Freedom of the Press
Norway is one of the world’s most open media environments, though the degree of ownership concentration among major news outlets remains a concern. In recent years the courts have grappled with legal questions related to the protection of journalists’ sources in criminal cases.
- In May 2015, Parliament implemented the removal of blasphemy as a criminal offense from the penal code.
- Defamation was also removed as a criminal offense when a new penal code took full effect in October.
- In November, the Supreme Court ruled that police could not seize the unpublished recordings of a documentary filmmaker, finding that their importance to a terrorism case was insufficient to override the interest of protecting journalists’ sources.
Legal Environment: 2 / 30 (↑1)
Freedoms of expression, media freedom, and the right to access government information are guaranteed under Article 100 of Norway’s constitution.
The penal code prohibits hate speech, which can be punished with up to three years in prison. However, other restrictive elements of the penal code were removed during 2015. The criminal offense of blasphemy under Article 142 was repealed in May. Parliament had decided on the change in 2005 as part of a new penal code, but the code had not been implemented due to technical obstacles among law enforcement agencies. After the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January, Norwegian lawmakers moved to implement the blasphemy provision as soon as possible.
The rest of the new penal code finally took effect in October, with the result that defamation was also removed as a criminal offense and would remain only as a matter for civil litigation. The number of defamation cases against the media has been greatly reduced in recent years. In one recent case dating to 2010, surgeon Rastislav Kunda sued the newspaper Nordland for defamation after it accused him of removing vital organs from healthy patients. In December 2014, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s 2013 judgment in favor of Kunda, ordering the paper to pay 400,000 kroner ($50,000) in damages as well as 1.4 million kroner ($180,000) in legal costs. The newspaper appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
Leaks related to the 2011 terrorist attack carried out by far-right, anti-immigrant militant Anders Behring Breivik have led to a series of rulings on protection of journalists’ sources. In October 2013, the Supreme Court determined that an editorial director from NRK, the public broadcaster, did not have to reveal the name of the source who had provided confidential police material about the Breivik case. Also that month, the Supreme Court found that confidential phone numbers and mobile data could be used as evidence in a criminal case, even when they may reveal communications between journalists and sources. The decision concerned a case in which lawyer Sigurd Klomsæt was charged with leaking confidential police material about the Breivik investigation to the media. He was eventually convicted by an appellate court in 2014 thanks to the admission of data from three mobile phones at his office, which showed that unnamed journalists were contacting the office at the same time prosecutors said the leak took place. Klomsæt was fined about 790,000 kroner ($100,000).
In 2015, the Supreme Court sided with a documentary filmmaker in another case involving protection of sources. Police had seized unpublished video recordings from Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen in June because they featured a Norwegian citizen charged with attempting to join the Islamic State militant group in Syria. In its November ruling, the Supreme Court found that the public interest in protection of sources for investigative journalism outweighed the importance of the recordings to this particular antiterrorism case.
The 2006 Freedom of Information Act provides for access to government documents, and the public can request data through an online portal, the Offentlig Elektronisk Postjournal (OEP). The law includes exemptions to the right of access that protect information concerning the bases for internal decisions made by state authorities, as well as state security and certain foreign policy interests. Investigative journalists have complained that senior government officials use various tactics to avoid or delay press inquiries that would expose negligence or wrongdoing. However, the information law itself is considered relatively strong, and the courts have upheld the public’s right to know. In 2015 the government allocated 13 million kroner ($1.7 million) to improve the OEP.
Political Environment: 3 / 40
The Norwegian media are generally free of censorship or undue political pressure on editorial policy, and journalists are able to perform their work without physical obstructions. Violence against journalists and media outlets is rare, though threats from radical Islamists and others have been a problem in recent years. According to an academic survey in November 2015, nearly half of the responding journalists reported an increase in threats and hate speech.
Economic Environment: 4 / 30
Norway has one of the highest rates of newspaper readership in the world, and features more than 200 newspapers that express a diversity of opinions, many of which are openly partisan. Ownership concentration is a concern, with three major companies dominating the print sector. Many of the leading papers, including VG, Aftenposten, Bergens Tidende, Stavanger Aftenblad, and Fædrelandsvennen, are owned by Schibsted Norge, a successor to the consortium Media Norge that was formed in 2009 after a protracted struggle with the Norwegian Media Authority due to concerns over its size. Competition is still strong, even though the economic downturn that began in 2008 hurt the advertising market.
The tax-related distinction between newspapers and digital news media has for years been a major obstacle to innovation and development in the media industry. In October 2015 the government initiated the elimination of value-added tax (VAT) for digital news services beginning in 2016, giving the online outlets the same status as traditional newspapers. The VAT exemption required approval by a European trade regulator before it could enter into force.
In June the government proposed shifting responsibility for magazine subsides from the Norwegian Arts Council to the Media Authority, which manages other press subsides. Under the new scheme, allocations for magazines would be based on clearer and more objective criteria that excluded judgments of editorial quality.
The public broadcaster NRK, financed by a license fee, is dominant in both radio and television, but there is considerable competition from private broadcasters such as TV2. There are no significant restrictions on the means of news production and distribution. Norway fully adopted digital television broadcasting in 2009, and in April 2015 the government made a final statement that radio will be transitioning to digital transmission by 2017, at which point most FM signals will be switched off. The new technology is expected to result in more radio channels, lower transmission costs, more stable reception, and more even coverage for urban and rural populations. With digital radio there will also be no obligation to broadcast certain content; FM licenses included requirements to provide cultural programming and content for children and minority groups. After 2017, small local stations may continue to broadcast on FM to account for possible unintended consequences of digitalization that would put them at a disadvantage. More than half of Norwegian radio listeners were already accessing digital radio by mid-2015.
The government does not restrict access to the internet, and it was used by nearly 97 percent of the population as of 2015.