On Monday, Thomas Nilsen was ordered out of the editorial chair with immediate effect. According to the owners, Nilsen has acted disloyally to the owners and seriously mismanaged his duties as editor. The dismissal follows the owners’ decision of May this year not to allow BarentsObserver to follow the principles of Rights and Duties of the Editor, a basic criteria for independent newsmaking – a decision that Nilsen has criticized in BarentsObserver and other media.
«This is a sad ending to an affair that we can only hope will not further cool down the climate of free speech in the northern regions,” says Knut Olav Åmås, Director of the foundation Fritt Ord, whose aim is to support freedom of expression and a free press. “It is the opposite that is needed – more free media in an area where parts of the most important development in Norway will take place in the years to come.” “Then smart owners are needed, “Åmås says in an e-mail to BarentsObserver.
Also the Norwegian Press Association believes dismissal of Nilsen was a bad ending to the disagreement between the BarentsObserver and its owners. “From the Norwegian Press Association’s point of view, we of course believe that the society is best served having a free journalism based on the chief editor’s judgements on what to publish,” General Secretary Kjersti Læken Stavrum says to BarentsObserver. “That being said, it is up to the owners to decide what they want to have – a journalistic free publication or a information web site. This case has had a lot of attention, and I believe it is a pity that one hasn’t been able to reach a better solution than dismissal.”
A bad day for freedom of speech in Norway – Barents Press
“The decision to dismiss Thomas Nilsen as editor of the BarentsObserver sends a clear message to Russia that things aren’t so good when it comes to basic journalistic values in Norway either”, Barents Press Norway writes in a press release.
“In a time when we see big challenges towards the working conditions of our Russian colleagues, it is very regrettable to see that Norwegian regional politicians first restrain an editor’s editorial freedom by refusing him to follow the principles of Rights and Duties of the Editor, and then firing him for using his rightful freedom to criticize the decision limiting his freedom, “Head of Barents Press Norway Amund Trellevik says.
Barents Press says that using the term “disloyalty” when people bring important discussions out in the open, is a threat to democracy and the transparency we in Norway like to say we are fighting for.
The Barents Press network has for more than 20 years worked for increased contacts between journalists and media across the borders in the north. The Barents Press groups in Russia, Norway, Finland and Sweden are focusing on the conditions for freedom of expression and media diversity, economic and state involvement and attempts to stop a free and critical press.
Dismissal in conflict with Law on media freedom – Journalists’ Union
Also the Norwegian Journalists’ Union is critical to the way BarentsObserver´s owners have treated the editor. “This is a very dark day for media in Northern Norway”, they say in a press release.
BarentsObserver is an open website producing news from the Barents Region and focusing on important issues in the northern High North, the Norwegian Journalists´Union writes in a press release. “Such a website is covered by the Law on media freedom, and dismissal of an editor because he denies to follow instructions that are in conflict with the principles of editorial freedom, will be an unfair dismissal according to the Working Environment Act,” the union´s attorney on media law Ina Lindahl Nyrud says.