BarentsObserver deserves to be free

For Canadians, Norway is looked up to as a beacon of freedom and fairness.

For Canadians, Norway is looked up to as a beacon of freedom and fairness. Your country’s wealth has enabled the formation of a liberal society in which the value of public goods is recognized and celebrated – public goods such as a free press. This is why I was shocked and dismayed to learn that you have declined to take the simple, necessary step of granting BarentsObserver the editorial independence it needs.

When I came to Kirkenes to work at BarentsObserver I was ecstatic that a news outlet existed that had the funding and the freedom to tell important Arctic stories. Reporting in the High North is an expensive undertaking, and most Canadian outlets struggle to achieve what BarentsObserver has handily managed thanks to the financial support of the Barents Secretariat: telling a vast array of stories ranging from local to international, from personal to universal, and from charming to vital. It serves a multitude of purposes, as a quick glance at the publication’s front page on any given day will tell you.

BarentsObserver amplifies the voices of indigenous peoples and those on the lowest end of the power spectrum, such as Russian gay rights activists, and holds to account to those with the most power, all the way up to Putin himself and his ministers. In just over a decade a tiny team of four reporters has become one of the most respected publications in the Arctic.

As an Arctic journalist I lament your decision not to grant BarentsObserver press freedoms that even the most poorly funded circumpolar publications enjoy in free countries, and I urge you to reconsider. Allowing the editorial staff of one of your region’s greatest assets to operate with the basic autonomy that any media outlet requires is neither a charitable act nor a simple sign of goodwill. It is a necessary next step towards ensuring that BarentsObserver can continue to do its job and perform at an international level. Good journalism can only come from a free press, and any journalism from constrained reporters will eventually be called into question.

If you, the board of the Barents Secretariat, want a mouthpiece, you can have that and be safe in the knowledge that you will never be challenged. But if you want journalism – if you want the checks and balances, truth-seeking, and careful analysis that only a free press can provide – you will have to accept that it will be beyond your control. You will have to trust that the decisions you make are beyond reproach, or at least be willing to accept that scrutiny is ultimately a good thing. It’s time to let BarentsObserver do its job.