conflict & communication online, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2008
ISSN 1618-0747




Solveig Steien
"Almost at War". The Mohammed Cartoon Crisis in Norwegian Media

In January and February 2006, Norwegians witnessed the burning of their national flag in Palestine, the burning of Norwegian embassies and consulates in Syria, Lebanon and Iran; all simply because twelve Danish Mohammed cartoons from Jyllands-Posten had been reprinted in Norway; the cartoons were published in a marginal Christian conservative weekly newspaper, Magazinet, three months after their original appearance in Denmark. In February 2006 the Norwegian ISAF-forces in Afghanistan were attacked. This conflict had a surprising impact on domestic and foreign policy, and the Norwegian publication of the cartoons triggered a global escalation of the controversy; Norwegian newspapers wrote that the country was "almost at war".
I have focused on how some leading Norwegian newspapers (Aften, Aftenposten, Dagbladet, Dagens Næringsliv, Dagsavisen and VG) covered this unexpected crisis and studied the different discourses that became a substantial part of the media coverage. In my analysis I have used an overall approach of War versus Peace journalism.
War and Peace journalism was not created as a concept for analysing media texts or photographs, but to provide practical tools for journalists in the field of conflict and war situations. Nevertheless, this approach gives an opportunity to examine the results of journalistic work and compare them with the press'es ideals and ethical codes. At the same time, the occurrence of discourses like "clash of civilisations", freedom of speech, "us" versus "them", i.e., "us" versus the Muslims, and the newspapers' choice of sources for their stories, seem to fit with a model of War and Peace journalism. The focus is on opinion materials like editorials and comments, as well as on domestic reports and reportage by correspondents. By analysing samples of articles I have tried to outline some areas where the concept of Peace versus War journalism still needs to be developed, in order to become a comprehensive or more adequate approach to journalism and media analysis.
In February 2008 the conflict again flared up in Denmark. Due to what the Danish secret police call concrete assassination plans for Jyllands-Posten's cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, major Danish newspapers reprinted the Mohammed cartoons on February 13, 2008; in solidarity with the cartoonist and to protest against what the editors describe as "terrorists' threats meant to inhibit freedom of speech" (, February 13, 2008).


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On the author:
Solveig Steien (b. 1955) is a Norwegian journalist and part-time teacher at Oslo University College, Department of Journalism. In her thesis, "When Norway Was Almost at War, the Mohammed cartoons Controversy in Norwegian Newspapers" (June 2007), she scrutinized how six Norwegian national newspapers covered the Mohammed controversy in the early winter of 2006 and used an overall perspective of Peace and War journalism in her approach. Solveig Steien is a member of the International Department of the Norwegian Writers' Association.