Norway

last updated: May 29, 2020
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RSF ranking: 1st out of 180 (RSF, 2019)
Population: 5.4m (Worldometer, 2020)
Percentage in the capital: 19% (1.04m; World Population Review, 2020)
GDP: 398.83bn USD (Statista, 2019)
EFTA member: since 1960 (European Free Trade Association, 2018)
EEA member: since 1994 (European Parliament, 2018)
Official languages: Norwegian (Bokmål, Nynorsk) and Sami (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019)
Press council: Norsk Presseforbund (Norwegian Press Council)

Press freedom environment: Freedom House classes Norway as a “free” country with a total score of 100 out of 100 (Freedom House, 2020). This score is split 40/60 for political rights and for civil liberties (Ibid.). At the time of writing, Freedom House did not have a “country report” for 2020, and the most recent one is from 2019. This report describes Norway as having “one of the most robust democracies in the world” (Freedom House, 2019). Political and civic life remain stable for citizens, however, discrimination against minorities and Roma remains a problem (Ibid.). Additionally, the conduct of politicians has been under scrutiny, specifically with issues to do with corruption and sexual harassment (Ibid.). In 2018, legislation banned the use of burqas and niqabs in classrooms across state education (Ibid.). In the “Civil Liberties” section of the report called “Freedom of Expression and Belief”, citizens are described to have access to a range independent outlets, however, a recent issue for journalists is the protection of sources involved in criminal cases (Ibid.). In this instance, the ECHR ruled that the Norwegian government could not force journalists to reveal their sources (Ibid., for more info see Becker v. Norway).

Media landscape

Newspapers and market

Norway has 227 paid-for newspapers, which although having small circulation numbers, has the highest total number of newspapers out of the Nordic countries (Harrie, 2018: 24). The number of newspapers increased slightly from 218 in 2000, to 227 in 2016 (Ibid.: 27). In terms of dailies, Norway has 71 newspapers, and it does not have any free newspapers (Ibid.). The nation’s two tabloids are also the most visible online news outlets (Ibid.: 26). The top five newspapers in 2014 were: Aftenposten (broadsheet, quality), Verdens Gang (tabloid, popular), Dagens Næringsliv (financial news, quality), Dagbladet (tabloid, popular), and Bergens Tidende (broadsheet quality; Ibid.: 75).

Out of the top-ranked newspapers, the oldest newspaper, Aftenposten, was founded in 1860 (Aftenposten, 2010). The second-oldest, Bergens Tidende, was founded in 1868 (BT, 2017), followed by Dagbladet in 1869 (Dagbladet, 2017), Dagens Næringsliv in 1889 (DN, 2019), and Verdens Gang in 1945 (VG, 2005). The main sources of news in Norway “include public broadcaster NRK, commercial channel TV2, leading quality newspaper Aftenposten, and tabloids VG and Dagbladet”. However, regional and local newspapers, both print and online, are still accessed (Moe and Sakariassen, 2018). Like the other Nordic countries, print newspapers have been in decline (more on this below). However, it is worth noting here that Norway has the highest percentage of consumers paying for online news out of the countries studied for the 2018 Reuters Digital News Report, where newspapers offer “hybrid solutions” in the form of a combination of print and digital subscription packages (Ibid.). The five largest newspapers, by circulation, for 2018 were: Aftenposten (258,832), VG+ (167,312), Dagbladet (86,144), Bergens Tidende (83,352), and VG (70,766; Statista, 2020).

Audience news consumption

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report combines results of weekly usage across television, radio, and print, as well as online in Norway (Newman et al., 2019: 98). The main public broadcaster, NRK ranks at the top at 55% for tv, radio, and print, and 33% for online (Ibid.: 98). In terms of the top four newspapers for weekly reach, VG was at the top for online at 52%, then at 24% for print, followed by Dagbladet at 33% for online, and 12% for print, Aftenposten was at 24% for online and 14% for print, and regional and local newspapers were at 24% for online and 22% for print (Ibid.). The mix of brands for online includes online-only brands like Nettavisen (25%), as well as international brands like ABC News (11%), BBC News (7%), MSN News (5%), and CNN (5%; Ibid.).

The report also described Norway as having the “highest number of consumers willing to pay for online news” at 34%, which is an increase of 4% from 2018 (Moe and Sakariassen, 2019). This was in part thanks to newspapers offering “hybrid solutions” by pairing digital and print subscriptions (Ibid.).

A new trend is the use of podcasts, where 52% of users under 35 access them (Moe and Sakariassen, 2019). These have been created by the public broadcaster NRK, as well as unspecified newspapers. However, the use of podcasts has raised the question of whether or not they fall under the remit of regulation of the media and journalistic ethical guidelines, since some cover topics like political commentary (Ibid.).

Public service media

In 2018, the commercial channel TV2 overtook the Norwegian public broadcaster, Norsk rikskringkasting, as the “most used” broadcast source (Ibid.). Like TV2 in the Danish context, Norway’s TV2 was founded in the early 1990s as an alternative to the main public broadcaster, but it is financed privately and with advertising (Ibid.). There have been recent moves to merge public support of the media, which includes support of the press and licensing, into one source of public funding; one theory is that this is in order to reassess the online presence of NRK as well as its regulation (Ibid.).

The major Norwegian public broadcaster, NRK, was founded in 1925 and is presently financed by mandatory licensing fees (NRK, 2015). In 1933 private broadcasting from several cities (Tromsø, Bodø, Trondheim, Ålesund, Bergen, Stavanger, Kristiansand), were consolidated under one roof with the NRK’s head offices in Oslo (Ibid.). During WWII, the NRK branch in London worked with the BBC to provide illegal broadcasts to occupied Norway, leading to the well-known phrase “This is London” (“Dette er London”; Ibid.). Norway was one of the last European countries to broadcast television, which started in 1960, mainly due to Norway’s geography and the practicalities and expense associated with setting up broadcasting (Ibid.). In 1996, local news was available on a daily basis across the country (Ibid.). NRK is funded at 98% by licensing fees, and there is no advertising across all of its platforms (Ibid.). In 2015, its total budget was 5bn NOK (100 NOK = 8.95 GBP today).

In a 2017 report by the Norwegian Media Pluralism Commission, public media were described as a “a means to promote media pluralism and quality, as a prerequisite for a well-functioning democracy as well as freedom of speech” (Government.no, 2017: 1), highlighting that:

Recent technological developments have had a profound impact on competition, established business-models and media usage. The volume of information available to the individual citizen has never before been greater, but traditional media are experiencing significant challenges i.a. [sic] in the form of dwindling advertising revenues, increased competition from global players and difficulties making a successful transition to digital business models. (Ibid.)

Much like the Danish context, there are concerns here in terms of risks to journalism and its sustainability (Ibid.: 2). NRK in particular was cited in the report as playing a central role in “promoting language and culture” and should be run under foundation ownership, as well as the need to incentivise commercial media outlets in cities aside from Oslo, as an effort to address “content diversity” (Ibid.). Additionally, the report cited the need to extend VAT-exemptions to all news media, in order to allow a transition period for these to establish themselves and offer a “general, nonbureaucratic measure being at arm’s length from the control of political authorities” (Ibid.: 3). Other recommendations included increasing subsidies for local newspapers, newspapers with low circulation numbers, and subsidies supporting “ethnic and linguistic minority media” (Ibid.: 3-4). A white paper from March 2019 also suggestion changing funding of the public broadcaster from a licensing model to a tax model, and to “redistribute some existing press subsidies to local news and innovation” (Moe and Sakariassen, 2019).

Public trust in the press and media

According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Norwegian news was at 46%, with Norway ranking 13th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 99). The most trusted sources of news are NRK News (public broadcaster) and unspecified local and regional newspapers, and the least trusted are online brands Document.no and Resett (Ibid.). On a scale of 1-10, the most trusted brand for news is public broadcaster NRK News (7.5), and the top five newspapers following this are unspecified local and regional newspapers (7.19), Dagens Næringsliv (7.05), Aftenposten (7.03), VG (6.51), and Dagbladet (6.31; Ibid.).[1]

Online only/digital entrants

In terms of online-only brands, the Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 lists the following as the most-used sources of news “used last week”: Nettavisen (25%), and MSN News (5%); along with Document (6%) and Radikalportal (2%; Newman et al., 2019: 99).

Resett.no is a digital entrant to the Norwegian media context, and describes itself thus: “Resett is a politically independent media channel. We work for democracy and freedom of expression. We should be critical of power and fight for those who have difficulty speaking. It also involves criticising and being an alternative to the established media” (Resett, 2019). Document.no is another digital entrant, describing itself: “Document.no is a leading website for independent and agenda-setting news, political analysis and thought-provoking comments written specifically for the new generation of independent and conservative thinkers” (Dokument, 2019). Although there is not much scholarly work currently being done on these digital entrants, recent research has shown that they present a particular threat to the established media ecology, by feeding into populistic discourses (Friedrich, 2018), and presenting themselves as an “alternative media” (Knudsen et al., 2018). Part of their success is due to the public debate that arises out of their articles, even with audiences outside of their own readership (Moe and Sakariassen, 2019). As an organisation calassed within a category of “partisan media”, it has yet to join a similar site, Document.no, as a member of the Association of Norwegian Editors, due to “repeated violations of ethical guidelines” (Ibid.).

The Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 describes some behaviour changes for online-only providers. Here, “digital-born” Nettavisen disbanded the used of commentary due to increasing hostility and trolling in its forum (Moe and Sakariassen, 2019).

Current studies and context

Hallin and Mancini’s model of media systems (2004), describes Norway as having a Northern European or Democratic Corporatist Model, which is “characterised by a strong mass press, a high degree of political parallelism, professional journalism, and strong public service” (Harrie, 2018: 13). However, with the changes in technology and access to digital content over the last decade and a half, engagement with news, and how we understand its democratic role, has changed.

Internet penetration is high at 99%, with nine out of ten Norwegians accessing online news on a weekly basis (Moe and Sakariassen, 2019). Smartphone use has been steadily increasing in recent years, with computer use stagnating, and like Denmark, social media use is high (Moe and Sakariassen, 2018). In terms of news, Norway has seen an increase in use of Snapchat, and its launch of online news source, VG, in 2017 (Flynn, 2017), which has a virtual monopoly after the closing down that same year of Buzzit, a viral news site run by local newspaper company Nordlys (Moe and Sakariassen, 2018). Facebook is also often used by Norwegians (40%) to access news (Ibid.). On a separate note, a fact-checking website, Faktisk.no, was set up in order to combat fake news in the 2017 general election (Ibid.).

Trust in the media still rests with the public broadcaster, NRK. However, there are a number of digital entrants that have created debate beyond their own platforms (Moe and Sakariassen, 2018). Websites like Resett.no, Document.no, and Rights.no are a hotbed for debate on perceived threats like immigration and Islam, and have a wide reach but limited trust (Ibid.). In the 2018 Digital News Report, Norway came in at 15 out of 37 countries, at 47% “trust in news overall”, with 59% Norwegians trusting the “news [they] use”, and 17% having trust in social media (Ibid.). Even though Norway is stable socially and politically, and media are well supported financially, and political parallelism is not prevalent, studies have shown that “trust in journalists’ professionalism and biases depends on political preference, with far-right voters and those with strong views on immigration expressing most mistrust” (Ibid.).

A recent article discussed Norway’s current position in the RSF rankings, which is 1 (out of 180), a position has maintained since 2017, having risen from 3rd in 2016 (RSF, 2020). Norway benefits from free media, without censorship or political influence, however, the 1997 Media Ownership Act, which prevents media groups from owning more than 40% of shares in a given media outlet, was repealed in 2016 (RSF, 2018). Instead, media transparency laws were put into place to better accommodate the changing media ecology, as well as address competition (Ibid.). The Norwegian Media Authority monitors media ownership and media literacy (Medietilsynet, 2019), and works with the Norwegian Competition Authority regarding competition dominance issues (Konkurransetilsynet, 2019).

Regulatory environment

The press council

The Norwegian Press Council was established in 1912 (Jones, 1980: 28). Voluntary self-regulation by the press council includes print, broadcast, digital media, as well as social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter, where both a reporter and an editor-in-chief can be held accountable if a reporter uses social media “if it was used in connection with his or her journalism, for example, to provide additional information about a story that has been excluded from the published version” (Fielden, 2012: 34-35). Digital journalism is included in the Norwegian codes of ethics, in terms of general principles being applicable, as well the need to recognising linking to other sites if they “fail to comply with ethical norms” (Díaz-Campo and Segado-Boj, 2015: 738, 739).

The press council’s statutes outline its purpose and function, including addressing issues like transparency (Norsk Presseforbund, 2018c). Unless there are specific reasons against it, all cases and press council documents are available to the public, however, the identity of all parties involved must be known to the press council (Norsk Presseforbund, 2018a). Accessibility is also important, where the press council has a glossary of key terms (Norsk Presseforbund, 2018b). The press council is managed by a board comprised of members from media organisations, and it meets once a quarter (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020e).[2] Separately, the Norwegian Press Council meets every other year with the other Nordic press councils from Finland, Norway, and Sweden (Pressenævnet, 2016).

The press council has a statement that:

[Norsk Presseforbund] is a joint Norwegian mass media organisation, that must:
– Promote the ethical standard, professional ethics and integrity of the Norwegian mass media,
– Strengthen and protect freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of information. (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020e)[3]

The section of the press council that handles complaints, called the PFU, is made up of seven members, four from the press and three from the public, the latter of which belong to either academic or professional organisations (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020a). Each member of the committee serves a two-year term, with the current turn ending in June 2020; this includes the alternate members, with the whole committee making up seventeen individuals (Ibid.). The committee meets once a month, and these dates are publicly available and anyone can attend a meeting (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020d).

Complaints can be submitted to the PFU section of the press council electronically, and if the complainant is not the person affected, they should have written permission from the relevant parties in order to proceed (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020f). Complaints must be filed within six months and the case will be worked within three to four months (Ibid.). Only genuine complains are considered (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020c). However, in some instances complaints will be heard without the affected party’s consent, complaints about children may be heard without the guardian’s consent, and the press council itself might investigate an issue if needed (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020b). Decisions must be published “in a clearly visible place” (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020g), but they are also available on the press council’s database.

In a Q&A section of the website, the press council outlines the difference between ethics and law:

Press ethics and the media’s self-regulation must not be confused with legal standards and court proceedings. Decisions in one system cannot be invoked in the other. Both regulations and processes are widely different. For example, decisions from the PFU do not imply that affected newsrooms may subsequently be required to cover legal costs. (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020g)[4]

A question later on the page explains that legal proceedings can be undertaken in cases of defamation or breach of privacy, which are regulated by the Norwegian criminal code (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020g).

The press council’s code of ethics is split between a general a “be aware poster” (Vær Varsom-plakaten) and an “editors poster” (Redaktørplakaten), which outline guidance for proper journalistic ethical conduct (Norsk Presseforbund, 2015b; Norsk Presseforbund, 2004). Additionally, a list of “statements of principles”, the most recent dated from 2015, with different scenarios where news workers should exercise due caution, such as coverage of car accidents (Norsk Presseforbund, 2015a). It is interesting to note that the code of ethics of the Norwegian Press Council is available in several languages. In addition to mainstream Norwegian, it’s available in Nynorsk (a dialect used in writing), Sami (for its minority population), English, and Russian (Norsk Presseforbund, dates posted n/a).

Recent press council report/cases

The annual reports do not appear to be available to the public on the Norwegian Press Council’s website.

However, the website does offer some general statistics and figures. The first are on the decisions made, where since 1991, 1771 complaints were not considered to be violations, 1367 were considered to be violations, and 277 received a decision or “criticism” (kritikk); however, it’s not clear if the decisions are in addition to the previous figure of violations or not (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020h). The PFU received 575 complaints in 2019, and increase from 493 in 2018 (Ibid.). The public broadcaster, NRK, received two violations and two criticisms in 2019, Bergens Tidende received two violations and one criticism, and Stavanger Aftenblad received three violations (Ibid.). The website offers brief summaries of statistics and figures for all years from 2011, with links to a website database (Ibid.).

Other bodies and codes of ethics

All major organisations follow the code of ethics from the press council as members. These members include journalist and editor associations, press and media associations, the public broadcaster as well as other radio and television broadcasters (Norsk Presseforbund, 2020e). A cross-check of the Accountable Journalism website only shows an outdated translated version of the Norwegian Press Council’s code of ethics as journalist ethics codes for Norway (Accountable Journalism, 2003).

Journalism culture

In Norway, journalists are trained, typically with a professional Bachelor’s degree in journalism (67%), or with a Master’s degree (22.2%), and are equally balanced in the workforce in terms of gender (Hovden, 2016: 1). Most journalists have a degree in media and communication (72.3%), as well as holding a journalism degree (55.7%; Ibid.). In the Worlds of Journalism Study for Norway (n=656), Norwegian participants had worked an average of 16.7 years as journalists, with beat journalists typically covering culture, health, and sports (Ibid.). In general, Norwegian journalists adhere to a value of educating audiences and factual reporting (Ibid.), where “ideals of being a detached watchdog and critical change agent appears to be most important, although far from common to all” (Ibid.: 2). In the study, the categories that most participants responded to in terms of values (i.e. more than 50% responding “extremely” and “very important”) were: “Report things as they are (87.8%), Educate the audience (82.7%), Be a detached observer (62.7%), Let people express their views (62%)” (Ibid.). With regards to professional ethics, almost all of the participants in the study “strongly” or “somewhat agreed” that they must respect codes of professional ethics in every instance (96.5%), and about half thought “what is ethical in journalism depends on the specific situation” (53.5%), a quarter thought that “it is acceptable to set aside moral standards if extraordinary circumstances require it” (25.7%), and less than half thought that ethics came down to the individual’s judgement (42.4%; Ibid.). One recent challenge is that the laws are not clear on when the police are able to force a journalist to breach confidentiality, which is an issue that has been raised by the Norwegian National Human Rights Institution (RSF, 2018).

In summary, like Denmark, Norway is dealing with shifts in the media ecology from traditional, print forms of engaging in news, to the realm of the digital. Also, due to increasing competition and low circulation, local newspapers and local media are struggling to keep up, which has led to policy recommendations to improve support mechanisms for local media.

Other information

Governing framework
Constitutional monarchy (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2018)

Parliament
Storting (Harrie, 2018: 58)

Seats in parliament
169 (Harrie, 2018: 58)

Last election
2017 (Harrie, 2018: 58); elections every 4 years, next one in 2021 (Stortinget, 2019)

Seats held by women
41.4% (The World Bank, 2018)

Coalition government
Conservative Party, Progress Party, Liberal Party, and Christian Democratic Party (Government.no, 2017).

Populist party
Norwegian Progress Party (NFP), established in 1973 (Herkman, 2017: 435)

Origins of key minority groups in 2017
Iraq, Lithuania, Poland, Somalia, and Syria (Statistics Norway, 2018)

Constitutional text on freedom of speech/expression/the press

  • There shall be freedom of expression. No person may be held liable in law for having imparted or received information, ideas or messages unless this can be justified in relation to the grounds for freedom of expression, which are the seeking of truth, the promotion of democracy and the individual’s freedom to form opinions. Such legal liability shall be prescribed by law. Everyone shall be free to speak his mind frankly on the administration of the State and on any other subject whatsoever. Clearly defined limitations to this right may only be imposed when particularly weighty considerations so justify in relation to the grounds for freedom of expression (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2018).

Media model (Hallin and Mancini, 2004: 67)
Northern European or Democratic Corporatist Model

Global media event
In July 2011, Anders Breivik killed 77 people in a bomb attack in Oslo city centre, and in a weapons attack at Utøya island (Pickles, 2018). The attack was widely treated as a terrorist one, stemming from Breivik’s fears of an “Islamisation of western Europe” (BBC, 2012). The majority of the victims were teenagers and young adults on Utøya island, who were taking part in an activity for the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth division (BBC, 2016). Breivik, who has since changed his name to Fjotolf Hansen (BBC, 2017), was in the news again in 2018, having achieved access to study towards an undergraduate degree in political science at the University of Oslo (Pickles, 2018).

Key events
click here for the BBC’s recent articles on Norway.
click here for The Guardian’s recent articles on Norway.

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Norsk Presseforbund. 2020c. Klageskjema [Complaint Form]. [Online]. Available from: https://presse.no/pfu/slik-klager-du-til-pfu/klageskjema/.
Norsk Presseforbund. 2020d. Møter [Meetings]. [Online]. Available from: https://presse.no/pfu/moter-pfu/.
Norsk Presseforbund. 2020e. Om oss [About Us]. [Online]. Available from: https://presse.no/om-oss/.
Norsk Presseforbund. 2020f. Slik Klager Du [This Is How You Complain]. [Online]. Available from: https://presse.no/pfu/slik-klager-du-til-pfu/.
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[1] Other scoping documents include details from the in Special Eurobarometer 452, titled Media pluralism and democracy. However, Norway was not included in this study.
[2] These are: Norsk Journalistlag (NJ), Norsk Redaktørforening (NR), Mediebedriftenes Landsforening (MBL), Fagpressen Landslaget for lokalaviser (LLA), Norsk Lokalradioforbund (NLR), NRK TV2 Magasin (MBL), Discovery Norway (TVNorge m. flere), Nent Group (P4, TV3).
[3] “NP er norske massemediers fellesorgan, som skal: – Fremme den etiske standard, yrkesetikken og integriteten i norske massemedier, – Styrke og verne ystringsfriheten, pressefriheten og informajonsfriheten.”
[4] “Presseetikk og medienes selvdømmeordning må ikke forveksles med rettslige standarder og domstolsbehandling. Avgjørelser i ett system kan ikke uten videre påberopes i det andre. Både regelverk og prosesser er vidt forskjellige. Fellende uttalelser i PFU innebærer for eksempel ikke at berørte redaksjoner i etterkant kan avkreves dekning av saksomkostninger.”

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