Long Term Projects – Fritt Ords Monitor Project

New project on the status for freedom of expression in Norway: Public boundaries

Press Release, 29 May 2015

The Fritt Ord Foundation has decided to support the further development of the project "Status of freedom of expression in Norway" for a new period from 2015 to 2017 – this time focusing on the topic "Public boundaries". The project will be headed by the Institute for Social Research in collaboration with Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo. 

Under the auspices of the new project, researchers will delve more deeply into the processes by which boundaries are drawn for what can and cannot be said in the public space in Norway. The project will study selected debates in more detail, examining which players participate in and regulate them, as well as which arguments are included and excluded. 

The project consists of three main parts:
The first part will examine whether the public’s view of freedom of expression has changed in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen and the subsequent debate by conducting surveys among the public and among journalists. Both surveys will be based on the same selection sources as in 2013–2014, making it possible to study changes of attitude over time. In addition, the researchers will include questions about the legal position of freedom of expression.
The second part of the project will examine the development of discussions linked to religion, immigration and freedom of expression over a ten-year period, from caricature controversy in 2005/06 until today, with emphasis on whether and, if so, how editors and journalists have modified their opinions during this period. This part of the project will combine content analyses of media text and online debates with qualitative interviews with central editors and editorial staff members.
The third part of the project will study how high-profile, vulnerable groups, or groups of the population who think differently, experience the public space available for freedom of expression and diversity of opinion. The survey in 2013–2014 indicated that certain areas are especially inflamed and difficult to express opinions about, and that certain players experience more pressure, encounter stronger sanctions and show greater restraint than others do. Using in-depth interviews with selected players, this part of the project will focus on experiences and opinions among politicians, ethnic and religious minorities, and opponents to immigration and critics of Islam on the right side of the political landscape.
In 2013–2014, "the Fritt Ord Foundation's watchtower project regarding the status of freedom of expression in Norway" was conducted for the first time. The broad-based study of the conditions for freedom of expression in Norway was the first large-scale investigation since the Freedom of Expression Commission submitted its report in 1999. One of the key findings in the preceding survey was that the general public draws up normative boundaries for the exercise of freedom of expression, and that many are of the opinion that one must balance freedom of expression against other considerations, e.g. to avoid hurting or insulting others or to avoid appearing  racist. Volition and attitudes to such self-limitation turned out to vary inter alia by gender, age and political point of view. Based on these findings, the researchers pointed out the danger that certain voices and opinions were being systematically underrepresented in the public space.
Considerable attention will be devoted to providing information about activities and research finds, and to contributing to the public debate on freedom of expression. Seminars will be organised based on in-house research and other research that is relevant to the topics of the project. The project will result in several publications that will be made available in digital format, and a closing conference will be arranged in spring 2017.
Arnfinn H. Midtbøen, Project Manager for the new research project and Researcher II at the Institute for Social Research, Mobile: +47 920 82553, e-mail: a.h.midtboen@socialresearch.no
Bente Roalsvig, Project Director and Deputy Executive Director of the Fritt Ord Foundation, mobile: +47 916 13340, e-mail: bente.roalsvig@frittord.no