despite the origins of our forbearers and our backgrounds; we are all Norwegians and want the best for ourselves and our country.

But to reach that goal, I would urge the media to take some responsibility for the role they play in fuelling the bigotry that in the end hurt us all, ethnic and non-ethnic alike.