Three new projects regarding the status of freedom of expression in Norway 2020–2021

January 15 2020

Press release, Thursday, 16 January 2020

Have online harassment and polarisation altered Norwegians’ views about freedom of expression? How has researchers’ freedom of expression evolved at a time when knowledge about areas such as climate, gender and integration invariably generate controversy in public opinion? Is artistic freedom of expression under more intense pressure now than before? And when do employers consider a statement to be disloyal?

These are some of the questions that will be explored in the third round of the Fritt Ord Foundation’s Monitoring Project on the Status of Freedom of Expression in Norway, 2020–2021. The projects have total funding of MNOK 8, and the main project will be carried out by the Institute for Social Research in collaboration with the University of Bergen, the University of Oslo and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. A smaller project about freedom of expression in the workplace will be done by Fafo, and a survey on artistic freedom of expression will be performed by Tore Slaatta and Hanne M. Okstad.

The main project: “The place of knowledge in a new public sphere”

Have the polarised debates, online harassment and dissemination of fake news in recent years caused people to change their views about the limits that apply to freedom of expression? What are the parameters for the communication of free, verifiable knowledge in today’s information and media society?

This time, the main project will devote particular attention to the conditions for freedom of expression in research and academia. We know that many people lack confidence in the genuine neutrality and independence of research, and academia is criticised regularly for being politically skewed, narrow-minded and reluctant to communicate controversial knowledge. But how do researchers themselves experience their freedom of expression? Is their research characterised by different types of pressure or their fear of negative reactions in a polarised public sphere? If so, which topics and disciplines are the most vulnerable?

“There are strong indications that researchers in fields such as immigration, gender and climate are particularly exposed to different types of pressure as well as to threats. It is worthwhile to examine their experiences in greater detail: What does it mean to research topics that are very prominent in the public debate and politics, and how do researchers in these fields view their latitude for performing research and expressing themselves freely?” asks Project Supervisor Kjersti Thorbjørnsrud.

In addition to devoting special attention to the conditions for freedom of expression in the world of academia, the project will explore where the general public sets limits on freedom of expression in 2020, that is, whether they find that freedom of expression is threatened, and the extent to which they themselves feel that they can express their opinions freely in different fora. The project builds further on similar surveys from 2013 and 2015. This should put today’s challenges in perspective.

The project will be carried out by the Institute for Social Research in collaboration with the University of Bergen, the University of Oslo and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Side project: “Artists assess freedom of expression in 2020”

Artistic freedom of expression is often an indicator of exactly where the boundaries go in a society. Has growing polarisation in the social debate led to tighter parameters for freedom of artistic expression in recent years, as may be suggested by the incidents related to the theatre production of Ways of Seeing?

Professor Tore Slaatta and Hanne M. Okstad will be following up the report “When artists assess freedom of expression” from 2014 about how authors and visual artists experience freedom of expression in Norway. The new study will also be expanded to include artists in the dramatic arts, film and documentary.

“A great deal has happened since the last survey, and we must ask in particular about the play Ways of Seeing and new political events and constellations since 2015. For example, I’m thinking of Metoo, the sharper political controversy at the national and international levels alike and, not least, the climate issue, all of which have changed the situation”, remarks Tore Slaatta.

While legal protection, norms for artistic freedom, and cultural policies can protect freedom of expression, it is assumed that changes in public opinion, political situations, levels of conflict and power structures related to artistic production and the promotion of the arts can create situations in which censorship and self-censorship can occur.

Side project: “Freedom of expression and whistleblowing at work”

“We have built up a robust body of knowledge about employees’ assessment of the parameters that apply to freedom of expression in general and about the issue of whistleblowing in particular. However, we lack knowledge about how employers deal with critical statements and whistleblowing. What do employers consider to be legitimate public statements? And when is a statement perceived as disloyal?” asks Sissel C. Trygstad.

She heads the project “Freedom of expression and whistleblowing at work”, seen from the employers’ point of view". In this project, there are several reasons why Fafo is following up the surveys from the first round of the Monitoring Project and turning its attention to the employers. First of all, research shows that employers’ efforts to pave the way for statements in the broad sense and to facilitate whistleblowing are of significance for whether employees use opportunities to express themselves and how statements are dealt with in the enterprises. Second, cases handled by the ombudsman show that public employers use a variety of routines and regulations to restrict employees’ freedom of expression, in contravention of §100 of the Constitution. Third, the problem brings to the fore the relationship between the management prerogative and loyalty on the one hand, and freedom of expression and co-determination on the other.

This project raises four questions: What do employers consider to be legitimate public statements? When do employers consider a public statement to be disloyal? What experiences do employers have with criticism and whistleblowing, and where should the line be drawn? Have the employers established routines/guidelines that regulate freedom of opportunity and whistleblowing, and are these framed in keeping with legislators’ intentions?

Debate meeting: What do we know – and what don’t we know?

Fritt Ord and the Institute for Social Research (ISF) invite the public to an open meeting on Thursday, 13 February, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the House of Literature to launch a new round of the Fritt Ord Foundation’s Monitoring Project: The Status of Freedom of Expression in Norway 2020-2021. We are inviting key influencers in Norway’s public sphere – Mohamed Abdi, Nils August Andresen, Shabana Rehman Gaarder, Marte Mangset and Mari Skurdal – to take part in a panel discussion about the greatest challenges facing freedom of expression today and, not least: What should we be looking at in more detail?


Kjersti Thorbjørnsrud, project supervisor and researcher II at the Institute for Social Research, mobile: +47 951 09 236 , email:

Tore Slaatta, director of the consultancy and analytical agency TSL Analytics, mobile: +47 932 21 238 , email:

Sissel C. Trygstad, head of research at Fafo, mobile: +47 415 43 677 , email:

Bente Roalsvig, project director, Fritt Ord Foundation, mobile phone: +47 916 13 340 , email:

Executive Director Knut Olav Åmås of the Fritt Ord Foundation will serve as moderator: +47 908 68 139, email:


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