It was time for a listening test in Norwegian course. The teacher showed us NRK’s newscast about a crime committed in Oslo. The perpetrators were identified as foreigners. A discussion erupted. One asked, ‘Who commits crime in Norway?’ Another answered ‘immigrants’. Some thought it was funny, as everyone in the class were immigrants themselves. The girl who started to cry because she felt that news promoted a negative image of her countrymen, did not think so. And after three years in Norway, neither do i.
The Norwegian media today repeatedly reports the nationality and ethnicity of persons who commit or are accused of crimes. Journalists often identify a perpetrator’s nationality. If it is unknown, they use the terms «foreign nationality» or of «foreign appearance» or «not ethnic Norwegian». The papers do at times identify perpetrators as ‘ethnic Norwegian’, but in practice it is often not as clear or consistent in comparison with the identification of foreign offenders. Section 4.4 of the Norwegian Press Code of Ethics states that Norwegian media must ‘show respect for human individuality and identity, privacy, race, nationality or belief’. Norwegian media should not highlight personal circumstances when this is immaterial.
The nationality or ethnicity of an offender is insignificant in almost all criminal cases. People do not commit crime because of their nationality. I am not a criminal because I am Australian. Criminals are motivated by other reasons – greed, desperation, coercion, boredom, anger or indifference. Nationality is like age or gender, a factor that does not say anything about why. And it’s the why that’s important, not the who. Everyone has the potential to commit crime.
What is the damage of consistently emphasising the nationality or race of a perpetrator when reporting crime?
When the Norwegian media repeatedly mentions the foreign nationality or ethnicity of offenders without reporting on the circumstances of the crime, they build a connection between crime and ethnicity. The motivations or social factors behind the crime are forgotten and we place blame only on the individual and forget to look for causes in society. When the only thing we know about this person is that he or she is not norwegian, negative stereotypes of this group are created or verified.
Stereotypes are characteristics associated with a group of individuals. Stereotypes can be positive or negative, helpful or harmful. Using stereotypes is a natural way for us to process information and often happens unconsciously. Stereotypes are closely related to prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is a judgement, an emotional reaction to a group of people or individuals in a group, while discrimination is the treatment of someone differently than others because of their perceived membership in a group.
The main problem is that when we stereotype, prejudice or discriminate we refuse to take account of a person’s character, identity, ability, role or desires. We violate that person’s human dignity, their ability to form their own identity. This is a human rights issue.
In a culture where the media has a large influence on our understanding of a case, where immigration is a relatively new phenomenon, and where the media can be a person’s sole or main source of informaiton on foreigners in Norway, the media should not use their influence to establish and promote negative stereotypes about these groups.
The damage to society as a whole and to immigrants in Norway in particular, means arguments justifying the publication of nationality and ethnicity such as the public want to know, or claims that these are objective facts that should be reported are not good enough.
In late May Dagsreyven reported on the uprising in Husby, Stockholm, and stated that the Stockholm police would not give NRK information regarding the ethnicity of the young people involved. Stockholm police stated ‘nothing good would come out of that’.
This translation is powered by Google Translate and is not a professional translation. This version should be read in reference to the original Norwegian version. Any mistakes are not the fault of the author or editors of the mrbloggen.