He hasn’t resorted to calling them “enemies of the people,” like US President Donald Trump has, but Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen has definitely come out swinging against inquisitive reporters. He thinks they’ve been asking far too many questions after a Norwegian frigate collided with a tanker earlier this month.
“It’s quite unique that an entire corps of journalists thinks we should pour out what we have of deficient information, and lay it clear for judgment,” Bakke-Jensen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He decries an alleged lack of media respect for “processes and procedures” following the dramatic and expensive collision of the frigate KNM Helge Ingstad while under NATO command. Bakke-Jensen is demanding that reporters wait with their questions until the results of official investigations into the collision are made public.
The defense minister thus expects journalists to be patient for as long as two years until the main investigation, by the state accident investigation board (Havarikommisjon), is complete, along with one by local police. He lashed out at “the fourth estate” (the media) and what he called “the fifth estate” (social media) for expecting both him and other defense department officials to answer questions about the accident that resulted in what may be the total loss of a frigate that cost as much as NOK 5 billion to build and which has now reduced Norway’s frigate fleet by 20 percent.
After first sounding off to a reporter from NRK last week, when he was frustrated by all the questions he refuses to answer, he gamely appeared on NRK’s weekly TV debate program Debatten Tuesday night. It quickly became clear that he was still frustrated by the speculation and questions swirling around the collision that caused enormous military and economic losses. Bakke-Jensen even seemed to question his own expertise and that of Naval commanders, when he rhetorically raised a question himself: “Are you (reporters) certain that what we’re saying is correct?”
The frigate disaster northeast of Bergen has been a topic of enormous public interest since it occurred in the early morning darkness of November 8. After tapes of marine radio traffic were obtained and released by newspaper VG, everyone listening could hear how those on the bridge of the frigate were repeatedly warned they were on a collision course and urgently asked to turn. Bakke-Jensen and military officials have nonethless refused to reveal what they know about the sequence of events leading up to the collision, deferring to official results of the investigation.
‘Disturbing … from a government minister’
Some “rough” results of the investigation are due to be made public later this week. Meanwhile, Bakke-Jensen is being roundly accused of failing to understand the role of a free and critical press in Norway. He found himself the target of harsh criticism on Wednesday by press federation leaders and opposition politicians like Martin Kolberg, a veteran Member of Parliament and former secretary of the Labour Party.
“I think these are disturbing statements from a government minister,” Kolberg told NRK on Wednesday. Kolberg formerly headed the Parliament’s disciplinary committee that’s also in charge of monitoring compliance with Norway’s constitution.
“The press must have the freedom to consult sources they believe to be reliable,” Kolberg said. “Our society utterly relies on openness and the information the press can provide.”
Salvage operations at the site of the now-mostly sunken frigate, meanwhile, were suspended because of bad weather moving in that can put salvage crews at risk. The plan is to raise the wreckage of the frigate with the help of special floating cranes that arrived at the scene this week. The crane vessel was moved out of the area Wednesday morning, though, because of storms expected to hit later in the day and on Thursday.