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The woman, the immigrant and the critical of immigration

Boundary struggles:. Contestations of Free Speech in the Norwegian Public Sphere
An interdisciplinary research group has recently published a pioneering work in the freedom of speech debate, in which the conditions for freedom of expression are given their overall presentation.


The publication Boundary struggles. Contestations of Free Speech in the Norwegian Public Sphere presents the final result for Statement of Freedom of Speech in Norway 2015 – 2017, a project led by the Department of Social Research and funded by Fritt Ord. The study identifies a large number of phenomena with an impact on public conversation, including hate speech, hatred of youth politicians, stigmatization and public outrage – all with effects that may threaten open political debate and democratic participation. A number of different methods of data collection find its application – never before has freedom of speech been investigated so thoroughly, neither nationally nor internationally. Through a number of the book's surveys, the public is tested as an arena for free, critical expression of opinion. Findings from the studies reveal declining confidence in the press, combined with skepticism about the press system as a democratic public.

Not completely black. The development can be interpreted as a blow to the news media's status as a critical gatekeeper of democracy. Professional journalism is not free – the survey reveals that many doubt that journalists behave neutrally, regardless of sources and their own political views, not unlike recent findings from the United States. One records a growing "suspicion's hermeneutics" reminiscent of Trump's "alternative facts" rhetoric. Perhaps more challenging, but hardly surprising, is that this distrust is most prevalent among right-wing voters in Norwegian politics. Paradoxically, respondents across the political spectrum criticize the tabloid press for letting go only of far-reaching votes. The Norwegian population is also increasingly divided by group thinking and symbolic boundaries, which makes it more difficult to speak freely. The backdrop is Europe's dangerous many elements of raw populism.

But the state of affairs does not go completely black: Media editors legitimize their position by referring to their defense of diversity. Many editors invoke the role of motivator for increased participation from multicultural groups and want to release new voices in social media. And Norway is still among the better in the class – only a small proportion of the population is subjected to hate speech, an opinion that is reflected by the debate editors, who believe that this is still limited to the comment fields.

Among people critical of current immigration policy, there is widespread fear of being labeled as immoral and racist, with subsequent social isolation and exclusion. 

The counterpart to the ideal of freedom of expression is nevertheless far from glamorous – a dystopia of increasing cultural and social constraints, where weak groups and views are systematically excluded, and where the trust in the media is freely given. The elements of polarization, group thinking and retraction must be taken seriously and – not least – explored further

Threaten to silence. The project is a continuation of a study from 2013-14, where an important additional finding was that many thought it was right to balance freedom of expression against ethical considerations in order to avoid abusing minorities, but with the risk that certain voices and views were underrepresented in it. public spaces. In this project, deeper research into how borders are set for what can be expressed in the Norwegian public. The media public is a battle arena for continuous negotiations on what can be said when and by whom. All the time, there is controversy and negotiation about the limits of who can participate and what can be expressed in the public debate.

The many contributions in the book reveal cultural processes that create or maintain the informal social boundaries. for statements in the new public. Certain groups, including immigration-critical voices, can be threatened to silence, while other voices are amplified. Threats and harassment strike some harder than others; Among the interviewed youth politicians, women and minority politicians report particularly serious cases. One-third of those who have received hate speech are more cautious in their statements, and women and immigrant backgrounds experience this more strongly than others.

Exclusion Anxiety. The young researchers draw a broad and multifaceted picture of the freedom of speech situation in Norway. Current societal issues about immigration, media panic around publishing Muhammad cartoons, incited youth politicians – not just the generation associated with Utøya – and the construction of minority identities in depth. The presentation is varied – and sometimes the multilingual texts speak. Orienteringone against delimitation, delineation and self-limitation goes like a red thread throughout the chapters, and thanks to good work from the editors Midtbøen, Thorbjørnsrud and Steen-Johnsen the text is nicely orchestrated into a coherent whole.

A cross of thought is that there is a widespread fear of being labeled as immoral and racist, with subsequent social isolation and exclusion, among people critical of current immigration policy. Should this, in the next turn, indicate that in the name of freedom of speech we must withstand more immigration critics, and as a side effect of potentially racist articles in print in the Norwegian press? Possibly, but save us for even more heated caricature debates, which are only meant to serve strategic interest groups and fit too well with the logic of populist media.

The importance of group affiliation. When you first talk about caricatures and hateful expressions, the data shows that the propensity for self-censorship is significant – constraints are not only created through exclusion. The willingness to express one's opinion is conditioned by social effects; whether the group to which you are referring agrees or disagrees with one's views is of great importance for what one is willing to say. The fact that the opinion climate creates such boundaries will, in addition to ethical considerations, influence which opinions are allowed in the debate.

Paradoxically, respondents across the political spectrum criticize the tabloid press for letting go only of far-reaching votes. 

The two aforementioned themes also suggest that it may be problematic to consider individual statements as unequivocal sizes. For are there expressions that are independent of context and effect? Expressions are complex, intertextual expressions, if not always polemical – but this also applies to Muhammad caricatures. How many Christian Norwegians, angered by the strong reactions of Muslims, have read Charlie Hebdo's relentless church? A rhetorical question that hardly needs to be answered.

The acts of terror also sharpen the gaze for matters other than the legal and rights-based – the question of symbolic boundaries. These types of debates are examples of loaded struggles where boundaries are drawn for what should be acceptable to publish. And, I would add, they also raise questions about what are common utterances, and what role the context plays in filling them with meaning. When questions about freedom of speech are sharpened, the context is never just a press debate or a meeting in the editor's office. If the matter is really important, the dominance of cultural characters and the identity of social groups is at stake.

Sigurd Ohrem
Sigurd Ohrem
Ohrem is a writer for Ny Tid.

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