The Fritt Ord Tribute 2023
Bjørn Olav Jahr

Journalist and author Bjørn Olav Jahr (54) is awarded the Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute for thorough and persistent journalism that uncovered a miscarriage of justice in the Baneheia case, and contributed to a preliminary conviction in the Birgitte Tengs case.

Bjørn Olav Jahr is a tireless and meticulous reporter. He has not allowed himself to be stopped by the conclusions drawn by the police and the judiciary, or by the opinions of other members of the press. He has distinguished himself by the fact that for several years, he has dared to question what many accepted as the ultimate truth, partly due to sensationalist and sometimes one-sided press coverage," comments Grete Brochmann, chair of the board of the Fritt Ord Foundation.

In two murder cases that have left their marks on contemporary Norwegian history, Bjørn Olav Jahr has demonstrated that dedicated investigative journalism can have major, direct consequences over time. Naturally, many people perceived the judgment in the Baneheia case as the end of the legal process in the aftermath of the murders of Lena Sløgedal Paulsen (10) and Stine Sofie Sørstrønen (8) in May 2000. The case shocked and shook Norway to its very foundations, but the evidence and testimony pointed in different directions. Jahr has demonstrated an irrepressible determination to continue searching for the truth about Viggo Kristiansen’s role in the case, even many years after the final judgement. He did not give up, despite opposition from several quarters.

After the murder of 17-year-old Birgitte Tengs in 1995, the general focus was on finding the perpetrator in a case that remained unsolved. Birgitte’s cousin was acquitted under criminal law, but sentenced under civil law to pay compensation to Birgitte’s parents. Jahr was particularly interested in highlighting how what he believed was an unjust compensation judgement put an undeserved stamp of approval on the police’s investigative work and an equally undeserved stamp on Birgitte’s cousin as a potential perpetrator.

The quest for truth is one of the three classic justifications for freedom of expression. In Jahr’s work, it is precisely the desire to find the truth that has been his driving force. Even after the final judgement and without the involvement of other members of the press, Bjørn Olav Jahr continued asking questions and investigating the Baneheia case. He has never claimed to have all the answers, but through meticulous efforts in both cases, he has demonstrated weaknesses in the police work, legal processes and media coverage. Over time, he has succeeded in getting other actors to examine these cases from a new perspective. Although he has employed classic journalistic methods, the results have been anything but conventional, because he has defied the objections of the police, the judiciary and colleagues in the press for many years.

Bjørn Olav Jahr has covered the Birgitte Tengs cases and the murders in Baneheia through a variety of phases. He has written the books ‘Who killed Birgitte Tengs? A true crime documentary’ (2015), ‘The murders in Baneheia. Two stories. One truth" (2017) and ‘The process against Viggo Kristiansen’ (2021). He has also made podcasts and TV programmes about the cases.

Bjørn Olav Jahr (born 1 September 1969) has a degree in socio-economics and is employed as a journalist by the podcast producer Svarttrost. He has previous experience from newspapers, magazines, documentary production and publishing. In addition to the books about the two murder cases, he has written non-fiction books about white-collar crime. He has won several media awards, including the Grand Prize for Journalism in 2023. Jahr has received support from Fritt Ord for several of his projects and books.