Book launch of Fritt Ord’s 50th anniversary book 1974-2024

April 15 2024

Writer and historian Hilde Gunn Slottemo presents “Freedom of expression. Foundation and Society 1974-2024”

Writer and historian Hilde Gunn Slottemo presents “Freedom of expression. Foundation and Society 1974-2024”

For 50 years, the Fritt Ord Foundation has been dedicated to promoting freedom of expression, mainly in Norway, but also internationally. For the past two years, historian Hilde Gunn Slottemo has had full access to Fritt Ord’s archives and board members, as well as to many of the people who have been involved during those 50 years, enabling her to explore the history of Fritt Ord. Now she is presenting the result, which covers more than 500 pages.

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Book editor Harald Engelstad, Fritt Ords chair Grete Brochmann and director Knut Olav Åmås with copies of the book.

NOK 330 000 a day
Although the book is about awards and tributes, it also explores the plethora of invisible actions that take place behind the scenes, including the many grants handed out by Fritt Ord, multiple times a year, to support various forms of freedom of expression.
“Without Fritt Ord’s financial contributions to journalism, book publishing, public debates and seminars, documentary films and photography, libraries and houses of literature, the Norwegian public and the debate would have been infinitely poorer,” Slottemo concludes.

In 2021, Fritt Ord spent NOK 330 000 on freedom of expression-related purposes every day, adding up to NOK 2.3 million a week.This also translates into seven Fritt Ord-supported books, six supported events, three films, one and a half theatre performances, one Fritt Ord-supported podcast and one Fritt Ord-supported exhibition, each and every single week.”

In total, that support has amounted to several billion NOK over the years. Among the most tangible outcomes are the houses of literature and the online encyclopaedia. The book tells the story of how it all began.

Planning and opening of the Litteraturhuset in 2007.

Started with Stay Behind and Narvesen

During the book launch, which you can follow online here, Slottemo guided listeners through the main lines of Fritt Ord’s history, beginning on the day it was founded in June of 1974.

It all began with the main Norwegian resistance movement (Milorg) network. The aim was to avoid a repetition of what happened with the Norwegian press in 1940 and, more specifically, to ensure that no one would ever again be able to take over control of the Narvesen chain of newspaper kiosks, and use it to stifle freedom of expression. As time passed, the Foundation generated a certain surplus that could be used for projects in alignment with its purpose, including setting up a special award for people who made fearless use of free speech.

Co-founder and WW2 resistance-veteran Jens Chr. Hauge.

Neither Life of Brian nor the caricatures
Fritt Ord has been involved in numerous issues relating to freedom of expression since its inception in 1974, not least the Nygaard/Rushdie case, the broadcasting monopoly, the racism clause and the cases of police violence in the 1980s.

“However,” adds Slottemo, “it is no less interesting to look at the cases in which Fritt Ord did not become significantly involved, such as the censorship of the Monty Python film ‘Life of Brian’ in 1979, the non-violence case in 1983 and the caricature controversy in 2005.

From a 2012 event, "All that is banned is desired".

The new Fritt Ord emerged in 2001
The most notable turning point in Fritt Ord’s 50-year history came in 2001 when Fritt Ord sold its stake in Narvesen to Rema.

After that, the new chair of the Board, Francis Sejersted, and the first executive director, Erik Rudeng, were in charge of a foundation in control of its own funds. At the time, a more comprehensive process was underway as the very infrastructure of freedom of expression was transitioning from the physical distribution of information to the distribution through the internet, and the focus was not limited to newspapers, but had progressed to cultivating and supporting the broader use of free speech. The Board then began to keep a sharper eye out for contrarian voices, as it became more willing to award controversial prizes. This new Fritt Ord then turned its attention to jump starting the new House of Literature in Oslo, acquiring a stake in Morgenbladet for a while, and then helping develop the digital version of Norway’s largest encyclopaedia Store norske leksikon. In the 2010s, Fritt Ord helped institute a special programme for journalism.

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From Aftenposten 2024. Fritt Ords Prize in 2009 caused more controversies than the other prizes had.

Debate about the book
At a launch seminar for the book on 16 April, a panel consisting of political editor at E24 Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, commentator at Morgenbladet Lena Lindgren, and MP and recipient of the Fritt Ord Prize in 2010 Abid Raja had the opportunity to discuss the book with the author.

See the debate here.

Raja pointed out that it is important that the different sides in a debate have good arenas where they can meet. He feels that while the need still exists, Fritt Ord has been good at supporting many incentives throughout the recent history of freedom of expression.
One such arena was the dialogue meetings that Raja initiated at the House of Literature in 2009 in the aftermath of violent demonstrations against the war in Gaza that was raging at that time, which featured heavily in Oslo and on the news.

“Aftenposten used phrases like ‘war in the streets of Oslo’. There were Molotov cocktails, broken windows and containers in flames, armoured horses and tear gas. In short, tempers were running high,” recounted Raja.

“Yet it took just three hours to make the transition from angry young people who were ready to burn the chief of police, until they realised that ‘violence begets violence’. This happened, among other things, because they got the chance to sit down face to face and discuss issues with the powers-that-be, who were otherwise very distant from the young people’s everyday lives, e.g., the police, cabinet members and newspaper editors.”

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Abid Raja.

Reading ability, responsibility of expression, and social media
Former publisher William Nygaard shared his concerns about declining reading ability among young people. Lindgren addressed the issue of how social media also creates conflict and polarisation at ‘high speed’ in the age of algorithms. Slottemo talked about some of the dilemmas inherent in freedom of expression liberalism, such as tension between contrary voices and responsibility of expression.

In the following film, you can join writer and historian Hilde Gunn Slottemo on a guided tour through the history of freedom of expression, and Fritt Ord.

Omslag til invitt

The history of the Fritt Ord Foundation is available for purchase here


 Fake images. On the left, a fake illustration of Pope Francis. On the right, a fake of presumptive US presidential candidate Donald Trump. Photos from NTB/Phil Holm and

Are deepfakes a threat to media authenticity?

June 15 2024

A new report gives some answers and, for the first time, the use of artificial intelligence in the media has been surveyed all over the world.

The Fritt Ord Foundation, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford and the University of Bergen invite the public to the world-wide launch of the Reuters Digital News Report 2024 and the Norwegian report:

Monday, 17 June 2024, 08.30-10.00 a.m.
Uranienborgveien 2, Oslo

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Fritt Ord's grants for master’s degrees

May 15 2024

Is your master’s project about freedom of expression, social debate or journalism? If so, you can apply for a student grant from the Fritt Ord Foundation.


“In an age of fake news, AI, propaganda and manipulation, we must place trust in the photographer himself.” Speeches on the occasion of the awarding of the 2024 Fritt Ord Prize to Harald Henden

May 8 2024

“Each day, more than 3 billion images are uploaded to social media, including photos from conflicts and disasters. However, in an age of fake news, propaganda, manipulation and artificial intelligence, the question is often ‘what can we trust?’" observed Harald Henden upon being awarded the Fritt Ord Prize.
His response is that we must trust the individual photographer. Grete Brochmann, chair of the Fritt Ord Foundation Board, drove home the same point, calling war and documentary photography an integral part of the infrastructure of freedom of expression.


War photographer and prize laureate Harald Henden: “Credibility is journalism's most important capital asset”

May 7 2024

“Credibility is the media’s most important capital asset. That is precisely why the importance of having the media’s own photographers on site has not diminished. In point of fact, it is more important than ever before.
“This is because credibility is also an individual photographer’s most important asset. “When I put my name under a photo, readers should be able to trust that the content is correct, so that no further verification is needed. This brand of credibility takes many years to build up, and it can be descimated by a single mistake,” commented Harald Henden (63) upon being awarded the Fritt Ord Prize on Tuesday evening.