Things have been fairly quiet in the general public since NRK Brennpunkt’s controversial episode “God’s chosen – Smith’s venner” was aired in November 2020. But behind the scenes, a writer with a journalistic background has been working on telling the story of what really transpired in the years leading up to the episode. When the details come to light, the story is so compelling it would actually be a good candidate for a Netflix series.
Neighbor takes an interest in the emphatic claims made by the media
The book’s author, Dag Christensen, has been in the media industry for many years. He has no connection to the church, but for several years has owned a cabin adjoining a property owned by Bernt Aksel Larsen, the country estate Tronderøya in Southern Norway. The way Christian life was being portrayed in the press piqued the neighbor’s interest.
Initially the author wanted to document Larsen’s personal history, but the scope of the project eventually altered in order to encompass a greater entirety:
“When I started digging into the source material, I realized quite quickly that the work would be far more extensive than I had originally imagined. The story had ramifications far beyond Larsen’s own sphere.”Dag Christensen, quote from the preface to the book
The book project eventually led to involving BCC, as well as several organizations and people in various countries. The title of the book is “Battle for Freedom of Speech, or Government-funded Bullying?” – An insight into the media’s work and attitudes towards freedom of expression and religion, with particular focus on NRK Brennpunkt”.
Bernt Aksel Larsen writes about the project on his blog and shares the book in its entirety. The book has also been submitted as input to the Freedom of Expression Commission’s report.
BCC wants to strengthen freedom of expression
– The fact that BCC and its members have been placed in the public pillory for seven years is completely pointless, says Berit Hustad Nilsen, communications manager at BCC. – And the press needs to address this, because it goes against the core of their mission, which is to ensure open, honest and truth-seeking journalism.
Because it is important that this story is told, BCC chose to contribute with interviews and documentation to the author’s work and has also covered its share of the costs for the author to complete the book. Hopefully, both authorities, professionals and the press will find the content interesting.
– It’s all about ensuring an open and fact-based public discussion, says Trond Eivind Johnsen. He is the compliance officer for the BCC Federation, our international central organization, and a former board member of BCC Norway. In his opinion, the press has a distinct responsibility, and he states in the book:
“The press turns a blind eye to the fact that in some cases they use their enormous power to limit others’ freedom of expression. They become part of the mob, or even worse, the leader of the mob.”Trond Eivind Johnsen
For several years, BCC has tried to elucidate the facts, both via authorities, relationships, and via the press. The experience has shown that freedom of expression is effectively stifled, and that bias is huge. Berit Hustad Nilsen relates in the book that there are several members who have attested to this:
“In recent years, a fair number of our members have been contacted by journalists wanting interviews. They often tell me that they really want to carry out the interview, because they believe it is important to share their positive experience of the church. However, what they have seen of previous articles from these media is so farcical, so far removed from reality, that they have no faith that these journalists really want to give their sources a real voice, but on the contrary, want to use them in a game.”
How could it go so wrong?
“In my opinion, it is only possible because those subjected belong to a religious minority, and therefore it’s okay to campaign against them and not a big deal to single them out. The journalists’ favor the sources, not the victims,” says Anne Lea Krarup Nielsen in the book. She is an information officer at BCC.
The book covers the story about how Jonathan van der Linden ran off with 80 million NOK, money that was actually intended for social enterprise projects in developing countries. He then implemented what the public prosecutor in the criminal case described as “a diabolical plan,” in order to hopefully keep the money. Van der Linden has been convicted of fraud and sentenced to pay back all the money.
The story relates how the press’s involvement with sources that have a strong financial self-interest manages to set the tone in the public dialogue.
The media used as pawns in their own game
The book tells about how, together with his companions, he got the media in both the Netherlands and Norway to make up stories – not so much regarding his own fraud, but more about slanderous journalism relating to the church they had only recently left. Fabricated stories were repeated in editorial media and spread like wildfire in social media.
The Dutch sources carefully planned which topics they wanted to spread in order to damage BCC; and in 2016 and 2017 it was Dagens Næringsliv and Tønsbergs blad in particular that latched on to the stories. Later, TV 2 Norge also came behind the scenes with similar claims, before NRK Brennpunkt in 2020 and 2021 made the same blunder.
– This has eroded trust in both Government authorities, banks, relationships, Christian friends – yes everywhere, says Hustad Nilsen and continues: – After seven years, it is time to call it quits. For the sake of our children and young people, and for the sake of the future itself.