Historical archive

Media in Norway

Historical archive

Published under: Brundtland's 3rd Government

Publisher Kulturdepartementet

Media in Norway

The media landscape in Norway has been transformed over the past two decades. Norwegians still top the list of the world`s most avid newspaper readers. But the time spent on the electronic media is increasing year by year.

Norway was a latecomer in the field of television, which was introduced officially in 1960. But the state retained a monopoly of both radio and television until the early 1980s. The Norwegian parliament then opened the field to private enterprise, though both radio and television stations had to be licensed by the authorities. This breaking down of the state monopoly opened up for a large number of both local and nationwide radio and television companies that started to compete with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK).

At the same time the use of videofilms increased, and the CD replaced the old gramophone records. Then personal computers and the Internet entered the market, and began to demand their share of time spent on the use of media. This rapid development in the field of electronics meant tougher competition for the traditional printed media, in addition to the competition they had already encountered from radio and television, in the fields of both news and entertainment.

The media landscape underwent a radical change, but the new media did not replace the old ones - they supplemented them. Norway still has a prodigious number of newspapers and magazines. However, Norwegians, like other Scandinavians, are not as ardent television viewers as other Western Europeans.

Contents

The media

Media consumption

Financial basis

Media ownership

Working conditions for the press

Legal framework for the press

Newspapers

The topography of Norway, with deep valleys and fjords cutting into the mountains, makes communication difficult. This resulted in the establishment of a great many local newspapers before the year 1900, often several newspapers within the same community. Improved communications and stronger competition resulted in a great reduction in the number of newspapers. There are currently only one or two newspapers in each town, except for the larger cities. Only three daily newspapers enjoy a sizable nationwide circulation.

Still there are 221 newspapers, 82 of which issue four or more editions a week. The largest newspaper is the Oslo-based tabloid Verdens Gang, with a nationwide circulation of 370,115. The other nation-wide popular newspaper is Dagbladet (circulation 204,850). These two tabloids are not identified as a part of the yellow press, as they contain news, background, comments and debate on both politics and cultural affairs.

The second largest newspaper is the broadsheet Aftenposten (circulation 286,163). Its morning edition is distributed throughout the country, mostly to subscribers. Aftenposten also has an evening edition (circulation 191,269, almost all subscribers) distributed in the Oslo area.

From the beginning, Norwegian papers were often linked to political parties, and some were even directly owned by a party. These ties have been loosened almost completely. The newspapers have to a greater or lesser degree retained their political sympathies, but prefer to be formally independent of political organisations. Most of the largest newspapers are either Conservative or Liberal.

There are a few specialized smaller papers which address readers throughout the country: Dagsavisen Arbeiderbladet (formerly the organ of the Labour party, but now an independent Labour sympathizer - circ. 40,771), Finansavisen (finance and business - circ. 11,477), Nationen (agricultural - circ. 19,104), Vårt Land (Christian Democrat - circ. 30,292) and Klassekampen (Leftist-Marxist - circ. 8,087).

Norway's ten largest newspapers (circ. 1997)

VG 370115
Aftenposten morning 286163
Dagbladet 204850
Aftenposten evening 191269
Bergens Tidende 94051
Adresseavisen 93538
Stavanger Aftenblad 71637
Dagens Næringsliv 60027
Fædrelandsvennen 47893
Drammens Tidende og Buskerud Blad 45208

News agencies

The main news agency in Norway is Norsk Telegrambyrå (NTB), founded in 1867. In 1918 it was taken over by a limited company of Norwegian newspapers. The media conglomerate Schibsted is a substantial shareholder. Sixty-seven newspapers subscribe to the agency's news service.

NTB presents a Norwegian version of the news services of Reuters, Agence France Presse, Deutsche Presse Agentur and the other Nordic news agencies. NTB also has correspondents in most Norwegian cities to provide national coverage.

The various political parties have their own press services, which are subsidised by the government. The Labour press has its own news agency (APOR). The Orkla newspaper group is in the process of establishing a new agency.

The Associated Press and Reuters have offices in Oslo, manned by their own staff.

Weekly magazines

The total circulation of weekly magazines is approximately 2.7 million, of which 18 magazines with a circulation of more than 50,000 represent the bulk. The largest of the weekly magazines by far is Se og Hør (Look and Listen), a publication specializing in news about celebrities and entertainment, with a weekly circulation of 372 000.

The trade press and other periodicals

Norway has a vast number of periodicals, about 1200 of which issue more than three editions annually. This category includes trade, organisational, scientific, technical, hobby/leisure and other representatives of the professional press. 246 of these publications are members of the Norwegian Specialised Press Association, with a total circulation of 4.8 million.

Radio

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (Norsk rikskringkasting - NRK) was established by the Norwegian parliament in 1933, replacing the four existing private radio companies. The Corporation was a state monopoly, financed by public license fees. NRK had only one radio channel until the early 1980s. Its main office was and still is located in Oslo, but there are 17 regional offices which have regional transmissions on a daily basis. The second channel was established in 1981, and the third in 1993. A classical music all-day programme and an all news channel (relaying the BBC World programme at night and week-ends) are currently in the experimental stage in parts of the country.

The topography of Norway poses severe technical difficulties in distributing the main radio programme to the entire population, which is the goal of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. 1158 transmission points (including 48 main transmitters) were needed to achieve 100 per cent coverage for P 1 (Programme 1). The second programme (P 2) reaches 98 per cent of the population by means of 691 transmission points, while the third programme (PeTre) uses 148 transmission points. This means that it would take another 467 transmission points for P 2 to reach the last two per cent of the population. P 1 is the general programme channel, P 2 has a cultural profile, and P 3 regards young people as its main target group.

The transmitter system technically enables the NRK to divide the country into 17 regional units that can transmit their programmes locally in time slots on P 1. These local programme time slots cover an average of three hours a day.

The Sami population has its own radio programmes, broadcast partly on the national programme, and partly through regional transmitters.

The NRK has also been broadcasting to Norwegi-ans abroad for the past fifty years. A special half-hour programme is transmitted every hour on the hour 24 times a day from two large short-wave transmitters covering both the Western and the Eastern hemispheres. A medium-wave transmitter is beamed at Europe.

In 1993 the first private national radio company, P 4, was established. Its programming is dominated by mainstream music and news. Today this commercial company has 87 FM transmitters, and covers 93 per cent of the population. Its target group is young adults, and it has enjoyed a great deal of success.

When the Conservative Party formed a minority government in 1981, the state´s radio monopoly was broken. This led to the establishment of private local radio stations. However, many stations had to shut down due to fierce competition and lack of means. This was mainly due to the fact that advertising on local radio was not legalised until 1988. As of 1991 advertising was allowed in nationwide broadcasting. This reform made it possible to establish the commercial nationwide radiostation P 4 less than two years later. P 4 rapidly gained a substantial share of radio advertising.

The private radio stations are licensed by the Mass Media Authority. By the end of 1996 another reform reduced the number of licensed radio stations to 308, sharing 220 transmitter systems. This means that several different stations may have to share one local transmitter system, by splitting the air time between them. It is estimated that these private local radio stations have a total output of more than 1.9 million hours a year (in comparison, the NRK radio stations transmitted for a total of 47,000 hours).

Approximately 100 stations are run by various religious organisations, five by political parties, five by schools, 15 by other organisations, and five by ethnic minorities, whereas the remaining 170 have no special focus and are financed commercially or through contributions from local interest groups. Some stations link up for parts of the day, and a great many local radio stations have subscribed to news services provided by national companies, among them the NRK.

Television

Norway was a slow starter in the television field. Norwegians had their first real taste of television through the spillover effect of Swedish television and, in some parts of southern Norway, Danish TV. At first viewers had their own antennas to receive the signals from Swedish television transmitters in border areas, but they later acquired community antennas. This laid the groundwork for the future cable networks, which are very common today and can be seen by about 38 per cent of the population. These cable networks offer subscriptions to a wide selection of foreign channels, including movie channels. Approximately 19 per cent of the Norwegian audience have their own satellite dishes.

The NRK television channel was officially inaugurated in 1960, after a few years of test transmissions. In 1972 colour television was introduced, and within a relatively short time transmissions in black and white were history. In 1996 a second channel, NRK 2, was introduced, with programmes mainly for the younger generation in the afternoons, and cultural programmes later in the evening. Ten different regional programmes have their own time slots in NRK 1, and are seen by 14 per cent of the population on an average day.

Daily transmission time has gradually been expanded, now averaging 13 to 14 hours a day. 57 per cent of the programmes shown are of Norwegian origin. Through over-the-air transmitters NRK 1 reaches almost 100 per cent of the population, whereas NRK 2 covers about 70 per cent.

In 1996 a new transmission company, Norkring AS, was established. NRK owns 60 per cent of the company, and the stateowned telecommunications company Telenor owns the remainder. This new company took over the transmitters and relay stations owned by the NRK. This means that the NRK today is exclusively a producer of radio and television programmes, not a distributor. NRK is distributed by Norkring AS via 2,700 transmitter points, but is also transmitted by the Thor 2 satellite, owned by Telenor.

The state television monopoly, however, had in reality started breaking up in 1988 when two companies, TVNorge and TV 3, started to direct satellite transmissions at Norway. TV 3 is a Swedish-owned channel based in London. TVNorge was initially a purely Norwegian company. Both broadcast in Norwegian, and the advertising was directed specifically towards the Norwegian audience. Whereas advertising was banned on NRK, the two new channels were financed by advertising.

These two channels are still struggling to increase their advertising income. TVNorge has had financial troubles and a change of ownership. But still the channel broadcasts an average of ten hours a day. TV 3 transmits from the UK and is not obliged to comply with the rules of advertising that the Norwegian-based companies have to follow, particularly regarding commercials targeted at children. TVNorge´s programming is mainly dramatic series and other kinds of entertainment, but the channel provides news and current affairs programmes on a daily basis. TV 3 is based exclusively on this kind of entertainment in its nearly 20 hours of average daily transmission.

But the real breakthrough in private, commercial television occurred in 1992, when the monopoly of over-the-air transmissions was broken.

TV 2 was granted a concession on certain conditions. It has to have at least one newscast a day, and is required to have a certain public service profile, including a given percentage of programmes produced in Norway. The stated aim is that TV 2 shall contribute to the preservation of Norwegian language, culture and identity. Its headquarters are, in accordance with a parliamentary decision, situated in Bergen.

TV 2 had economic difficulties in the beginning, but has become very popular and is today a major competitor of NRK´s television channels. Nevertheless, the two rivals have been cooperating in buying rights to sports programmes in order to keep costs as low as possible.

About 95 per cent of the population can receive TV 2 programmes, which are transmitted an average of about 14 hours a day, slightly more than the two NRK channels combined. TV 2 uses 438 transmission points, including 28 larger transmitters, as well as the Intelsat satellite.

Other companies have also tried their hand with satellite transmissions to Norway, but these attempts have been rather short-lived. Even pay-TV was introduced, but has so far had relatively limited success.

The reform in the early 1980s brought local television stations to several regions. Advertising was banned, however, making it nearly impossible for these stations to survive. Starting in 1991 advertising on local television was legalised, reviving the regional stations. However, they still had difficulties as their transmissions were of a very short duration.

The Mass Media Authority redistributed concessions in 1996, dividing the country into 30 television regions. In each region only one television station was granted a license. Transmissions have started in 27 regions. The quality of the local transmissions has improved greatly. This is generally considered to be due to the fact that newspapers have been granted ownership rights to local television stations.

Media consumption

Newspapers

The avid newspaper readers of Norway (total population 4.3 million) can choose from among 209 newspapers, 84 of which issue five or more editions each week. In comparison, France has 88 newspapers with high periodicity, Italy 80, Denmark 42 and Belgium 32. Total circulation for the high-periodicity papers equals 607 copies per 1,000 inhabitants, topping world statistics. Sweden comes in second with 472 and Finland third with 471. The United Kingdom has 321, Germany 317, Belgium 168 and Italy 113.

Readership counts show that the largest newspaper, Verdens Gang, is read by 1,384,000 people, which means that every issue is read by an average of four people. Other newspapers are also read by an average of three to five people.

Newspapers, together with television, are the most widely used media in Norway. This means that five out of six Norwegians aged 9-79, or 84 per cent, read a newspaper every day. Norwegians spend an average of 40 minutes each day reading newspapers.

Weekly magazines

One out of five Norwegians reads a weekly magazine on an average day. Twice as many women as men read weekly magazines, and the men who read magazines spend on average only three minutes a day reading them while women spend 10 minutes a day.

Readership counts show that Se og Hør, by far the biggest of the weekly magazines with a circulation of 370,000, is read by 1.5 million people. This means that every third Norwegian reads Se og Hør.

The reading of weekly magazines has not changed a great deal over the past few years. Only a slight decline has been registered.

The trade press and other periodicals

Statistics from the Specialised Press Association, of which 246 of the largest periodicals are members, show that they have a total circulation of 4.8 million. The average time spent per day on reading in this category is five minutes. One out of six Norwegians reads a periodical. This figure has not changed substantially in resent years, nor has the number of readers. Motor, the largest monthly periodical, has 918,000 readers.

Radio

Norwegians spend an average of 161 minutes each day listening to the radio. This is regarded as moderate radio listening in comparison with other countries. Young people listen less than older generations.

The market shares are as follows (1996): NRK P 1 had 44 per cent, the private P 4 30 per cent, the NRK PeTre 12 per cent, local radio 11 per cent and P 2 four per cent.

Television

The average television viewing time is 150 minutes per day. The age group 67 and older is by far the group who watches most television. The age group 9-15 uses less than half the amount of time used by the elderly in front of the television screen. Five out of six Norwegians spend some time in front of the television set on an average day.

The market shares are as follows (1996):

NRK 1 43 per cent
TV 2 32
TVNorge 7
TV 3 6
NRK 2* 1
Others 11

* NRK 2 started transmissions 31.08.96

Of the non-domestic channels the two Swedish public broadcast channels reach 46 per cent of the population, Eurosport 34, CNN 28, MTV Europe 20, NBC Super Channel 18, Euronews 17 and Danish TV 14.

75 per cent of the population has television sets equipped to receive teletext services. About 31 per cent of the population uses NRK 1´s teletext services on a daily basis.

Other media

Only about 9 per cent of the Norwegian population watch videos on an average day, with young men as the most avid viewers. The use of videos has been declining.

One out of eight Norwegians uses a personal computer at home. Here, too, young boys are the most frequent users, together with highly educated people.

Three out of five Norwegians go to the movies in the course of a year. Members of the younger generation are movie goers, as are highly educated people. Naturally people in the cities go to the movies more often than people in the countryside. The average annual number of visits to a movie theatre is 3.8. The age group 16-24 goes to 10.6 movies annually.

Finacial basis

Newspapers

There is broad political agreement in Norway that a diversified press is a democratic asset. In the 1950s the rising costs of newspaper production led to the demise of many newspapers. In 1966 the press organizations appealed to the authorities for economic support in order to be able to maintain a wide variety of newspapers, and thus to ensure the democratic exchange of opinions. Three years later a state subsidy scheme was established for the daily newspapers.

Both the government and the press presumed that the press scheme in no way should be allowed to infringe upon the independence and freedom of the press. The aim was not to freeze the existing structure of the newspaper industry, but to ease the effects of rising costs and to give the existing papers some assistance in their struggle for survival. In the initial phase there were some misgivings as to whether the government was using the subsidies to influence the newspaper structure, but today the press subsidy scheme is widely accepted. The government has adhered strictly to the principle of non-interference with editorial matters in the newspapers receiving support. There may, however, be a growing political demand for reduction of the subsidies.

A special standing advisory committee consisting of leading representatives of the relevant ministries and press organisations has been appointed to permanently review the government support measures for the press. The committee may also propose new measures and changes in the current conditions for support.

The subsidies scheme is managed by the Mass Media Authority, an administrative body placed under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. The subsidies amount to a mere two to three per cent of the total annual turnover of the press. Subsidies are, moreover, directed specifically towards newspapers which are in difficult market positions. The NOK 188 million (1998), reduced to NOK 159 million in 1999, production support is divided amongst the following categories of newspapers:

  • newspapers with a circulation of 2,000 to 6,000 copies and more than three editions a week,
  • number two newspapers (i.e. newspapers which do not have the highest circulation within their area of publication) with an average circulation of between 2,000 and 80,000,
  • newspapers with national coverage which are regarded as public opinion shapers in the fields of religion, politics or trade and industry,
  • local newspapers with an average circulation of more than 1,000 and more than 48 editions a year.

In order to be eligible for support, the newspaper must have a general news profile and an editor who adheres to the Editor`s Code, set up by the Editors` Association and the Publishers` Association. This code gives certain guarantees for the independence of the editors in relation to the owners.

Newspapers which pay dividends are excluded from receiving subsidies. In addition to the general subsidies, special support is awarded to newspapers published for the Sami people and other newspapers published in the far north of Norway. Support is also given to political party publications.

It has been argued that the most important subsidy is the exemption of newspapers from the Value Added Tax system. This tax exemption amounts to more than NOK 1000 million annually.

Magazines and periodicals

A few periodicals which focus on cultural issues receive some support, but no specific support schemes apply to magazines and periodicals. Periodicals which are financed mainly by subscriptions and those which are organs for political, literary or religious organisations are, however, exempt from payment of Value Added Tax. Weekly magazines pay VAT.

Radio and television

The national broadcasting company, the NRK, is financed through license fees imposed on the owners of television sets. Advertising is prohibited, but a certain limited number of sponsored programmes have been allowed - though exactly what is to be regarded as sponsorship is currently under debate. The license fee was NOK 1,590 in 1999 and was paid by about 1,670,000 license holders. The total income of the NRK was in 1997 NOK 2,685 million.

The NRK is exempt from taxes, as are local radio and television stations with an idealistic or ideological basis. Commercial stations and companies are included in the VAT system. The private TV 2 had in 1997 an income of NOK 1 billion from advertising, and had a profit after taxes of NOK 100 million. TVNorge had an income of NOK 200 million from advertising, but showed a deficit of NOK 135 million in 1997. Figures for the Norwegian part of TV3 are not available. The private radio station P 4 had an income of NOK 205 million from advertising and profits after taxes of NOK 40 million.

There are no general subsidy schemes for the electronic media. A fund of approximately NOK 50 million has been established, however, to encourage the co-production of audio-visual works and similar projects by film and television companies. The fund allocates support for local radio stations and for educational measures for employees of local radio and television stations.

Media ownership

Newspapers

Three groups of owners have a dominating position in the newspaper industry. They are Schibsted (a media conglomerate), A-pressen (a media concern) and Orkla (an industrial corporation). Their combined controlling interests in newspapers represent more than half of the total national circulation. The same three are also very active in the electronic media, since cross-ownership is not prohibited by Norwegian law.

Schibsted is a media conglomerate of long standing. The family, descendants of the founder Amandus Schibsted, established Aftenposten in 1860, and took over Verdens Gang (VG) in 1960. The concern also has acquired substantial shares in the regional newspapers Adresseavisen, Bergens Tidende, Stavanger Aftenblad and Fædrelandsvennen. Recently Schibsted acquired 49 per cent of the shares of the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, which today is the second largest newspaper in Sweden. The company is engaged in mass media enterprises in the Baltic.

Schibsted started local radio and television in the early 1980s, but gave it up because advertising was not allowed at that time. But Schibsted then invested heavily in TV 2, now holding a 33 per cent share interest. The other two main owners of TV 2 are the Danish Egmont Holding and A-pressen. Later TV 2 bought a 49 per cent share of TVNorge.

A-pressen is the majority owner of 45 newspapers, including Romerikes Blad (circ. 42123) and Nordlys in Tromsø (circ. 32,874). In addition to its 33 per cent share of TV 2 and indirect ownership interests in TVNorge,

A-pressen had more than 40 per cent of the shares in the local television station in Oslo, that went bankrupt in 1998. A-pressen is also the majority shareholder in four other local television stations, and through its newspapers is part owner of four additional stations.

The media branch of Orkla owns more than 90 per cent of the shares of 21 newspapers, including Drammens Tidende (circ. 44,000), Tønsbergs Blad (circ. 33,000) and Sunnmørsposten (circ. 37,000) in Ålesund. Orkla is also a shareholder in Bergens Tidende and five other newspapers. The company is a majority owner in a number of newspapers i Poland.

Magazines and periodicals

Orkla is the co-owner, with Egmont in Denmark, of a group of 21 magazines with a total circulation of 1.3 million. The Danish publishing house Aller has a Norwegian subsidiary which owns nine magazines, including Se og Hør, the largest of them all. Their total circulation is 800,000. The Swedish publishing house Bonniers owns seven magazines, with a total circulation of 240,000. Most periodicals are owned by organisations, and are distributed to members only.

Radio and television

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, the NRK, became a joint stock company recently, with the state as the sole owner. The reorganisation was intended to enable the NRK to move more quickly and efficiently when facing the stiff competition in many fields. The Board is appointed by the government, but is not responsible for the editorial contents, which rest upon the Director General. The Director General was formerly appointed by the government, but is now appointed by the Board.

A Programme Council is also appointed by the government to counsel the Director General on programme policies, but has no power to instruct him or her. In addition there is a government-appointed Broadcasting Council which shall counsel the authorities on whether the three companies that have a public service liability according to their concession adhere to that in their programme policy.

TV 2 is owned mainly by three media corporations: Schibsted, Egmont and A-pressen. The Scandinavian Broadcasting System, registered in Luxembourg, is the major stockholder in TVNorge. The Swedish conglomerate Kinnevik owns TV3 as well as one-third of the shares of the P 4 radio station. Two Norwegian businessmen each own close to one-third of the shares of the radio company, while the others are held by smaller groups and individuals.

Local radio stations are owned mainly by local interest groups, though the Aller group has shares in 18 stations with the same name, Radio 1. With regard to local television, A-pressen has a market share of more than 30 per cent (the legal limit is 33 per cent). Newspapers are part owners in 19 of the 30 local television stations.

Working conditions for the press

Access to official documents

Public access to information is a cornerstone of Norwegian democracy. Hence, the Norwegian national assembly, the Storting, in 1970 passed an Act guaranteeing public access to the documents of public administration, unless certain statutory exceptions apply. Documents graded for security reasons are not encompassed by the Act, and the administrative body may also withhold personal information, documents which are considered as being part of the administration’s internal procedures, documents concerning sensitive economic information, and documents containing information which if made public may be detrimental to the security of the state or Norwegian relations to foreign powers or international organisations.

Any citizen has access to the public journals (i.e. open files on incoming and outgoing mail) of both national and local government. On the basis of these journals, citizens may request access to documents going out from or coming in to the administrative body, unless they are encompassed by the above exceptions to the Act. The Act ensures insight into the workings of the government, usually with the press acting as an intermediary. It furthermore safeguards democratic control over the activities of the authorities and enables the public to influence the decisions of the administration. Finally it facilitates debates on current issues.

An administrative decision to withhold documents may be brought before the Ombudsman for the administration, who may request a review of the decision.

Access to court documents and proceedings

The press and the general public are entitled to attend court trials. The court may, however, decide to close the courtroom to the public, if the proceedings represent an intrusion on the privacy of the parties. The concept «contempt of court» is not internalised in Norwegian law. Open court proceedings are regarded as a necessary precondition for legal protection and the public sense of justice. Also in this respect, the press is regarded as instrumental as a guarantor of the interests of the public. Photography is not allowed, unless specifically permitted by the court. Under no circumstances may the accused be photographed either in court or on the way to and from court. Drawings, however, are allowed.

The protection of sources

Journalists and editors have a qualified right not to answer questions about the identity of their sources. The court may, however, order journalists or editors to disclose their sources if it finds it particularly important to obtain this information. If the information sought can be obtained otherwise, the courts usually refrain from issuing such orders. The Code of Ethics of the press specifies that journalists and editors should protect their sources, including material obtained from confidential sources. The press invariably adheres to its protection of sources, even if it results in paying fines. Instances of conflict remain few.

Legal framework for the press

Norway has no separate Press Act, but various provisions of the General Civil Penal Code apply.

Article 100 of the Constitution protects the freedom of the press. Article 100 reads:

«There shall be liberty of the press. No person may be punished for any writing, whatever its contents may be, which he has caused to be printed or published, unless he willfully and manifestly has either himself shown or incited others to disobedience to the laws, contempt of religion, morality or the constitutional powers, or resistance to their orders, or has made false and defamatory accusations against anyone. Everyone shall be free to speak his mind frankly on the administration of the State or on any other subject whatsoever.»

Article 100 is generally understood to prohibit prior censorship of printed matter. However, the Court of Enforcement may issue an order to restrain publication if it threatens to seriously harm the interests of the plaintiff. Such injunctions remain very few and rare.

The General Civil Penal Code

The articles of the General Civil Penal Code which apply to the press include provisions prohibiting:

  • utterances or communications which threaten or subject an individual or group to contempt on the grounds of religion, creed, race, colour or national or ethnic origin, or because of their sexual status or inclination,
  • defamation (including libel). Even if a statement is true, it may be punishable if the court finds that it was made without respectable intent or was otherwise improper. Sentences can be severe: in one case a newspaper was obliged to pay NOK 6 million in damages, fines and legal costs.
  • the intrusion of privacy. Lawsuits are very rare.
  • insults to government institutions or officials. Although this provision has not been applied for a great many years, it has not been repealed.
  • blasphemy. This provision is also very seldom applied.
  • state security (espionage).
  • the monitoring of conversations of others or of the negotiations of a closed meeting.
  • pornography (the regular press has never been prosecuted for breach of this article).

Right of reply

According to the General Civil Penal Code anyone directly affected by incorrect information in print shall have the right to correct factual errors. This article is very seldom applied. The Code of Ethics of the Norwegian Press Association, where journalists, editors and publishers in practically all Norwegian media are members through their different organizations, elaborates on this. The Code states that a person who has been the victim of gross accusations shall have the right to simultaneous comment, if possible. Furthermore, anyone affected by general criticism or attacks should be given the right to answer as soon as possible.

The Copyright Act

The Copyright Act ensures proper compensations for right holders. The former Photograph Act has been included in the Copyright Act, which establishes individual property rights to photographs. The Act also has provisions describing the rights of the person photographed to his own picture. It does, however, give the press the right to use photographs of a person or persons if the photograph is directly related to news or current affairs, or if the person photographed is a minor part of a larger scene. Articles may be quoted to some extent.

Restrictions on advertising

In Norway advertisements promoting alcohol and tobacco are prohibited. So is advertising which is not in accordance with the principle of equality between the sexes, and advertising for certain medicines. The Broadcasting Act furthermore limits the volume of advertising allowed, and prohibits advertising directed towards children.

Press code

There are no laws regarding the ethical standards of the media. But since 1936 the printed press has maintained a code of ethical standards through the establishment of the Press Complaints Commission. Since 1996 complaints against radio and television are also dealt with by this Commission, though a special Broadcasting Complaints Commission was in operation until the summer of 1998 in accordance with the Broadcasting Act. The Broadcasting Act was changed on this point in 1998, referring complaints on radio and television to the Press Complaints Commission only.

The basis for the hearings of the Press Complaints Commission is the Code of Ethics, which is drawn up by the press organisations through their common organisation, the Norwegian Press Association, which i.a. deals with ethical questions on behalf of these organisations.

The Code of Ethics of the Norwegian Press Association outlines the role of the press in society and the need for press integrity and responsibility. It also details the relations of the press to its sources, including their need for protection and the necessity of checking sources. According to the Code, and to the law, the general manager is responsible for whatever is printed or quoted on radio and television, with the sole exception of quotes from debates in the Norwegian parliament or county councils.

The Code underlines the duty of the press to clearly define the premises for its contact and interviews, taking special care in its relations with persons who may not be fully aware of the impact of their statements. The use of hidden cameras and microphones can only be accepted if that is the only way to obtain information of substantial importance to the public. The Code gives detailed instructions concerning other instances where the press should be especially careful with regard to what it publishes.

The seven members of the Press Complaints Commission are appointed by the Norwegian Press Association. The Commission consists of two journalists, two editors and three representatives of the general public, and it deals with approximately 200 complaints from the public each year. The Secretary General of the Press Association may also bring cases before the Commission.

The secretariat of the Press Complaints Commission usually contacts the editor concerned with the objective of assisting the parties to reach an amicable settlement. The secretariat will also assist the complainant in clarifying the complaint, if necessary. The Commission always invites the publication in question to give a written response to the complaint, and the complainants, in turn, may comment upon the arguments presented by the accused newspapers, magazines, or radio or television stations. The publication may submit a final comment before the Commission considers the case.

The Commission will not consider a complaint if the matter has been brought before the courts or if it is evident that legal action will be taken. But there is no provision stopping the complainant from going to the courts after the adjudication of the Commission. There is also a provision that the persons or groups concerned must give their consent, if the complaint has been filed by someone not directly concerned or by the Secretary General.

If the Commission agrees with the complainant, and determines that the published material represents a breach of good press conduct, then the adjudication of the Commission must be published without delay, in full and in a prominent place, by the guilty publication or electronic media.

The Commission has no other sanctions than the publishing of the adjudication, which is also made public through the magazines of both the Journalists´ Union and the Publishers´ Association. Nor are there any fees for hearing cases. The Commission has no power to instruct the publication to publish the adjudication, but so far all adjudications have been published voluntarily. The adjucations are based on the Code of Ethics accepted by all members through their various organisations, including almost every newspaper, magazine, periodical, and radio and television station in the country.

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