Media blamed for ‘Teflon monarchy’

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It’s time for Norwegian media to more critically question the power that members of Norway’s royal family actually have, suggests a social anthropologist at the University of Oslo (UiO). He blames the media for furthering the existence of what he calls Norway’s “Teflon monarchy:” Nothing sticks to it.

King Harald has more power than some Norwegians may realize, suggests a social anthropologist at the University of Oslo who's calling for more critical coverage of the Norwegian monarchy. PHOTO: Sølve Sundsbø/Det Kongelige Slott

The Norwegian royals enjoy widespread support and Thorgeir S Kolshus, a post-doctoral fellow at UiO, notes that the support can be viewed as a paradox in a country that’s run as a social welfare state. “Giving a family status and privileges because of who their forefathers were is far from the values (of social equality) we otherwise like to promote and recommend that the rest of the world follow,” Kolshus wrote in a lengthy commentary in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Wednesday.

The support for Norway’s constitutional monarchy in an otherwise egalitarian-minded country, Kolshus noted, is largely explained by the belief that the royals really don’t exercise much power. That’s not necessarily true, according to Kolshus, citing an example of the king’s power in an incident that received little press coverage in 2008.

The incident was tied to proposed constitutional changes that are ushering in clearer divisions of church and state in Norway. The reigning monarch, currently King Harald V, had for years been the formal head of Norway’s state church but that was about to change. Both the government and a unanimous Storting (Parliament) also had agreed, wrote Kolshus, to let future monarchs also choose their faith, instead of automatically becoming members of the state church.

King Harald objected to the proposal, Kolshus wrote, “and made it so clear to the government minister for church affairs at the time, Trond Giske, that he (the king) would refuse to sign the new law,” that a point about the monarch’s obligations to the professed faith was included instead. “The will of the government and the Parliament had to give way to the King’s,” Kolshus wrote.

Most alarming, he feels, was that “this unusual exercise of formal royal power” was hardly written about in the Norwegian media. Political commentator and editor Marie Simonsen in newspaper Dagbladet picked it up, but explained the media silence by noting that most Norwegians are indifferent towards the monarchy.

New public opinion polls showing strong support for the monarchy, especially after the terrorist attacks of July 22, suggest otherwise, Kolshus notes. He thinks the media must end their “self-imposed censorship” that has survived from Norway’s “nation-building” of the 1900s.

There are signs that’s happening, even though Kolshus clearly believes Norway’s “Teflon monarchy” has survived. “Not even a future queen’s wild partying or a princess’ wild spirituality has weakened the monarchy’s reputation,” Kolshus notes. The royal criticism that does emerge in the media doesn’t seem to weaken the monarchy’s position. A series of highly acclaimed books on the monarchy by historian Tor Bomann-Larsen have revealed some “uncomfortable” truths, such as questions about the late King Olav’s biological parentage and his eagerness to negotiate with Hitler’s Nazi government, but they’ve also been generally accepted. “Olav took (public transit) to Kollen,” Kolshus wrote. “He was undoubtedly one of us.”

Meanwhile, Norwegian media have believed it was “more important to sit still in the boat than to point out hazards in the sea,” Kolshus wrote. Now, though, since the country has moved from its building phase to a maintenance phase, “the press must also take its community responsibility seriously.” Bomann-Larsen’s revelations indicate the time is right. “The monarchy has matured,” Kolshus concluded. “The people as well.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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