Presentation of the final Report on the Status of Freedom of Expression in Norway

November 19 2014

Along with partners from the University of Oslo (Dept. of Media and Communication), FAFO, TNS Gallup, and attorney Jon Wessel Aas, ISF’s researchers presented their report on “The Status of Freedom of Expression in Norway” today at the closing session of the full-day conference arranged at the House of Literature on the Status of Freedom of Expression in Norway, the Fritt Ord Foundation’s monitoring project.

In the report, the authors examine different aspects of Norway’s culture of free speech, concentrating on social changes related to cultural and religious pluralism, digitisation and global cultural trends. The analyses are based on a broad sample of data: surveys of the general population, artists, authors and journalists, as well as goal-oriented qualitative interviews of debaters from minority backgrounds, journalists and editors from several media houses. The contributions to the report include an analysis of the legal trends in two fields of law of great importance to freedom of expression: the publicist’s freedom and freedom of information.

The report consists of five main parts, each of which covers two chapters:

  • Attitudes to and the rules regarding freedom of expression
  • Freedom of expression in a multi-cultural society
  • Freedom of expression’s infrastructure and professions
  • Digitisation and new forms of participation
  • Conditions for freedom of expression at work

The results disclosed in the report draw a paradoxical picture of the conditions for freedom of expression in Norway. On the one hand, we are witnessing democratisation of the opportunities for participation in the public debate, where freedom of expression is not merely a set of rights and potentials, but something that is made real and experienced by more people now than was the case just a few short years ago. Roughly half the population reports that they express themselves through social media, and newspaper editors and debate editors also emphasise the democratic potential inherent in newspapers having to accommodate audience opinions.

On the other hand, the different social trends lead to a relative narrowing of the public space in terms of both diversity of opinion and the possibilities for productive exchanges of opinion. The report indicates that loyalty to one’s employer and consideration for enterprises’ reputation and finances appear to limit employees’ experience of freedom of expression in relation to circumstances in the workplace, especially in the public sector. As regards utterances made through the social media in general, the researchers point out that mechanisms such as autolimitation, based on the fear of offending others or of being ridiculed, as well as unpleasant experiences can place constraints on freedom of expression. These limitations arise from individuals’ experiences and assessments of the public digital culture, and apply to a greater extent now that participation in the public space is open to everyone.

Download The Status of Freedom of Expression in Norway – The main report from the project (pdf).