‘So Why Is Norway Rich?’: Falling Into the (Easy) Tabloid Trap

Talk about journalistic bait and switch. Maybe I should just stay away from the tabloids for awhile.

To explain:

Working and living in Norway as we do, we’re in the understandable habit of watching and reading our homegrown media sources such as TV channels and newspapers/webpages. But sometimes it’s intriguing to learn about how others see us. Human nature, really, to wonder what kind of ideas outsiders have of us. On both a personal level – the ever increasing use of social media comes to mind – and a national level. How do people living in other countries ‘see Norway’?

‘Intriguing’ didn’t come to my mind today; rather, ‘perplexing did’. Was clicking around trying to find an English article about the ongoing dispute regarding some Norwegians’ wish to either leave the EEA altogether or renegotiate its current agreement in a way that will benefit the country more. (I put it simply, as this article is definitely not about describing intricate inter-European trade negotiation talks, as will happily leave that for some other blogger.)

Falling into the tabloid trap

Back to clicking around, I stumbled on an article entitled, So why is Norway rich? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/columnists/article-185956/So-Norway-rich.html

Yes, I noticed the source right away – a famous British tabloid, and therefore some would say publisher of nothing worth reading. But again, human nature prevailed (the curiosity mentioned above), and I had to read it through.

And ended up after reading it through several times convinced that reporter Peter Hitchens’ writing had nothing to do with trying to give a factual explanation of his provocative title and everything to do with defending his conviction that Britain was correct to leave the EU. For instance, using the lines that ‘Norway is happy, prosperous and free’, all apparently because it has twice voted down EU membership. Really? It’s that easy?

More to the story

Nowhere does Hitchens mention the fantastic oil revenues that boosted the Norwegian economy to the level that it could establish and maintain its generous welfare state. Or principle of egalitarianism that has guided its government since the post-war era. Or even all the hard work put it by Norwegians themselves throughout the years to keep their country wealthy, and who are by the way the first to say that they were ‘lucky’ to have discovered ‘the oil’. And the vast majority of whom lead very ordinary lives, including a certain percentage who worry about paying their bills every month or wondering how they’ll afford to fix the brakes on their well-used car or postponing a costly trip to the dentist. For example.

On the other hand, Hitchens rather strangely says that the tide is turning in that Norway is itself moving towards EU membership, making among others the unsubstantiated claim that ‘the entire Norwegian elite’ are ‘determined’ to go into ‘the Eurostock’. Again, really?

A journalistic agenda

Reading this article was like meeting someone new and having them give you the impression they’re interested in you while it’s actually all about them. So while you’re standing there listening and starting to wonder if they’ll ever break off to ask you a question about yourself, they suddenly do. Something along the lines of, ‘So that’s enough about me. What do you think of me?’

What I think is that if you’re going to write that kind of headline, you ought to answer the question you pose in it. And in this case, don’t use Norway as it is presented here for your own agenda. What I think is that while several readers might approach this type of article with a touch of healthy skepticism, what about all the others who know nothing about this country when starting the article and finish it believing the easy assertion that Norway is merely ‘rich’? The truth behind that term is of course much more complex. But I get it, the writer is banking on the aspect of human nature that wants everything – including articles on a foreign country – to be easy. I could drone on and on myself, but:

Maybe I should just stay away from the tabloids for awhile. Maybe we all should.

3 svar til “‘So Why Is Norway Rich?’: Falling Into the (Easy) Tabloid Trap”

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  2. The Mail publishes a lot of populist rubbish, and some of it deliberately poisonous. Hitchens knows very well that there is a lot more to Norway than its semi-detached connection with the EU, and a lot more to the oil story than simply becoming rich. The UK found oil too, but by and large the profits have not been used for general long term benefit. A cultural difference between each country’s political classes ?

    1. Thanks for your comment! I certainly hope he’s aware of more detail here even though he chose not to write about it. Yes, it would seem so, that there is a cultural difference between these countries’ political classes that has caused the difference in how they’ve used their petroleum profits.

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