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Owners of Norwegian Arctic newspaper fire editor

  • Author: Atle Staalesen
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 30, 2015

Editor's note: Alaska Dispatch News partners with BarentsObersver to share Arctic-related content through Eye on the Arctic, a group of news outlets covering the circumpolar North. The story that follows is BarentsObserver's account of the dismissal of its top editor, Thomas Nilsen.

They first refused to give the newspaper editorial freedom, today they followed up with the dismissal of editor Thomas Nilsen.

In the letter handed over by owner representative Stig Olsen Monday, Thomas Nilsen is ordered out of the editorial chair with immediate effect. The letter reads that Nilsen has acted disloyally to the owners and that he has seriously mismanaged his duties as editor.

The dismissal follows the owners's 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.

"I have done exactly what is an editor's duty: standing up for our editorial freedom," Nilsen says.

"The owners of BarentsObserver decided in spring that the news publication should not have the editorial independence as stipulated in the Norwegian Rights and Duties of the Editor. I criticized that decision publicly, because I strongly believe politicians should never interfere journalistic product," he adds.

"I stand up for this freedom, and do not regret having done my job."

BarentsObserver is part of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, a company which is owned by the three northernmost Norwegian counties; Nordland, Troms and Finnmark. Thomas Nilsen has been employed in the secretariat for the past 13 years, the last six of them as editor of BarentsObserver.

Board Chairman Stig Olsen does not want to comment on the dismissal of Nilsen, arguing that this is an internal issue between the parts. He also does not want to comment on future of BarentsObserver.

The conflict between the BarentsObserver editorial staff and the owners erupted when the latter on May 21 this year turned down the newspaper's request to formally adopt the Rights and Duties of the Editor.

In a joint statement, the editorial staff that same day expressed concern about the future of the newspaper.

"We are deeply concerned about the decision by our owners today that BarentsObserver cannot be edited in line with the principles of promoting free exchange of information and opinions," Nilsen said together with colleagues Trude Pettersen, Jonas Karlsbakk and Atle Staalesen.

"In a time with a repressive press freedom environment in Russia, we find it deeply worrying that the political leaders of northern Norway want to limit BarentsObserver's role as a provider of news and opinions that can be considered critical to crackdowns on democratic voices," the statement adds.

"We have over the last 12 years developed BarentsObserver to be a unique bi-lingual online newspaper covering the developments in the Barents Region and the Arctic. Focusing on cross-border cooperation, we are every day seeking to balance our news in order to mirror what actually happens in the society -- in Russia, Norway and in the rest of the region," Nilsen, Pettersen and Staalesen underlined.

With the sacking of Nilsen, the conflict between the newspaper and the owners reaches a new level. The editorial staff is shocked and outraged by the dismissal, they say in a press release.

"We feel that the owners are doing what they can to destroy us and the news product which we have developed over the last 13 years," the press release reads.

"The BarentsObserver team is committed to its work to and dedicated to the Barents Cooperation, the regional cross-border cooperation between people, civil society and media in the Barents Region," they say.

"We have an important job to do and hope to be able to continue the development of BarentsObserver, the journalists underline.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch News as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.