Little sympathy for Mette-Marit

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A vague media complaint and public appeal for privacy issued by Crown Princess Mette-Marit on behalf of her now-20-year-old son Marius Borg Høiby has sparked criticism against both her and royal palace staff. Many claim Norwegian media have always been restrained in their coverage of Marius over the years, and point out that he’s active on social media himself with around 40,000 followers.

summer 2014

Crown Princess Mette-Marit (center) has caught criticism for issuing vague complaints against the media as her older son Marius heads off for college. The family is shown here near their summer home a few years ago. From left, Haakon, Mette-Marit, Marius Borg Høiby, Prince Sverre Magnus and Princess Ingrid Alexandra. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff

“There is something fundamentally disturbing and unsympathetic when our next queen uses a royal press release to dictate what the press should and shouldn’t do,” wrote Morten Hegseth of newspaper VG. The crown princess, married to Crown Prince Haakon who’s heir to the throne in Norway, has tried to control coverage of her family before, not least by using their own social media channels to distribute photos and news instead of the established media.

As controversy swirls around US President-elect Donald Trump for also bashing the media and often avoiding questions, Mette-Marit wasn’t commenting further Friday on her complaint published Thursday. Plenty of others were, however, both online and via more formal channels.

“Who is advising Mette-Marit?” queried one of hundreds of commenters responding to VG‘s own account of the crown princess’ unusual “open letter” published on the official website for the Royal Palace. Comments were running heavily against Mette-Marit’s claim that her son was not a public person and should not be subjected to media coverage.

Marius active on social media himself
Many pointed out that he also has thrust himself into public roles, by appearing on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s hit series Skam (Shame) and at various celebrity events in addition to royal affairs. Even though he was born before Mette-Marit met Crown Prince Haakon and thus has no royal title, he’s always been considered a “full-fledged” member of the royal family by the royals themselves.

Most taking part in Friday’s media debate understand that Mette-Marit wants to protect her son, but others were wondering why he couldn’t speak, write or complain for himself. The letter, wrote Hegseth, “can be viewed like a sketch of an offended mother who defends her child in the schoolyard. It’s as if we can hear the son thinking ‘stop, mama, stop.'”

Another problem, according to several media critics, was that Mette-Marit was not concrete in saying what she was defending him against. She merely wrote that Norwegian media have lacked dignity and been prejudiced in coverage of her son.

“I can’t see that the crown princess has any reason to complain over the Norwegian press’ treatment of her son,” said Nils Øy, a veteran editor and acting secretary general of the Norwegian Press Federation. “Even if there are examples of the press crossing a line … I don’t think there’s another country in the world where the press has been as retrained in its coverage of a royal family as Norway.” Except, perhaps, Thailand, where it’s illegal to criticize royals.

Complaint backfired
“Dear Mette-Marit!” wrote the editor of the newssite Nettavisen, Gunnar Stavrum, in his own “open letter” back to the crown princess on Friday. He promised that Nettavisen would not send reporters to follow Høiby to California, where he is about to start college. Mette-Marit made it clear in her letter that part of the reason her son chose to study in California was to escape media attention at home in Norway. Stavrum said the best advice she could give Marius was for him to stay out of the public spotlight.

“But when Marius Borg Høiby shares photos on social media with more than 40,000 follower, they become public,” Stavrum wrote. “He has sought publicity himself, and accepted that other websites all over the world can embed or link to it.” Stavrum also warned that today, social media can present far greater risks than edited, professional media.

Marianne Hagen, communications director at the Royal Palace, wound up having to field many press inquiries on Friday. While she wouldn’t comment at first either, she said Mette-Marit’s “open letter” was written after “we have seen the past few years that some media have gone way over the line in writing about Marius Borg Høiby.” She said that came despite the royal family winning a case it brought before Norway’s press complaints board that there must be a connection between the extent of coverage and its news value.

“The crown princess found that it was in its place to issue a reminder that Marius does not want to live a life in the public eye,” Hagen told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday. As VG pointed out, there was no explanation as to why Marius himself “was not allowed to say why he is now bidding farewell with the public.” Berglund