It’s high season for members of Norway’s royal family to be out and about among the masses. They tend to make a lot of official appearances in May and June, before disappearing for a long summer holiday, and they generally win a lot of press coverage. This year, though, it’s unusually quiet, and that’s raised the question of what happens when the Royals meet media indifference.
There has, in fact, been very little royal news coverage of late. In other years, the press has followed their every move, leading to generally upbeat stories that inevitably make reference to “our hard-working royal couple.”
Now it seems the press has lost interest, or perhaps the press feels the public has lost interest. When King Harald and Queen Sonja traditionally attended the opening of the annual arts and music festival in Bergen, for example, it barely warranted a mention. When the Royals made their traditional 17th of May appearances, there were the obligatory photos of them waving from the palace balcony, but that’s about it. There were also few photos of King Harald and Queen Sonja visiting a multi-cultural neighborhood that afternoon, and when Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit won expected approval of their attempt to sell off portions of their large estate west of Oslo this week, the news got two paragraphs in the national daily Aftenposten.
Only Queen Sonja has really been in the news lately, and not entirely favorably. She became the first member of Norway’s royal family to visit a mosque in Norway, and her appearance in a head scarf and long coat initially attracted straightforward coverage. But then Aftenposten, traditionally a Royal-friendly medium, came with a package of stories in which researchers, human rights activists and even a Royal-friendly politician questioned the wisdom of her visit, noting that the local mosque involved sought its inspiration from a fundamental Islamic group viewed by some as extremist. Uh, oh.
The absence of royal coverage in Norway’s mainstream media has grown increasingly noticeable over the past few months. For the first time in a long time, Aftenposten didn’t bother to send a reporter along with Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit when they made a state visit to Mexico last winter. Nor did several other newspapers, and many didn’t even use the wire service photos and coverage that was produced. There hasn’t been much coverage of “the crown couple’s” official tours around Norway either. Not even Princess Martha Louise, who’s gotten lots of attention over the years (for better or worse), has been in papers lately and her husband Ari Behn has all but disappeared after his much-publicized attack last winter on former palace-worker-turned-royal commentator Carl-Erik Grimstad, who Behn feels has been too critical of his family. Some royal-watchers suspect Behn has since been told to keep a lower profile.
The question is, why the sudden lack of media interest in the Royals? Grimstad himself offered some thoughts in a recent commentary inAftenposten recently. He speculated that the Royals have tried too hard to control coverage of themselves, that they want coverage but only on their terms, and the no-longer-servile media have refused to go along.
Haakon and Mette-Marit have all but thumbed their noses at the media, from the day Mette-Marit spirited the new heir to the throne out of the hospital without showing the baby to photographers. The baby ultimately made her public appearance on the couple’s own web site, not in mainstream media. Reporters were miffed.
Grimstad raises another possibility, that the public in general, especially the younger generation, simply isn’t interested in the Royals and that the media senses that. It’s always been a great irony that a social welfare state like Norway, which stresses egalitarianism, also has a monarchy perpetuated through the privilege of birth. The Scandinavian Royals long have tried to be “folksey,” while retaining some royal allure. Many young people today scoff at the notion of kings and queens and royal privilege.
Grimstad warns that the Royals should be worried when evenAftenposten doesn’t seem to care much about royal goings-on. While the Royals have bitterly complained about the media glare they’ve lived with, they may be worse off when the spotlight turns away from them. They need the public relations the media can give, if only to record and justify their existence.
(Written May 28, 2009)
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund