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What will happen with BarentsObserver?

The BarentsObserver team intends to keep on with Barents newsmaking despite repressive action from owners.

”We will continue to publish good Barents stories as long as we can”

”We are one less person, but will do our best keep up our work with BarentsObserver”, editorial staff members Trude Pettersen and Atle Staalesen say.

In a press release published on the newspaper’s Facebook page, the journalists say ”they feel that the owners are doing what they can to destroy them and the news product which they have developed over the last 13 years”.

As previously reported, the owners of the newspaper yesterday sacked Editor Thomas Nilsen, arguing that he has acted disloyally to the owners and seriously mismanaged his duties as editor.

The dismissal of Nilsen comes just few weeks ahead of an owners’ board meeting, in which the future of the newspaper is a key agenda point.

In that meeting, due 23 October, the board members will be presented with a report elaborated by media consultant and former newspaper editor Thor Woje. The report, commissioned by the Board itself, will outline editorial alternatives and organizational models for the newspaper, and is expected to be of prime importance for the Board’s decision in the issue.

The Barents Secretariat’s Board Chairman Stig Olsen on Tuesday published a press release about Woje’s report, before any of the editorial staff of BarentsObserver had a chance to read the report, or at least be made aware of the conclusions. The report concludes that the BarentsObserver should be run according to the principles of Rights and Duties of the Editor, and that the website should be organized as a department of the Barents Secretariat with its own permanent staff and a chief editor employed by, and answering to, the Board.

The editorial staff members of BarentsObserver are disappointed that they were not presented with the report’s conclusions before they were made public.

In an interview yesterday, Olsen refused to elaborate on the dismissal of Editor Thomas Nilsen. He did however confirm that he is sacked ”because he has acted disloyally to his employers”.

He also declined to comment on the possible link between the dismissal of the editor and the Board’s earlier decison not to grant BarentsObserver editorial freedoms.

Meanwhile, as underlined by Board Chairman Stig Olsen, it is Laila Dalhaug, acting Head of the Barents Secretariat, who is responsible for the management of BarentsObserver. In collaboration with the editorial staff, she had decided that Trude Pettersen will act as Chief Editor until further notice.

“We will continue to bring our readers news from the Barents Region and the rest of the Arctic as long as we can,” Pettersen says. “We believe we fill an important niche in the media landscape and intend to keep it so.”

As previously reported, the conflict between the BarentsObserver staff and the owners started as the latter in May this year turned down the newsmaker’s request to operate according to the principles of Rights and Duties of the Editor.

Today, BarentsObserver is an integrated part of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, a company owned by the three northernmost Norwegian counties. The Secretary Board consists of three members, each of them appointed by the respective county leaders.