Media uproar over ‘old boys’ culture

Bookmark and Share

A remarkable media uproar exploded in Oslo just before the weekend, rooted in the lack of women in top management at even egalitarian Norway’s media firms. It was ignited by remarks made by one local boss in particular, that were widely viewed as highly offensive and personifying a “good old boys'” culture and network.

Gunnar Bjørkavåg, CEO of the company owning newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) and several others, posing on the roof of the company’s headquarters in Oslo. PHOTO: Mynewsdesk

It started when newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) published stories last week in which the political editors of national newspapers Aftenposten (Trine Eilertsen) and VG (Hanne Skartveit), harshly criticized what the Norwegians call a guttaboys culture at the company (Schibsted) owning both papers. Schibsted’s CEO, Rolv Erik Ryssdal, admitted that Schibsted has not done a good enough job promoting women to the highest ranks of media management.

Then DN’s journalists took a look at their own paper and the company owning it (NHST Media Group). Only one of DN‘s top editors is a woman, for example, while NHST’s management team led by CEO Gunnar Bjørkavåg is comprised of only men. Bjørkavåg was thus asked to respond to Skartveit’s criticism of the “old boys’ culture” at the top of Norwegian media.

And then Bjørkavåg lit the fuse. “That’s too much of a generalization,” Bjørkavåg, who was out traveling as he often is, wrote in an email back to DN. “I’m no ‘old boy,’ and I’m a proud man. I’m ready to challenge her (Skartveit) whenever to an IQ test or a paddling trip or the ability to make good formulations.”

Outrage and embarrassment
His response startled DN’s reporters to a degree that, after a consultation with editors, they even gave Bjørkavåg a chance to reconsider his remarks, which he stood by. They were then published, and promptly stirred up a storm of outrage and criticism. Meetings were held, Bjørkavåg was roundly blasted by staff and political editor Kjetil B Alstadheim, one of the most highly respected commentators in Norway, dashed off an indignant editorial in which he called the boss’ remarks embarrassing and provocative. DN‘s editor-in-chief Amund Djuve called Bjørkavåg’s remarks “unfortunate.” Djuve went on to rather bravely suggest that Bjørkavåg, who functions as publisher of DN and thus is effectively Djuve’s boss, was reinforcing “the impression of a macho culture.”

And then, even the leader of NHST’s board of directors and Bjørkavåg’s own boss joined the chorus of critics. Anette Olsen, the normally media-shy lone woman at the top and daughter of shipowner and early NHST investor Fred Olsen, was not amused. She issued an unusual statement that sharply rebuked Bjørkavåg. “On behalf of NHST I distance myself from the remarks of Gunnar Bjørkavåg,” Olsen wrote in scolding her own CEO. “They are not representative of the culture we want in the company. A modern media business must recruit talent and competent employees from diverse backgrounds.”

Apology ensued
Bjørkavåg, known for making dramatic entrances at company parties and competing even against himself in how long it takes to bicycle to work, quickly apologized for his remarks, but not before he’d told newspaper Aftenposten that he was only sorry he hadn’t invited Skartveit “to tea and scones and listened to her opinions” instead of challenging her to an IQ test.

“I had just come out of a very successful meeting and was perhaps a bit high on myself,” Bjøkavåg told Aftenposten on Saturday. “I’m very competitive and can have a tendency to answer like I did. But it doesn’t matter, this is all just idiotic.”

The issue became a major topic of conversation at various gatherings, social and otherwise, during the weekend and DN reporters found themselves confronted by questions and uncomfortable remarks. Newspaper Dagsavisen commented in its Saturday edition that it was unsure what the outcome of a paddling contest would have been between Bjørkavåg and Skartveit, “but the winner of an IQ test or a competition over who’s best at formulating themselves, is crystal clear.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund