Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Who's that chicken?
A man-sized chicken disturbed the news-cast for the Norwegian TV2 last night. News-teams from most of the norwegian media were outside the largest Norwegian hospital in Oslo, covering the collapse of Torbjørn Jagland, leader of the Labour Party. Jagland collapsed in the middle of an internal battle for control of the Labour Party between him and the younger Jens Stoltenberg. The collapse was not particularly serious, according to the reports from the hospital, but it was a clear warning that Jagland had been under too much stress and needed rest.

The media had been chasing Jagland for comments on the internal dissent, and over the last weeks the papers and news have been filled with details about the potential change of leadership. This has not been a nice and polite discussion within the party, but one where the media have been skillfully manouvered by interests on both sides of the conflict. And the journalists have happily kept the story alive, under the excuse that this is important, critical journalism.

Now that Torbjørn Jagland is in hospital, the entire set of journalists drop their pretense of trying to cover a debate which might have consequences for Norwegian politics for years to come, and start sending pictures of the outside of the hospital Jagland is in instead. With soft voices and greedy cameras they now chase Jagland's family as they visit him in the hospital, rather than doing what the doctors were recommending: Leave the man to recover so he can get back to the decisions the same journalists have been telling us are so important.

This is the situation Bård Tufte Johansen comments on when he shows up in the picture of a news-cast from utside the hospital. Wearing a yellow chicken-outfit he squeeks and makes barbed comments to the journalist. The satire failed, however. Aimed at the media, the media refused to get the joke, and accused Johansen of harassing Torbjørn Jagland and his family. But Johansen did score one point. That evening the discussions on Norwegian television were less about the health of Jagland, and more about the role of the media. Although the Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) was forced to excuse the behavior of Johansen, who's a host of a satirical program on NRK 1, he did make a point which is slowly getting through the angry protests against his tasteless act.

"Don't criticize. This is the time to be nice." was the message Bård Tufte Johansen was giving to the journalists while they were interviewing people with the hospital as a back-drop. This comment was aimed at the sudden change in the mood of the journalists from one day to the other: from claiming that they were not a mindless pack chasing a good story but doing their job as watch-dogs of the democracy the one day, to claiming that they were not chasing a good story but doing... what exactly, when filming the wife and children of an exhausted man?

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