In its zeal to prepare for the future and changing viewership patterns, Norway’s state broadcaster NRK overlooked many of the millions of Norwegians currently watching NRK TV. Strong opposition to cuts in regional news programs has now prompted NRK to listen to its audience, just months after forcing through an unpopular radio revolution.
The controversial switch to DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) radio occurred over another round of protests and with the blessing of the Parliament that oversees the taxpayers’ funding of NRK. Another major change faced NRK TV viewers shortly after New Year, when 15-minute regional newscasts aired just before NRK’s national nightly newscast Dagsrevyen suddenly disappeared. The local newscasts were replaced with roughly five-minute local news briefings, from Østfold in the south to Finnmark in the north.
That set off howls of protests, leaving NRK officials shaken and admitting that they’d badly underestimated the popularity of local TV news around the country. Viewers living in outlying districts don’t only want international and national news from Oslo and other Norwegian cities, but from their own areas. NRK has 15 district offices and operations around the country, covering Buskerud, Finnmark, Hedmark and Oppland, Hordaland, Møre og Romsdal, Nordland, Rogaland, Sogn og Fjordane, Sørlandet, Telemark, Troms, Trøndelag, Vestfold, Østfold and Oslo-based Østlandssendingen.
Despite all the media developments and broadcast alternatives now available in Norway, publicly funded NRK clearly remains an important part of the daily lives of many Norwegians. NRK officials were barraged with complaints from viewers, along with questions and criticism from both Members of Parliament and other politicians, when it cut the amount of airtime devoted to news in the districts.
Grethe Grynnild-Johnsen, director of NRK’s distriktsdivisjon in charge of regional broadcasting, conceded that she and her colleagues simply weren’t aware of “the enormously strong relation parts of our audience have to our regional broadcasts and TV news from their own district.” They understand that now, after the storm of complaints that caught them all by surprise.
The local TV newscasts will now be restored to 10 minutes before Dagsrevyen at 7pm, while new five-minute local newscasts will be retained before national news updates at 9pm and 11pm. That will actually increase the amount of nightly news time targeted at specific areas of the country.
Norway’s new Minister of Culture Trine Skei Grande was among the first to express relief that NRK had changed its mind and would bring back most of the regional news. “Good,” tweeted Grande, who now serves as the political boss of NRK. “NRK is changing its broadcast plan and will offer longer regional news after all. That’s important for the districts.”
Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, leader of the rural-oriented Center Party and a Member of Parliament, had questioned what Grande would do about all the opposition to NRK’s ill-fated move to trim local broadcasts. He told news bureau NTB that NRK itself “should take all the protests and public commitment as a huge compliment and not as an attack, even though there are perhaps some in NRK’s management who are having a difficult time right now.”
NRK had initially justified the shorter local newscasts as a reaction to changing media habits among the public, and a decline in viewership of so-called “linear” TV watched by audiences at the time it’s actually aired. Newspaper Dagsavisen retorted on Thursday that NRK should remember that as it plans for viewership patterns in the future, there are millions of Norwegians who want programs as they are now. It’s been a painful lesson for NRK officials, but it seems to have been learned.