Journalist unions call for widened editorial freedom for BarentsObserver

BarentsObserver editorial desk.

“Worrisome that elected politicians in northern Norway advocate less critical journalism and editorial freedom in one of the few news sites that cover the Barents region.”

All four journalists unions in northern Norway have issued a joint statement sent to the owners of BarentsObserver, the politicians in Nordland, Troms and Finnmark Counties.

Last Thursday, the Owners Assembly members of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat approved a proposal prohibiting BarentsObserver from following editorial independence as stipulated in the Rights and Duties of the Editor. It is the Secretariat that owns BarentsObserver.

The politicians argue that no changes will apply. “It [BarentsObserver] brings information about the Barents Region, and is not subject to the Right and Duties of the Editor.”

“Such a publicly owned and publicly financed website can not function just like the free press. It would not be fair to the free press in Norway,” says Runar Sjåstad, County Mayor of Finnmark and member of the Owners Assembly of the Barents Secretariat in an interview with the Norwegian Journalist Union’s own newspaper

The journalists unions, however, says that’s no problem and point to another publication that is financed by the Foreign Ministry, Bistandsaktuelt, a newspaper that also follows the Rights and Duties of the Editor.

The journalist unions of Finnmark, Troms, Hålogaland and Helgeland & Salten write in the statement that in a period of time with colder political climate between the West and Russia, it is ”very worrisom that elected politicians in northern Norway advocate less critical journalism and editorial freedom in one of the few news sites that cover the Barents Region.”

BarentsObserver is the only online newspaper in northern Europe that publish articles in both English and Russian languages.

Opinions hinting at Putin

BarentsObserver has received massive support from all over the Barents Region and the circumpolar north after the measures opening for restrictive editing imposed by the owners became known. Barents Press International last Friday issued a statement strongly regretting political control over BarentsObserver. 

Norwegian journalists, like in the regional newspapers Avisa Nordland and national newspaper VG, have written opinions hinting that the politicians that took the decision to limit the editorial freedom of BarentsObserver could be inspired by Putin.

National and local support

Also Norway’s Foreign Ministry underlines the importance of keeping BarentsObserver as independent as possible. In an E-mail to the Chairman of the board of the Barents Secretariat, from the Ministry writes “It will be important for its credibility and legitimacy.”

Sør-Varanger Mayor Cecilie Hansen at the 70th anniversary celebration of the Red Army’s liberation of Finnmark in Kirkenes last October.

Cecilie Hansen, Mayor of Sør-Varanger municipality, writes in a press-release that she supports the editorial staff in BarentsObserver regarding their freedom of speech.

“I consider BarentsObserver to be an independent and credible source which I personally read daily. In a period of time when many experience propaganda voices from different places, it is good to be able to stay updated by this news site,” Cecilie Hansen says.

Sør-Varanger is the municipality in Norway that borders the Kola Peninsula in northern Russia.