2. Freedom of expression and loyalty

2. Freedom of expression and loyalty

Case: Breach of the ground rules for good debate?
In the autumn of 2008, a number of letters to the editor about leadership, democracy and involvement were published in Universitetsavisa, the university newspaper at NTNU. In a few cases, participants in the debate drew explicit parallels between named individuals in NTNU's management and dictatorship in other countries. In one letter, a former rector, Eivind Hiis Hauge, criticized such analogies; see Universitetsavisa.

Questions: Should there be limits to freedom of expression in open debate in Universitetsavisa, and should NTNU introduce ground rules for good debate?

General comment: This case is interesting because it raises questions of principle about whether there should be restrictions on freedom of expression. To the extent that it is used to enable constructive debate, it is healthy. But when the focus shifts to the person rather than the issue, freedom of expression can easily be perverted and become its own worst enemy by helping to put an end to the debate.

Comments from the pilot testers:
Comment 1: It is important that Universitetsavisa provides a forum for open and unprejudiced debate. At the same time, it is important that letters to the editor do not include capricious personal attacks.

Comment 2: Universitetsavisa is a newspaper/news medium, and thus involves more than academic freedom of expression. The type of content regarded as permissible, both in printed media and in online newspapers, is not static, but has changed over time. In online newspapers and other Internet publications in particular, there is ongoing debate about readers' comments, blogs, etc. – should these be moderated, censored, or controlled in other ways, or should anyone be able to write anything? In the latter case, is editorial responsibility being pulverized?

Link concerning academic freedom of expression (in Norwegian):
Ministry of Education and Research, Official Norwegian Report (NOU) 2006: 19, on academic freedom.

The "Vær varsom" code of ethics provided by the Norwegian Press Association may also be a useful reference.