By Sierra Krell

Norwegian Flag

Norwegian Flag

Free speech and free press rights are crucial matters to each country’s unique government and it’s constituents. In Norway and other Scandinavian countries, free expression is a widely accepted and popular idea and has been since censorship was abolished in 1770 but has had intense periods of

suppression in the past. Norway has a Constitutional Monarchy, in which the executive is a king or queen rather than a president like in the United States. Although having a king or queen may sound tyrannical, Norway is near the top of the charts regarding freedom of expression by ranking 3rd out of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index. Although the United States is considered by many, the freest country in the world, it actually ranked 46th on this same index, and on Freedom House, where press freedom is scored on a scale from 0-100 with 0 being the best and 100 the worst, in Norway in 2014, they scored a 10 whereas the United States scored a 17.

The historical background of Norway, a beautiful European country neighboring Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, dates back to the 9th century when Vikings founded it and made Oslo, then Christiania, Norway’s capital. By the 12th century, King Magnus Lagabøte drafted the first written laws in the National Code, which governed the land for over 400 years. By 1687 a new code of law, Christian V’s Norwegian law, was enacted. Some of the provisions in it were adopted in the 1814 Norwegian Constitution that states, “The Kingdom of Norway is a free, independent and indivisible realm” (Norwegian Constitution). The long history between Norway and the United States is notable and significant. According to The United States in Norwegian History, “Since 1776 the United States has influenced Norweigan development in almost all walks of life,” (Skard 1) Norway’s constitution is based on the United States’ and French constitutions; therefore, there are many similarities between the two documents such as separation of powers into three branches of government: the executive, judicial, and legislative. Both constitutions specify rights of the citizen through the America’s Bill of Rights and Norway’s Article 100. A Short History of Norway explains how the year of 1814 possessed an almost mystical significance. A sense of national unity pervaded the people because a constitution that protected their civil liberties was in place sooner than ever expected. (T.K. Derry, 130) According to the World Population Review, Norway’s population has steadily increased over time since the 18th century and is now the 61st largest country in the world with approximately five million residents. In 1905, Norway became a constitutional monarchy and broke free from their union with Sweden, making it its very own independent country. This same year, Norway adopted a policy of neutrality and was classified as The Neutral Ally and remained neutral throughout the 20th century. Norway experienced invasion, abuse, and suppression during wartime in the 1930’s and 40’s, but they overcame the obstacles presented to them, making it the wonderful country that it is today. According to Scandinavia Since 1500, “the years between 1935 and 1945 certainly were among the most eventful and important in Nordic history.” (Nordstrom 291)

Norway’s History of Free Speech

When Scandinavian countries were founded, it was understood that free speech was absolutely fundamental to a healthy society. When Norway was under Danish rule in 1770, censorship was abolished. Once an independent country in May 1814, Norway drafted the Norwegian Constitution with the same attitude toward censorship as Denmark. Article 100 states, “Everyone shall be free to speak his mind frankly on the administration of the State and on any other subject whatsoever.” (Norwegian Constitution, Article 100) Limitations to expression included defamation, hate speech, and deliberate contempt of religion. Nearly 100 years later in 1902, Article 100’s limitations were elaborated on; consequently, Norway’s freedom of expression was greatly challenged. During both world wars and the entire mid-20th century, suppression of speech was widespread in fear of defense secrets being revealed and with concern of national security. Legislation was passed that legalized constant surveillance of citizens, censorship of personal telegrams and letters, the pre-censorship of moving pictures in 1913, and the creation of the State Monopoly of Broadcasting in 1933. This same year, a crucial landmark case involving free speech took place. A prominent poet gave a speech on “Christianity-the tenth plague” for the Students Society Oslo University. He was charged due to blasphemous conduct, and acquitted, but the judiciary put strict restrictions on blasphemous speech, what Americans may consider lewd, just one year after this case was closed. Only four novels in Norway’s history faced possible confiscation, and two of the four novels were published in 1886 and 1887. Seventy years later two more novels also faced possible confiscation. The first case, against author Mykel, was acquitted and confiscation was lifted. The second case, against author Miller, upheld the confiscation of novels for the first time in seven decades by Norway’s Supreme Court. Finally in 1999, Parliament most recently amended Article 100 to state that essentially all people are entitled to ultimate freedom of expression, prior censorship is prohibited, the public has access to government documents and the people can speak their mind freely on any subject whatsoever.

Norway’s History of Free Press

Norway has a lengthy history of minimal censorship of press that dates back to the 16th century coinciding with to the invention of the printing press. Nazi Germany invaded Norway on April 9, 1940, along with countless other countries. The first page of the preface in the 1944 novel, The Voice of Norway, states, “At the present moment, Norway seems stricken, crippled, and bleeding under the savage heels of merciless German Nazis […] but the Norwegian nation does not admit defeat. Her spirit will survive.” (Koht, Skard VII) Nazi Germany strangled the Norwegians voice at the source from 1940-1945, and threw out the people’s ultimate free press rights. Tens of thousands of written works by Jewish authors were confiscated and banned. Josef Terboven, the Nazi Leader or Reichskommissar, in command during Germany’s occupancy in Norway, issued a decree stating, “ anyone …who propagates for an enemy state, or produces, acquires or disseminates information or other matters harmful to German interests, or who listens to any other transmitters than those that are German or under German control, will be punished by death.” (Beacon for Freedom) Radios and most newspapers were forbidden during this time. Norwegians, revolted by this extreme censorship, obtained illegal radios and created an underground press that illegally produced mass newspapers. Hundreds of citizens were punished by death, sent to concentration camps, or were prosecuted. In the immediate aftermath of the war, a press censorship act was proposed but not passed, and national security became a main concern, but decades later in 1972 the government passed the Bill On Access allowing public access to government documents to allow for transparency. Press issues had been scarce for decades but 1977 was a year of controversy regarding two court cases involving two newspapers, a daily newspaper called Arbeiderbladet and NY Tid. They both published secret and sensitive information outing the government’s involvement in secret affairs. These two cases had different outcomes: one in favor of the press and one against. These are noteworthy and landmark cases that have been a part of Norway’s journey to one of the freest countries in the world. By the 1990s, Parliament offered full transparency of past foreign and international affairs by publishing the Lund-commission’s report, a document explain foreign and international affairs, although as of 2009, non-governmental organizations in Norway were considered to have great influence on news regarding environmental issues through the “process of agenda setting, the framing of news and the selection of sources.” according to Setting The Agenda on Environmental News in Norway, a piece in Environmental Journalism. (Krøvel, 109)

Current Free Expression Issues going on in Norway

On April 8, 2015, one day before the 75th anniversary of Germany’s invasion on Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg acknowledged that the time before and after WWII was a “dark part of the history’s country,” and she has “promised to pay reparations.” (The Guardian) This is her response to Norway’s Roma population of about 500 that have protested and campaigned since the 1990s for reparations from when they were not allowed re-entry into Norway when returning from traveling abroad during World War II. Their voices have finally been heard due to their unwavering and uninterrupted expression. On April 11, 2015, 1,500 protesters, mostly young Norwegian Muslims, gathered around the Oslo Synagogue in a “Ring of Peace” to show their strong rejections of Anti-Semitism. No one interfered. An article on The Norway Post covered the protest. Norway allows free speech, freedom of expression and speech plus such as sit-ins and protests. Hate speech and defamation is not legal though, especially when aimed toward Norway’s government officials. In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Norway ruled that a hate preacher, Mullah Krekar, will be forced to move to a remote village in Norway because of his repeated death threats to Prime Mininister Erna Solberg and other Norwegian politicians. They cannot deport him under the circumstances but he has been imprisoned. He has appealed on the basis that the government has infringed on his human rights and as of the courts are currently reviewing his case. (The Telegraph)

Country Comparison and Conclusion

Today, Norway and Scandinavian countries clearly allow more transparency and uninterrupted expression more than ever before and more so than in 177 other countries. Although Norway’s Article 100 and the American Bill of Rights seem similar on paper, the interpretations and attitudes toward free expression are much different. Norway has made great strides toward ultimate freedom of expression for their citizens in the past 16 years since the most recent changes to Article 100 in 1999. The United States has seemingly done the opposite by increasing limitations on accessible information through the Freedom of Information Act, passing the Patriot Act in 2001, allowing NSA’s wiretapping and FBI’s surveillance of Internet usage, and criminalizing publishers and journalists’ work through the Espionage Act, such as Edward Snowden. Norway, a long time ally of the United States, has noticed the U.S. government’s increase on invasion of privacy and contradictory actions in passing unconstitutional legislation that impedes on, not only American’s rights, but America’s allies citizens as well. “The opinion which the Norwegians are thus formulating about the United States and its future may seem to of dubious general interest.” (Skard 203) Restrictions on freedom of expression in the states have snowballed since the terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001. The most challenging times for free expression, anywhere in the world, is during wartime, and unfortunately that’s where the Unites States are today—concerned mainly with national security rather than civil liberties and human rights.

The different perspectives on the Edward Snowden case through Norwegian eyes versus the United States’ show how Norway encourages great free expression and how American courts interpret free speech conditionally. In an article on IFEX, Group calls on Norway to Grant Asylum to Edward Snowden, the Norwegian PEN reaches out to Minister of Justice Grete Faremo of Norway, to reconsider whistleblower Edward Snowden’s application for asylum in July 2013. The prosecution of espionage he faces in the United States is invalid in Norway; he is absolutely protected under their law because of he practiced free speech. The Norwegian PEN referred to Article 14 of the United Nation of Declaration of Human Rights in their request. It states, “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries.” (UN Declaration of Human Rights) Although he was not granted asylum in Norway, it was based on technicalities, not principle. Snowden has, been since granted asylum in Russia. In an article, Why European Nations Must Protect Edward Snowden, Christophe Deloire, the general secretary of Reporters Without Borders states, “The White House and State Department message of democracy and defense of human rights has lost considerable credibility.”(Reporters Without Borders) He continues by saying, “American leaders should realize the glaring contradiction between their soaring odes to freedom and the realities of official actions, which damage the image of their country.” (Reporters Without Borders) Bearing in mind, Norway has been in peacetime for decades whereas America is currently in wartime.

When zooming out and viewing the United State’s history of suppression and censorship on a bell curve, the restrictiveness may be at its peak today due to our nation’s circumstances. Future Americans may look back at the beginning of the 21st century and consider it one of the most suppressed periods of time in history, like Norwegians do when reflecting on the 20th century in their country. “Her struggle for freedom and law, for national organization and individual liberty, is the universal struggle of all progressive nations.” (Koht, Kard VII)





Work Cited

Derry, T. (1979). A Short History of Norway (4th ed., p. 130). Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Koht, H., & Skard, S. (1944). Preface. In The Voice of Norway (p. Preface VII). New York: Columbia University Press

Krøvel, R. (2013). Setting the Agenda on Environmental News in Norway: NGOs andmnewspapers. In Environmental Journalism (p. 109). Third Avenue, New York: Routledge.

Nordstrom, B. (2000). Scandinavia since 1500 (p. 291). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Norway. (2015, January 1). Retrieved April 8, 2015, from

Norway court rules government can exile hate preacher to remote village. (2015, February 2). Retrieved April 10, 2015, from   

Norway Freedom of the Press 2014. (2015, January 1). Retrieved April 8, 2015, from

Norway Population 2014. (2015, January 1). Retrieved April 8, 2015, from 

Norway to pay reparations to Roma for racist policies and suffering under Nazis. (2015, April 8). Retrieved April 8, 2015, from

“Ring of Peace” around Oslo Synagogue. (2015, April 11). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from  

Skard, S. (1976). The United States In Norwegian History (4th ed., p. 1 , 203). Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

World Press Freedom Index 2014. (2015, January 1). Retrieved April 8, 2015, from 

Why Europeans Must Protect Edward Snowden. (2014, July 13). Retrieved April 11, 2015, from,44886.html


This essay was last updated on April 30, 2015.


One Response to Norway

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: