conflict & communication online, Vol. 3, No. 1 & 2, 2004
ISSN 1618-0747




Rune Ottosen
The Norwegian media image of the war in Afghanistan: Peacekeeping or aggression?

This article analyzes the framing of Norwegian media coverage of the war against terror in Afghanistan with special emphasis of the coverage of the Norwegian military presence in Afghanistan. Norwegian forces became involved in a military intervention for the first time since the Second World War when ex-Yugoslavia was attacked in April 1999. At that time, Norway provided military support for the invasion and placed fighter planes and Norwegian pilots at the disposal of NATO. The war in Afghanistan represented an additional dimension, with Norwegian ground forces taking part in the hunt for al-Qaida fighters in the mountains of Afghanistan. The purpose of this article is to give a picture of Norwegian media coverage of the war in Afghanistan, with a special emphasis on the coverage of Norway's role in the conflict. As a small country with traditionally close relations to US, Norway had to balance, like many other small countries, between the need uphold its traditional policy of complying with international law, and the desire to avoid provoking the USA with criticism and actions that could be regarded as disloyal and thus harm the bilateral relationship. This dilemma must also be seen as a problem for the mainstream media, which traditionally has been loyal to Norwegian security policy. Two main issues are discussed: 1. How was the start of the war covered in the media in October 2001? 2. In what context was the Norwegian military presence covered? The two newspapers analyzed are Aftenposten and VG. The choice of these two newspapers was made to include Norway's largest and potentially most influential morning paper (Aftenposten) and its largest tabloid, as well as largest newspaper (VG). Quantitative as well as qualitative methods are used to analyze the coverage. Both Aftenposten's and VG's coverage on the first day of the war in Afghanistan are dominated by pro-US framing and the use of Western sources. The pro-US framing is more obvious in Aftenposten than in VG. The editorial in VG was more unconditionally supportive than the editorial in Aftenposten. VG is also much clearer in its framing of Norway as a potential victim of future acts of terror. Norway's role as a potential military actor in the region is at this stage virtually absent in both newspapers. The legal aspects are mentioned in the two newspapers, though in a very superficial manner. Neither of the newspapers focuses on potential "hidden agendas" in their news coverage. No issue is made of the USA's potential global interests or the issue of controlling oil flows from the region. Aftenposten, in its coverage of an attack on a wedding party, treats this incident as "collateral damage" and in no way links it to Norway's military presence. Norway is simply a "loyal ally" receiving praise from the US for doing a "good job".


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On the author: Rune Ottosen, b. 1950, Cand. polit. in Political Science (University of Oslo, 1984), BA in Journalism (Norwegian College of Journalism, 1973); Journalist in various media (1977-84); Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Norwegian College of Journalism (1984-88); Information Director and Research Fellow at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) (1989-92); Research Fellow at the Norwegian Federation of Journalists (1993-95); Associate Professor at the Faculty of Journalism, Library and Information Science, Oslo College, since 1996; Professor in the same institution from 1999; Ottosen is also the president of the Norwegian Association of Non-Fiction Authors and Translators. Author of several books and articles on journalism history and topics related to war and journalism. Recent relevant book publications: Journalism and the New World Order, Vol. I, 2000; Kosovokonflikten, medierna och medlidandet (The Kosovo Conflict, Media and Compassion), 2002; U.S. and the Others. Global Media Images on "The War on Terror", 2004..

Address: Journalism programme, Faculty of Journalism, Library and Information Science, Oslo University College, Postboks 4 St. Olavspl. 0130 Oslo, Norway. eMail:,